Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow
Until the 24th September, 2019
I recently visited the Billcliffe Gallery to view a solo painting show by a young artist and recent Gray’s School of Art graduate, David Rae. The show was a collection of oil on canvas paintings depicting photorealist scenes of various landscapes. Housing derelict buildings, football goal posts and golf courses. At first glance the images may appear cold and alienating through their lack of human figures occupying these environments. However, on further inspection, the nuanced themes of nostalgia and a distinct care for preserving memory became more apparent. Walking around the gallery I found myself caught studying the small details. Reading the canvases as though they were stories of a time gone by. Glimpses into a mind that has been left abandoned and untouched. Only to be rediscovered, with a renewed sense of care that can only be had at a distance. The viewer is also reminded of the all-consuming power of nature. Claiming dominance above any human intervention on the landscape. And a return to the artificial, as the inevitable gears of change kick into action. The show left me feeling hopeful and satisfied with a new appreciation for the power of contemporary landscape painting.
In ‘Goals remake’ we see two goal posts at either side of the canvas with a broken rope still tied to one and draping across the green football pitch. Described in warm, lemon-lime hues. In the periphery we see another set of goalposts, this time still intact, offering a small rectangular point of focus at the centre of the canvas. We are drawn into a sense of calm contemplation. Like a melancholy thought pulling you into a daydream. The vast sky above is applied with a flat tone of neutral grey. It is taking up two-thirds of the image and allowing the viewer to ease into Rae’s mind as the boundary between our world and his is being dismantled. Personally, this work felt like the right place to start viewing the paintings from, heading clockwise around the gallery. The artist’s handling of oil paint comes across varied, balanced and thoughtful. With small dry marks complementing the dominant flatness.
The 19th hole 2, seemed to act as the home base when considering the body of work as a metaphor of a journey into the mind. The viewer is offered a chance to stand back and think about the bigger picture. Quite literally, as I had to take several steps back to view the image in its entirety. For a moment I am reminded of the work of Andrew Wieth, with an almost spiritual aura created through such close attention to detail. Here, a balanced composition is paired with varying rhythms of dark and light areas of colour. This approach pulls us in and back out of the image as we scan its surface, giving it a pulse. The contrasting textures demonstrated in Rae’s painting vocabulary, causing the viewer to feel focused and switched on. A path lines the bottom third of the foreground, again reaffirming ideas of a journey or voyage. We see themes of the old and new, illustrated in the beams at either end of the central building. On the left, the supports appear to be almost crumbling in front of us. On the right, the poles seem strong and able to support the structure. Rae skilfully marries hard-edge painting in the wall cladding with the feathery technique used to create shards of glass, clinging onto the black, void-like windows. The landscape in the background seems distinctly Scottish, with rolling mountain ranges of sunshine yellows and forest greens. Conjuring images of the brain, in the lobe like structures of the hills on the left. On the right we are again released to drift into the distant peaks described in softer hues, creating perspective.
The painting ‘Shooting Target’ presents us with a yellow dream. The beautiful sky takes up half the composition, complementing the dark ground in the bottom half of the canvas. This painting offers the viewer a look into a landscape that is at the same familiar and yet unknown. Like a memory that can not be reached. Our view is blocked by a large black gate. Framed by a neat row of trees at either side – their branches, a network of neurological pathways. Densely packed separating out to a sparse new growth at each end of the gate. As our eyes attempt to read the centre point, like we were previously encouraged to in ‘Goals (remake)’, the gate disrupts our enquiry. As though we are forbidden to see the complete story. Instead, we are left to scan the image for glimpses of the copper hills in the distance. This work has a mystical quality with it’s handling of the foliage and colour choice, reminding me of an old fairytale illustration. And as such, manages to create a sense of darker undertones but without being too overtly ominous.
Passing a number of other works, depicting various dilapidated buildings, including public toilets, pubs and golf courses set into sprawling backdrops, I made my way to one of the smaller pieces in the show. ‘Creating Planet Golf’, displays the inevitable signs of change coming in over the horizon of a new day. We see the Mars-like surface of ground being leveled by a digger. As though a letting go is taking place, to allow the new it’s room to grow. Topped off by a dazzling orange sky, the painting felt like a natural progression in the narrative of the show. As the previous works toyed with the idea of impending change. My thoughts went to a post apocalyptic scene from one of the 90’s classics anime such as ‘Akira’. The intense colour creating warm highlights throughout, enables the piece to remain ambiguous in it’s mood. Allowing the viewer to set the tone for the painting by using their imagination. This seems to be a recurring strength in Rae’s work, as he manages to give us so much and still keep us searching for more. The show boasts a large selection of high-quality paintings, totaling around 20. Which, for a recent graduate’s first solo show, is very impressive. I would highly recommend a visit to the Billcliffe Gallery and a trip into the mind of this ambitious and promising young artist.