Artist Interview: Jude Rae - Art Collector

24 May 2010

In this interview with Jan O'Sullivan, painter Jude Rae reveals her growing interest in sculpture. She also talks to Australian Art Collector about her fascination with fire extinguishers and just why she finds portraiture so daunting. 


J.O: There’s a tradition of using rather romantic objects in still life – persimmons and corella pears, red wine, rustic bread, and so on. Where exactly to fire extinguishers, a continuing presence in your paintings, fit into all this?

J.R: The fire extinguishers and various gas bottles appeared in 2003 when I first moved to Canberra. I saw a lot of them out the back of the local dump recycle facility and was attracted by them for a variety of reasons.

J.O: Certainly they have a kind of modern beauty where form follows function. You can almost see the pressure in them.

J.R: Their size fitted in the tabletop environment I was working with, only slightly expanding the scale, and I was also attracted by the way they diverged from the expectations you mention.

J.O: Your still lifes are often seen as an attempt to shed the narrative burden that comes with portraiture and other forms of representative painting. Telling stories is a fundamental part of life – what do you think can be gained by leaving this behind?

J.R: Stories are fundamental to all our lives, to our understanding of what it is to be Australian, to be human. Rather than leaving stories behind, I like to think I am looking at what underlies narrative, which is essentially something to do with our relationship to our senses (primarily but not exclusively vision), and ultimately therefore to our consciousness of the experience of being in the world. When images are understood in terms of the stories they tell, our relationship to them is primarily narrative. Responses to realist or figurative painting tend very much to flow along these lines rather than attending to the more subtle and interesting questions raised by the fact that an image happens to be a painting (rather than, for instance, a photograph). I am fascinated by the fact that you can get a sense of my experience of vision when you look at that piece of linen stretched over a wooden framework and smeared with an oily substance. Of course this is not as simple as it seems. You will understand these objects – my paintings – as part of the tradition of oil painting, and more specifically a kind of realism. You may even be thinking about other traditions such as abstraction, or the genre of still life which was central to the development of abstraction.

J.O: How do you personally measure the success of a work? What are you most proud of?

J.R: I find it hard to describe. The best I can do is to say that when a painting is working it has a sort of density which holds the attention. I think this is because it is saying something about the experience of vision rather than what is being represented.

J.O: Do you see any parallels between portraiture – which you're also well known for having twice won the Portia Geach – and still life or object painting?

J.R: Portraiture is both fascinating and daunting precisely because it lies at the juncture of the subjective and objective impulses in my practice. When a person sits for a portrait, the painter sees them as both subject and object. Negotiating a resolution to this duality is very complicated and subtle. This is essentially why fine portraits (such as those by Velasquez) are rare and timeless.

J.O: And finally, why are you drawn to painting, out of all the mediums available to you as an artist?

J.R: My father painted so I grew up with it, but it was not until my mid-20s that I decided to commit myself to being a painter. I think it took me a while to come to terms with the difficulties it presented. Twenty five years later I'm more comfortable with it and even getting interested in sculpture, something I would never have predicted!