The fruits of Barbara Rae RA’s recent travels go on display

Published 14 July 2014

The vibrant colours and traditional textiles of Mexico have weaved their way into the painter’s recent ‘Rebozo’ series.

  • When painter and printmaker Barbara Rae RA visited Mexico last year, it was to visit cemeteries during the famous Day of the Dead, a festival in which Mexicans celebrate the departed with offerings such as costumed skeletons and sugar-coated skulls.

    But returning to Edinburgh, it was not only the bright colours in the graveyards that stayed in her mind, but the textiles she saw in Oaxaca, in particular the rebozo – the classic Mexican shawl most famously worn by artist-icon Frida Kahlo. Soon she had completed a series of prints and an oil painting in response to the rebozo, works now on view in a new exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, together with other contemporary artists’ responses to the textile.

    “I’m fascinated by crafts,” she explained to me, “and I’ve always been fascinated by textiles – I collect patchwork quilts, and the way I build up my own paintings is through collage, collaging bits and pieces together.” After seeing an exhibition of Mexican craft in Oaxaca, she visited the region’s contemporary weavers and embroiderers, and started researching traditional Mexican textiles in the local museum. “I saw their traditional embroideries, these beautiful, embroidered wedding dresses and so on. That was heaven for me.”

  • Rae’s works inspired by this research are characteristically kaleidoscopic. However, unlike paintings of Ireland, France and Spain for which the artist is well-known, the lines of colour here are vertical, representing the weave of cloth rather than the strata of rock. When I ask Rae whether, as a landscape painter, she sees this is a departure, she puts me straight.

    “A lot of people say that I’m a landscape painter – I’m not.” Instead her work examines what she calls “the history of land”: the echoes of events and people who have passed through a place. Textiles, her prints suggest, are a similar crucible of meaning, collapsing together in one cloth complex social and cultural histories. “This amazing textile culture in Mexico has strong connections with Spain, but also relates to the culture of indigenous Mexican Indians. The way the two interlock fascinates me.”