Published in Art Collector’s special edition for Art Basel Hong Kong 2014
Jensen Gallery is taking your work to Art Basel Hong Kong this year. What will you be presenting?
We are presenting a selection of recent still life paintings which have a more pronounced physical presence than my previous work. The linen I am using lately is more textured than that I have used in the past and the preparation has involved a process that is much more demanding than using pre-primed commercial canvas … This is important because it changes the nature of the paintings, introducing a physicality that establishes the painting more as [an] object both for the viewer and for me as well … I have also found that during the process of painting my awareness moves more in the direction of the how rather than the what of description, a shift I have been working towards for some time.
In both your portraiture and still lifes it seems a very considered choice to avoid the sentimental. You seem very aware of the role you want your art to play within the context of art history and in front of the viewer’s gaze. I’m interested in how you got to this point. When and how did it crystallise for you what you wanted to achieve with your work?
I studied early Italian and northern renaissance art and architecture for my undergraduate degree and continue to read art history and theory fairly widely. I feel it is necessary to understand the history of the discipline and to engage the tradition as a contemporary painter. If I avoid the sentimental it is because it is predictable, some would say kitsch, and I have no interest in the currency of such easy recognition.
I am more interested in the aspects of the visual world that form the substrate of our sense of physical presence but that are overlooked, that elude our conscious attention – perhaps especially these days.
In being somehow hard won and slow to manifest, paintings can capture a sense of the embodied and tactile qualities of vision that are alien to newer, faster photo and screen technologies. I think I grew up with a sense of this because my father was a painter and I was trained in a traditional way. My challenge is to find a path between the deep attachment I have to pre-modernist depiction and my passion for the best of 20th century modernism – to find the meaning and value of these traditions in contemporary painting.
You once said to me that a successful painting says something about the experience of vision rather than what is represented. Can you elaborate on this?
What is representation? Even a moment’s thought reveals it as complex. It’s easy to think of early painting as image – stories and reportage – but painters have always known that representation is a kind of fiction. We need stories and reportage but this is no longer the role of painting. We have technologies that provide unprecedented access to information and, some would argue, a new relationship to the experience of vision.
But it is important to remember that vision is more than just information. Vision certainly has an inclination towards the virtual, a built-in predisposition towards objectification and distance that tends to override the fact that the sight is also tactile and embodied – that it is central to our sense of being physically located in space and the bodily experience of being in the world.
Painting is a mysterious practice that allows humans to share this experience of embodied seeing – one that is beyond words and that reaches across centuries. Painting is concerned with the undoing of normal vision in pursuit of what Cézanne referred to as his sensations: the experience of seeing that is disguised, of necessity, by normal existence – our need to get things done, to pick up a cup or avoid walking into a wall.
Jude Rae’s work is exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 by Jensen Gallery, which has galleries in Sydney and Auckland.