An introduction to the art of Helen Rae

Helen Rae drawing of Jean-Michel Basquiat


I had an introduction to the art of Helen Rae at the 2020 Outsider Art Fair, which took place in New York City back in January. My first look at her work was this wall of drawings exhibited by the Tierra Del Sol Gallery from Los Angeles. It was explained to me that Helen Rae is a self-taught artist, born in 1938, who first started making art at the age of 52, in 1990. Tierra Del Sol’s mission as a gallery is “to empower people with disabilities to fulfill their potential and desire to become productive citizens who are accepted, included and valued for the contributions they make to the economic, civic, and cultural vitality of the community.” With this in mind, it might be helpful to explain that Ms. Rae was born deaf and is nonverbal, and therefore has dealt with various developmental disabilities throughout her life.

Helen Rae drawings, Outsider Artist

Rae’s imagery starts with looking through magazines, taking images that appeal to her, and then drawing them with her own unique interpretation and vision. I find it fascinating that there’s an element of distortion and minor abstraction, which suggests a process that is not about copying but rather a transformation. Rae’s preferred use of colored pencil also adds an element of distance from the original slick and glossy magazine ads.

There’s plenty more to learn about Helen Rae and her art; here’s an interesting article at Vogue Magazine which shows Rae’s work next to the original magazine ads; there’s also a collection of links to other magazine articles at the bottom of this page.

The drawing featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat (below left) is “Untitled (October 9, 2019),” and below right is “Untitled (March 19, 2019).” I really love this work, and hope to see more in the future.

Helen Rae drawing of Jean-Michel Basquiat

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