Extraordinary success marked Robin Rae’s early painting life. He first exhibited at the Royal British Academy in Young Contemporaries in 1946 when he was 18. After Ealing School of Art (1945-49) 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 followed by an exhibition at the Ashmolean. In 1950, The Sunday Times critic Eric Newton described the ‘nerveless way’ he applied paint, calling him ‘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’.
After art school Rae read Sartre and travelled, working in factories and painting working-class life. Three of the paintings in this exhibition, his Self Portrait and Luis Bunuel, both from 1955, and Eve from 1958, epitomise the intense energy and conviction of this period for him. Experimental, atmospheric and edgy, all three are now available to buy for the first time. In 1959, he accepted a job as head of the etching department at Edinburgh School of Art, moving in 1964 to teach three-dimensional design at Liverpool College of Art. Immersing himself in the self-proclaimed ‘cultural universe’ of 1960’s Liverpool, close friends with the soon-to-be famous 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 John Moores family and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, bought his work.
In 1970 he moved to Bridport, married Kate Beaver and ran a successful screen-printing dress design business with her while bringing up their daughter Alice. He began to paint again in 1987 and never stopped until the day he died. He had an exhibition in 1993 in Dorset County Museum. He showed his work at Parnham House and at the Riverside Restaurant. In 2008 Sladers Yard put on his Retrospective at 80, followed by more exhibitions including his 90th birthday and indeed his funeral. We are delighted now to offer a selection of works belonging to Alice his daughter. As Vivienne Light wrote in his obituary in The Times, ‘Solitary figures, huddled groups of people, buildings, objects, all were depicted in landscapes. Some of these landscapes are identifiable, all possess a haunting, Edward Hopper-like quality, many verging on the surreal. With oil on canvas Rae was able to transform the ordinary, everyday into a visionary, dramatic world.’
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 his 80th birthday Retrospective (Sladers Yard) 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.