"As students we learned art history at the Slade, and because, at least for one year, we had the famous Ernst Gombrich as a lecturer, we were well informed about Renaissance painting, but no one ever mentioned architecture. I hardly knew what it was. Suddenly seeing, and moving in and around, such great buildings by the likes of Filippo Brunelleschi, Donato Bramante and Leon Battista Alberti was mind-blowing. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, why one should feel so deeply affected by these extraordinary spaces. It took many years before I started to grasp that creating our own space is in many ways how we define ourselves, how we protect ourselves, how we reflect both the world around us and relate our inner selves to that. Even now, I find it hard to really understand the greatness of those architects, and to see that they have never been surpassed. "
- Tess Jaray, interviewed in Studio International, July 2019
Tess Jaray RA is a British painter and printmaker. Born in Vienna in 1937, Jaray grew up in rural Worcestershire, England, where her parents emigrated in 1938 after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany made it unsafe for people of Jewish descent to live there. She taught at The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL from 1968 until 1999. Over the last twenty years Jaray has completed a succession of major public art projects. She was made an Honorary Fellow of RIBA (Royal Institute for British Architects) in 1995 and a Royal Academician in 2010.
The impact of Renaissance architectural spaces Jaray encountered on her travels in Italy were formative for the development of her distinctive technique. In these ceilings she saw how simple lines interacted to transform space, powerfully inducing emotional responses. Writing on Jaray's paintings of the 60s Jasia Reichardt said they could be called '"ceiling geography" because they suggest views of an interior seen from below... Her paintings suggest some underlying mystery through the suggestion of architectural perspective.' Much of her career as a painter has been spent investigating the quality of effects geometry, pattern, repetition and colour have on space.
The patterns she creates evoke spatial ambiguities and shifting structures which work on the viewer's perceptions in subtle ways. According to the critic Terry Pitts, her work 'sense(s) the way in which history of decoration and patterning is embedded with elemental human experiences and impulses'. At this time of significant development, in 1964 Jaray began teaching. For four years she taught at Hornsey College of Art, before becoming the first female teacher at the Slade in 1968. In 1999 Jaray became Reader Emeritus in Fine Art at the Slade.