How do you work in your studio?
‘I tend to work on one painting at a time, as a very engaged process, and then I move onto the next one. For previous work, which was made more in layers, I would have several pieces on the go because stuff needed to dry. Whereas this new work — like the work I’m putting into the Goldsmiths auction — is wet paint into wet paint.’
What are you donating to the Christie’s auction to raise money for Goldsmiths’ new gallery?
‘The painting I’m putting into the auction is part of a new series that I started last year. It’s really different to what I’ve been doing: there’s no signs, no symbols, no cartoons, drips or splashes. Everything is made with a brush; everything is deliberately placed by hand, in all the different ways that that’s possible.
‘The other obvious thing is that I restricted the colour to black and white and tones of grey. I thought that would be a really exciting way of seeing what was possible after 25 years of working with colour.’
Which artists influenced you whilst you were at Goldsmiths?
‘I remember being really interested in the work of American artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, because of the way they took language — the language of advertising, the language of power — and re-examined it and re-presented it, to make things that were subversive and surprising.
‘And of course I also liked painters whilst I was at Goldsmiths — I had a Gerhard Richter pinned up, though I was never that interested by him at the time. I found Polke very interesting, and Jean-Michel Basquiat; I guess people who took things, mixed them up, and made something surprising or different.’
Goldsmiths wasn’t about arriving and knowing what you wanted to do, but finding out what you wanted to do
What are your memories of being at Goldsmiths?
‘I remember first arriving and feeling quite lost, because it’s very unstructured. Then I suddenly really started to enjoy it, and made use of every facility there was. At Goldsmiths you don’t choose a medium, you try everything — that’s totally fundamental to it being so unique and special as an art college.
‘It wasn’t about arriving and knowing what you wanted to do, but finding out what you wanted to do, and at the same time being really challenged by the fellow students and the tutors about what you were doing. If you’re making a painting, but you’re next to someone who is making a video, then you’re very aware of what you’ve chosen to do; I think that makes for a very critical intelligence.’
What was your work like in your degree show?
‘I remember working really hard in my third year, because I was determined that my degree show would be great. And then, in the last few weeks before my show, I made a completely new body of work, and that was what I put in my show. There was a big painting of paintbrushes with paint coming off them, and then there were these quite cartoonish landscapes — I was really happy with it, actually.’
Fiona Rae (Student at Goldsmiths: 1984-1987), Figure 1i, 2014.
Oil and acrylic on canvas. 72 x 51 ins. (183 x 129.5 cm.) Estimate: £25,000-35,000.
You ended up becoming one of the YBAs — were you aware of being part of a movement whilst you were at Goldsmiths?
‘I would never have used the word movement, and even now I wouldn’t use the word movement. There was no manifesto, no set of ideas that everyone agreed on. I think that what people did agree on was that we all wanted to go out there and be interesting artists, and somehow, as a group, we made that happen.’
What advice would you give a Goldsmiths student who is about to graduate?
‘As an artist, if you make work and rely on the approval of others, you don’t always get it — I think that’s really tough. So I think that as far as possible, make the work the place where the real excitement is; if the other stuff happens, fantastic — but if it doesn’t, then at least you’ve had a nice life.’
Work by Fiona Rae and many other celebrated former Goldsmiths students will be offered at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction featuring The Gallery at Goldsmiths London. Christie’s, King Street, 12 February 2015. Viewing 7-11 February.