Barbara Rae, one of our favourite contemporary artists and a Royal Academician, is no stranger to Spain – that includes Órgiva. The scenery and brilliant light of Las Alpujarras has always attracted artists. Over the years, on visits to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, we’ve admired her astonishing use of colour and composition. She often works at sunrise and sunset as the light is constantly changing, and in her studio, always from sketches created on location.
Rae first visited Spain when a student in the 1960s to capture the area’s history and beauty. Her writer husband, Gareth, does most of the driving, riding shotgun, as it were, while Barbara sits painting in a furrowed field under the brim of a wide umbrella to protect her against searing heat.
There was a time when the jagged mountain range of the Sierra Nevada was an inhospitable place lying on its side. Only a few farmers, their goats, and few marauding linx braved the precipitous terrain to make it their home. Today there are modern roads zig-zagging to villages, and internet piped into far-flung fincas. Even so, Barbara told us she prefers the wild, vertiginous mountain terraces where no tarred road brands nature’s contours.
She often returns to Órgiva and villages like Capiliera and Bubión – places ‘kissed by passing clouds’. She enjoys being among eccentrics (as she calls them), farmers with sun-beaten, grizzled faces riding mules from finca to field and back again; and a patchwork of disparate Europeans who cut loose from their surroundings decades ago to head for the hills.
Rae: “I return to old haunts to see what has altered since I was last there, what has weathered and degraded. I’m not a landscape painter. What interests me is anything altered by mankind’s hand, historic components, things that make the spirit of a place: an old farmhouse door surrounded by painted flowerpots and rusted farm implements, a terraced hillsides of grapevines harvested for centuries, a flotilla of higgledy-piggledy rooftops, punctuated by repaired tiles and eccentric chimneys.”
She adds, “It’s not only Spanish influences that attract, it’s the Roman and Moorish influences too. If the background to them has mood and pattern that’s a dividend, but it isn’t the main attraction. I stay in one area as long as possible studying its history and meeting the people before I put brush to sketch book.”
Whenever she completes her day’s studies she makes for the nearest bar. “There’s always at least one in any village, but invariably what they offer, though well cooked, is limited. That’s why I try to visit the main cities now and again, for greater choice, cities like Málaga with its sparkling marble pavements and plethora of tapas bars, or Seville, or Granada with its ancient buildings. After checking out the amazingly inexpensive shoe shops I’ve a habit of removing old posters from walls, such as those with bull-fighting images, to use as collage material in my paintings and prints.”
Among colleagues Rae is famous for her restless travels. In one recent year, for example, she visited France, Spain, California, Arizona, New Mexico, as well as the west of Ireland and Orkney.
As usual, we visited the Summer Exhibition.
If you can go, do – it’s a memorable day out in London. And look out for Rae’s paintings.
Barbara Rae’s website.
Royal Academy of Arts – profile
[With thanks to Gareth Wardell.]
© con jamón spain
All images © 2015 Barbara Rae