Iain Gale on exhibitions

The opening this week of the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, calls to mind one of the few highlights of last year's show - a pair of vivid semi-abstract paintings by Barbara Rae. The fact that these works continue to haunt the mind is sufficient proof of the considerable power and presence of this important, though still relatively unknown British painter.

Anyone doubting the hyperbole of this last statement should go quickly to the small gallery in Cork Street where Rae's most recent paintings are now on view. Rae is a genuine talent. A Scot by birth, a Romantic by temperament, she trained under the influential landscape painter William Gillies, and her work still retains the pleasantly reductive shorthand of the master. But Rae is not easily categorised as the cosy Edinburgh school painter for which she is taken by so many contemporary critics. Beneath the intoxicating, decorative veneer of her intensely ambient, lyrically landscapes, Rae tunnels into the very heart of the land. She works in heavy, encrusted paint, often incorporating other media into her scratched and scrubbed surfaces, echoing mankind's own scouring of the land over the last 2,000 years.

There is nothing complacent or homespun about these works and, as if to emphasis this, Rae has recently begun to paint the vast desert landscapes of the USA, as well as her more familiar Scottish and Spanish views. The chief lesson with which she presents her viewer is that, while every landscape has its own character, the actual location is of lesser importance. What matters is the effect of the land upon the spirit, and it is this that she paints out in these truly memorable works of art.

Art First, 9 Cork Street, W1 (0171-734 0386) to 13 Jun

Left: detail from Rae's 'Fiery Willow, Sughera' monotype, 1996

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