The Wild Atlantic Ways of Barbara Rae RA

2020 marks Visit Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters (YCW2020), a celebration of Scotland’s lochs, waterways, islands and coastlines. Exploring the inspiration of coasts and waters for over 6 decades in her work is celebrated colourist Barbara Rae, who hails herself from Crieff.

Painter, printmaker and academician Barbara Rae CBE RA is the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, beginning her illustrious career at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1961, travelling extensively to Europe and the U.S after graduating and later working as a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art.

‘An Ceo Draiochta’, Barbara Rae, CBE RA, c.2008-2010

Medium: etching and collagraph
Size: 82.7cm x 76.5cm
Accession no.: HC2010.30
© Barbara Rae, CBE RA

These formative years spent travelling shaped Rae’s work, which largely focuses on landscapes. The subject matter of Rae’s work is undoubtedly socio-political, exploring the effects of human existence on the natural landscape, expressing through her densely coloured and abstracted style the relationships between time, culture and place.

The University of St. Andrews Boswell Collection is lucky to host a collection of over 10 original artworks by Rae, which span in production from 1993-2013.

A majority of these works are taken from a collection of coastal landscapes which Rae was inspired to produce after time spent travelling along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coastline. The tourism trail on the West, and parts of the north and south coast of the Island, stretches from County Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula at the very most northerly point of Ireland all the way to County Cork on the Celtic Sea coastline.

A series of four limited edition silkscreen prints by the artist (MoybankInishkeasFalmore and Moy Traveller) specifically explore the islands, rivers and beaches of County Mayo.

Though depicting separate landscapes across the County, these pieces are connected by the horizontal gradation which stretches across their canvases, suggesting a unity between their coastlines. Falmore, or Fál Mór beach notoriously offers wonderful views of the Inishkea Islands, whilst Moy Bank and Moy traveller explore the expansive geography of the River Moy, which buffers the County lines between Mayo and Sligo.

The relationship between culture and place is deployed by Rae’s use of layer and texture in her work, offering a sensation of depth, ultimately expressing the long history of the Irish coast. With each composition the effect of weathering and time is explored with tactility, engaging with printed text, pattern and sparse, scraping paint strokes.

An example of Rae’s richly coloured palette, screen print ‘Sea Fence’ from 2013. © Barbara Rae, CBE RA

Although important to her relationship with landscape art, Rae has notoriously insisted her use of colour is less to do with the Scottish heritage of colourists and more to do with her long-standing experimental techniques. By applying unmixed acrylic pigment directly to the canvas, mixing with fluid and letting the pigments saturate the works, the final result offers a dense appreciation of bold colour.

Through Rae’s technique, these works become homogenous to the rugged natural coasts and beaches for which the Island is so popular. Hailing myself from the Island, I cannot help but feel that they offer a nostalgic visual experience which evokes the tender feeling of time passing as if one were standing on the beach themselves in immediate time.

Text by Gráinne Fellowes