Congratulations to Rae Birch Carter, winner of the £5,000 NEAC scholarship 2023-24.

The New English Art Club (NEAC) scholarships are aimed at early-career artists who have not historically benefited from many opportunities to engage with the NEAC, and support those who face financial barriers in pursuing the arts in a professional capacity.

Rae has won the £5,000 scholarship prize, a year of close mentorship with leading figures of the NEAC, free entry to all courses, classes and workshops run by the NEAC Education Programme, and work created during this year will be showcased at the NEAC Annual Exhibition 2024.  

We spoke to Rae Birch Carter about what made her apply, and her hopes for the scholarship.

Rae in her studio

Firstly, congratulations on winning the £5,000 scholarship! How did you feel when you found out that you had won?

I was incredibly surprised to receive the email informing me that I had been awarded the NEAC Scholarship. I had to read it a couple of times before it sank in! I did feel very emotional.

I had come away from the interview and I felt like it had been a very positive experience. I had very much enjoyed the conversation with the 4 artists on the interview panel, despite my initial nerves. But I had assumed it would be something I would just put down as a positive and interesting experience. I was very shocked and delighted to have actually been awarded the bursary.

What made you want to apply to the NEAC Scholarship?

I read about the NEAC Scholarship when a member of the NEAC Charles Williams posted about it on Instagram. It immediately felt like something that could be the right thing for me to try for. I felt I was at exactly the right point in my development as an artist to potentially be a good candidate for it.

Are you able to give an overview of your artistic background, and explain where you are in your career as an emerging artist?

I am a self-taught artist. I began drawing about 5 years ago. My sons had reached their older teenage years, and I was starting to have more time to do things for myself and to go out in the evenings. I had enjoyed life drawing as a teenager when I did an Art Foundation course many years ago, so when I saw that there was a life drawing session at a local pub I decided to go along. It was with a fantastic group called ‘Hackney Wick Life Drawing’. Sadly it has stopped running since Covid, although the members all stay in touch and we meet up from time to time.

Of course, at first I wasn’t that great at it, but I really enjoyed it. Then gradually I wanted to do it more and more, and I started going a couple of times a week. When the pandemic began, life drawing moved online. Different groups from all over the world hosted sessions via Zoom, and so you could be drawing with people from all corners of the globe! It was very strange, but quite inspiring. 

As I was drawing on my own kitchen table, I had all my art materials to hand, rather than a basic drawing kit that could be easily carried to a real life class. I could really experiment freely, and get very messy. I tried out all sorts of techniques such as very fast, hand- pressed monotype printing whilst the model was posing live.

A selection of Rae's drawings and paintings

As things opened up again I have worked really hard, practising my drawing skills and learning as much as I can through trying new things. I started applying to Open Call exhibitions, often being rejected, but the occasional acceptance meant the world to me!

Then I did a course with 'Turps Banana' a collective of painters who run a programme of adult courses. It's also a very supportive network of artists which has been hugely positive, and really helped build my confidence. I started to slowly develop my work outwards from my life drawing based starting point.

What are your main interests and how does this influence your artwork?

I am interested in performance, in lots of different contexts. I draw every month at Ballet Rambert Choreography workshops, and Degas is a favourite artist of mine. I have a small studio space, and work in an open, playful way, using collage, pastel, watercolour and acrylics. I am still learning and developing my work. And I hope to always be doing so.

Mixed media piece by Rae Birch Carter

Which members of the NEAC’s work are you most inspired by and is there anyone in particular you hope to learn more from during your scholarship?

I really admire many of the NEAC members. Although there are a huge variety of styles within their work, I connect very much with the overall painterly style and an expressiveness with paint rooted in drawing and observation. So I am really looking forward to meeting some of the artists.

I have already chatted with Clare Haward who has kindly invited me to visit her in her studio. As have Patrick Cullen and Daniel Shadbolt. There are so many talented members, and I hope to meet lots of them during this Scholarship year.

Are there any particular classes, courses or workshops run by the NEAC that you are looking forward to attending?

I hope to attend a number of the workshops that NEAC artists are running. I am particularly interested in going outside my comfort zone, and trying things I have never really done before like oil painting. I also want to experiment with landscape painting and see if this is something I enjoy, as I have never tried it before. I am very excited and looking forward to all that this Scholarship year will bring.

Mixed media piece by Rae Birch Carter

We hope you enjoyed finding out more about her, and we can't wait to see how her work develops throughout the scholarship.