Robin Rae

Robin Rae RCA

Robin Rae with White Horse painted 1947 found in a charity shop
Robin Rae with Wiltshire White Horse 1947

Artist Robin Rae died in 2019 aged 90. We were delighted and proud to show Robin Rae’s paintings at Sladers Yard on numerous occasions over many years including his 80th and 90th birthday celebrations. His funeral tea was held here in Café Sladers.

Rae first exhibited at the Royal British Academy in Young Contemporaries in 1946 when he was 18. After Ealing School of Art he went on to the Royal College of Art where his teachers included Francis Bacon, John Nash, Rodrigo Moynihan and Edward Bawden. By the time he was 21 he had had two successful solo shows at the Little Gallery in Piccadilly. At the second, in 1950, The Sunday Times critic Eric Newton described the ‘nerveless way’ he applied paint, calling him as ‘an artist with a vision… distinguished not by its newness but by its completeness and intensity’. He put him ‘in the category of Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and the Pre-Raphaelites’.

In 2010, he was reunited with Wiltshire White Horse a picture he painted and sold in 1947 when he was a 19-year-old art student at Ealing College of Art. At the time he was enjoying the recognition and success of a rising star. Wiltshire White Horse is an astonishingly assured composition painted from an unsettling bird’s-eye viewpoint. In 1947 when it was bought by a Mr Quormby, the Inspector of Art Schools, Rae did not expect to see it again. But in 2010 it was handed in to a Mind charity shop in Clifton Bristol by an anonymous donor. Staff at the shop recognised it as an exceptional painting and made contact with Sladers Yard who outbid all the offers for it to buy the painting. Seeing it again after sixty-four years, Rae commented, ‘I used to put all my favourite things into my pictures. I had just discovered Eric Ravilious at the time.’

Wiltshire White Horse depicts the Uffington White Horse and the Wiltshire hills beyond. Birds of prey wheel below over the fields and woodlands while rays of sunlight burst through the clouds. The Uffington White Horse is the oldest chalk figure in England dated at 1400 BC. Yet the form of the horse appears extraordinarily modern and has been an inspiration for artists including Eric Ravilious, whose ‘The Vale of the White Horse’ was purchased by the Tate in 1940 and may have inspired Rae’s painting.

When he left art school Rae spent time travelling and working in factories painting working-class life. The exhibition includes his wonderful Self Portrait from 1955 which now belongs to his daughter. He went on to teach etching at Edinburgh School of Art and then three-dimensional design at Liverpool College of Art. Immersing himself in the ‘cultural universe’ of 1960’s Liverpool, with the Liverpool poets and a music scene dominated by the Beatles, Robin Rae began making colourful abstract three-dimensional painted constructions which he exhibited regularly in the Liverpool Academy. The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, holds work from this period. In 1970 he split with his first wife and moved to Bridport in Dorset where he made sculpture and met the clothes designer Kate Beaver to whom he has been married ever since. Together they ran a successful screen printing dress design business for some seventeen years.

In 1987 he began painting again and had an exhibition in Dorset County Museum in 1993.  He is included in a number of books and publications including Vivienne Light’s Re-inventing the Landscape and the Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945 by David Buckman. In 2008 Sladers Yard’s Retrospective to celebrate his 80th birthday was reviewed in The Week, ‘His early work… suggests a Paul Nash-like combination of the surreal and the romantic… Whatever the style, his works share an extraordinarily satisfying compositional stability. And his recent works, which combine a poetic lucidity and calm with moments of dreamlike strangeness, are mysterious and delightful.’ (The Week 26 April 2008)

Robin Rae’s sense of humour, his deep knowledge and understanding of painting and literature and his highly individual take on life all fed into his enigmatic, haunting paintings.

1 Response to Robin Rae

  1. Pingback: Mystery and wonder | Sladers Yard

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