robin rae - retrospective at 80
Robin Rae lives and works in Bradpole, Dorset.
Robin Rae, who turned 80 in 2008, is one of West Dorset's most important artists.
Born in 1928 in London, Robin showed his first painting in the Royal Academy at the age of 16. By the age of 21 he was studying at Ealing School of Art and had had two sell-out exhibitions at the Little Gallery, Piccadilly.
He went on to teach at Edinburgh College of Art and Liverpool College of Art before moving to Dorset in 1970s. His artwork has gone through several phases, from an introspective time of miserable self-portraits to a hugely popular series of paintings of lighthouses.
When he decided he didn't like some of his earlier work, he sawed it up to make witty, surreal, glossy black sculptures, which are part of the display at Slader's Yard.
Dorset's coastline is also prominent in his works - some of them scattered with assorted pieces of crockery, such as Tea at Seatown. "I just think they look so much more interesting like that than on a table," explains Robin, who lives in Bradpole with his wife, the dress designer Kate Beaver.
"I love Dorset and I came here because I had been teaching for some time and I didn't want to go on."
Robin Rae A Retrospective at 80
In a cottage in Bradpole, near Bridport in Dorset, artist Robin Rae has been quietly painting his exceptional pictures, hidden from the art world which embraced him enthusiastically in his youth. He is quoted in The Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945 by David Buckman as, painting more at present than at any other time but avoid the art world and glad to be quite out of touch. Now, in his eightieth year, Robin has agreed to fill Sladers Yard with works from throughout his extraordinary career particularly his inspired latter period.
Born in 1928 in London, Robin and his sister were brought up by his mother after his father died when they were very young. They were his fathers second family and were shunned by the rest of the Rae family who lived in Italy. Many of the cousins did not know about Robin and his sister until they met late in life.
At 16 Robin had his first painting in the Royal Academy. When he was 18 and studying at Ealing School of Art, Wolf Mankovitz gave him a one-man exhibition in his gallery in Piccadilly Arcade which was enormously successful and sold out. His second exhibition there at age 21 met similar acclaim. Against much advice he went on to the Royal College of Art where his teachers included John Nash, Francis Bacon, Rodrigo Moynihan and Edward Bawden. Under this powerful scrutiny his innocent vision was stripped away. I dont feel I have got back to a similar innocence until much more recently, he comments mildly. Similar but not at all the same. He calls to mind Blakes Innocence and Experience in one of the many references to poetry and music which suffuse all areas of his life.
During the fifties he produced intense moody paintings (Self portrait 1955, Louis Bunuel 1956, Seated Man Writing 1952) which give the impression of a young man burning with energy in a bleak, impoverished urban environment. After some time travelling and working in various factories, as he puts it, floating around being an artist and feeling very miserable, he was made Head of the Etching Department at Edinburgh College of Art. Teaching allowed him time for his own painting and he began to experiment with abstraction, the painting as textile, texture.
In the early sixties, Rae moved to teach at Liverpool College of Art. This was the time of the Beatles and the Liverpool poets when Liverpool was, in the words of Allen Ginsburg, the centre of consciousness of the human universe. Change was in the air and Rae was ready for it. Many of the poets and artists became friends and influences. He was a much admired and respected teacher of Foundation and Three-Dimensional Design. He began making shaped works which broke out of the picture frame into three dimensions. He exhibited in the Liverpool Academy and a large work called Caradoc was bought by the Walker Art Gallery and other prestigious collections bought his work.
When his first marriage went pear-shaped he left Liverpool and came to Dorset. He brought his paintings with him and sawed them up to make sculptures which he made laboriously from layers of board, glued together, shaped and sanded. Witty, surreal glossy black forms, some are based on the human form, some on writing such as the name Kimmeridge, built up and squidged round to make a cove shape. Some he has since left outside for years and they have achieved a pleasing de-lamination like the Dorset cliffs. Like the Dorset cliffs they hold inside them the fossils of another life.
In Dorset he met and married Kate, with whom he still lives in Bradpole. Throughout the seventies they ran a dressmaking business, screen printing material and making them up to Kates designs. However during the eighties fashions changed and the business failed. Rae found himself working as a hospital porter. I was going to sleep on my feet. It was a shock the business not working, like hitting the dust, and I started painting again more intensely than ever.
In his cottage surrounded by paintings and books, Rae explains, I never associated painting with selling and so I have never pursued and networked. His painting is an expression of his life, his intelligent, witty, contemplative and, yes in many ways, innocent vision. He is a treasure, still full of wonder, held in the folds of Dorsets hills and painting harder than ever.