VISUAL ARTS Fiona Rae, Gary Hume Saatchi Gallery, London
Friday 24 January 1997
Charles Saatchi has done them proud with a museum-style mini-retrospective of their young careers, none the less it must be strange for them to see so much of their work in the hands of one man. Flattering presumably, but also disconcerting. They both have reputations that reach far beyond the Saatchi web, but even so it seems like a lot of eggs to have in one basket.
The retrospective approach works best with Hume, whose work shows a clear progression from the monochromatic minimalism of his late-Eighties door paintings to the glossy figuration of the past few years. The continuity is in the technique - very smooth, very slick - the surface like enamel or the crisp sugar coating on a candied sweet. "The surface," according to Hume, "is all you get" - a comment on the shiny veneer, but also, in its deliberate banality, a refusal to make any grand claims for his work.
Despite Hume's determination to make nothing out of something, his paintings suggest other associations with links back to the Pop art world of 30 years ago (a kind of shiny Tom Wesselmann, or Allen Jones) and even to the paper cut-outs made by an aged and bedridden Matisse in the Fifties. Hume's odd blend of minimalism and cluttered kitsch is most effective when he keeps it simple, distilling the image into basic shapes and patterns. One of the best, Begging For It, depicts a praying or pleading figure silhouetted in blue with black-gloved arms against a lime green ground. It is an elegant reduction, very fin de siecle, absolutely of its own time.
Fiona Rae's work is similarly stamped with the spirit of the Nineties, but next to Hume her world seems altogether more chaotic. Her big abstract paintings are frenzied compilations of colour and shape, the product, as she describes it, of "having an argument in the painting". This process gives the work an undeniable energy, but the argument, it seems, is never settled.
The exhibition catalogue describes Rae's work as the visual equivalent of station hopping on the radio, snatches of this and that, but never still and never silent - a comment meant to intrigue but which also exposes her weakness. She makes pictures that are easy to look at but impossible to focus on - there is nowhere for the eye to rest. "The appeal of painting," she has said, "is that there is no solution. It always eludes you... it's a process with no possibility of arrival." As a painter this may be an admirable quest, but for a viewer the quest alone is not enough. Rae is perhaps a more original painter than Hume, but on the evidence here she is also a less satisfying one.
Saatchi Gallery, London NW8 (0171-624 8299). To 6 April Richard Ingleby
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