Rebecca Salter (British, b.1955) was elected Royal Academician in 2014 and Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools in 2017. She lives and works in London.
In the 1970s, after graduating from the Bristol Polytechnic as a ceramicist, Salter moved to Japan to study at the Kyoto City University of the Arts. There, far from home, Salter struggled to integrate herself with the rest of the student and artist community: she had to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers first. She spent six years in the country, putting herself, her practice and Western history of art into question before deciding it was time to go back home to the United Kingdom.
The result of such a journey of (re)discovery is her incredibly beautiful and distinctive abstract work on canvas and paper. Found at the intersection between Western and Japanese traditions, her practice seeks to bridge a gap between two fundamentally different conceptions of art. In her paintings and drawings, Salter applies notions of mark-making that, traditionally, pertain to calligraphy; the distinction between front and back of the canvas disappears, as the artist focuses on creating an object existing in space, rather than a painted surface; she revisits the great Romantic tradition of landscape and weather painting, through the use of the line, rather than colour.
Salter’s works are heavily detailed minimal abstractions, particular emphasis is given to the interplay between marked and unmarked space on the canvas. The presence of white space is a critical trait of Salter’s work and reveals the relationship the artist has with the concerns of the Hasegawa School of painting. Salter often cites Hasegawa’s Pine Trees as a highly important work for her own practice. The layering of neutral tones often suffuses the work with an ethereal quality, the muted colours offering a tranquil, yet spellbinding, response to nature. Frequently, the use of vertical and horizontal planes structures the work: one is invited to draw from the abstractions a sense of landscape and depth.
Her works can be viewed as obsessive, meditative, delicate, or forceful but they are all, ultimately, bewitching.
Salter has also had a number of architectural commissions, which include both Guy’s Hospital and St George’s Hospital. She has been an artist in residence at Lofoten in Norway and Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut. In 2011, Salter had a major retrospective at the Yale Center for British Art: into the light of things 1981-2010.