Sarah Raphael

British , 1960 - 2001

Raphael, having already decided that she wished to be an artist at the age of 14, studied at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1978-81), gaining 1st class Honours degree. After a traditional Camberwell phase of dark interiors with still lives, her first exhibition in 1985 already showed a distinct and original vision, which incorporated references to the clarity of Renaissance painting, to portraiture and to mysterious narratives – all with an assured technique which combined detailed realism and accuracy with abstract gestures in paint, at will. These would be hallmarks of her sensibility that led her through virtuoso transformations of her subjects and styles.

Faithful portraiture was a forte, but in her imaginary paintings the figure underwent distortions that emphasised emotions, and summoned references or dream-like sequences: landscapes were tipped up, advancing towards the viewer, eventually in the brilliant Australian Desert paintings, forgetting horizon and sky to occupy the entire surface of the canvas, with textures detailed to an hallucinatory degree. This close observation of detail occasioned another fresh and original departure, the last in her tragically short life. The ‘Strip’ paintings from 1997 onwards became tapestries of witty motifs, catalogues of invented signs and objects into which, in her last paintings, she worked a new, vertiginous perspective.

Although her work would be selected for group exhibitions from the time she entered the Camberwell School, her solo exhibitions were few. After Christopher Hull and Agnews in 1985, another at Agnews in 1995 was also shown at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and two were held at Marlborough Fine Art before she died. Her entrancing assemblage of childhood imaginings and stories, ‘Childhood Cube’, almost two metres cubed in size, which had been commissioned for the Millennium Dome in 2000, is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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