Carole Rabe’s oil paintings never feature people, yet her interiors and still lifes exude a warmth typically associated with human presence. Through her meticulous use of light and color, Rabe can infuse any inanimate object—from a tissue box to a pair of fringed moccasins—with tangible life.
The artist grew up in the rural town of Shirley, Massachusetts and spent a great deal of her childhood outdoors. “My parents were nature and science lovers,” Rabe says, “so we traipsed into the woods often for nature walks and adventures.” These excursions were critical to her artistic development. “I think being in nature played a huge role in my love of light and color,” she says.
Rabe, who is represented by The Rowley Gallery ( Munn Fine Arts ) in Orleans, also credits an early passion for reading, particularly classic literature, as a key influence. “Many of [the classics] are very descriptive and paint a picture of a time and place,” she says. “That is really what I’m doing in my painting.”
Indeed, her paintings are defined by time and place. The place is often her house. “I have been painting the interior spaces of my home for over 20 years,” she says. And the time when she paints is always in relation to light. Rabe typically works on several paintings simultaneously. “I move from one painting to the next throughout the day as the light changes,” she says. For example, she might have a sunny morning painting, a sunny afternoon painting, and a cloudy morning painting going all at once. “I only work on the painting during that specific time of day because that is critical to capturing the light,” she explains.
Her detailed interiors come to life through striking color relationships. The key, Rabe reveals, is a self-imposed restriction. “I paint with a very limited palette,” she says. “Usually only three colors, plus white. Never black.” When a painting nears completion she adds colors to her palette as necessary. “I enjoy working with limits because it sets up very unusual color relationships that I never would have come up with using a full palette of colors,” she says.
This diligent process is combined with intense observation. “I literally crawl across a space inch by inch,” Rabe says. Her paintings bear the traits of some of her heroes: Vermeer’s intimacy, Hopper’s distinct atmospheres, and Bonnard’s ability to transform paint into space, color, and light. Although she lives in Natick, Rabe’s work is prominently displayed at the Rowley Gallery. “The space is very intimate and suits my paintings well,” she says.
When she’s not painting at home, Rabe coordinates the Visual Arts Program at Pine Manor College, where she is also the director of the Hess Gallery. Teaching provides an opportunity to interact with a diverse group of students and reflect on her own work. “The more I know, the more I realize how little I know,” she says. “I feel lucky to be involved in a creative journey that will keep me engaged for a lifetime.”
For more information, visit carolerabe.com
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