The Ends of the Earth
2014 – 2021
124×97 cm

Artist’s Statement

The subjects for these works are things which hold a fascination for me, namely mountains, rough, rocky, rugged, elemental mountains, and skyscrapers, those beautiful and ugly steel, concrete and glass colossi which bestride our consciousness, perhaps replacing in our psyche the Gothic cathedrals that dominated the skylines of cities in the past.

Mountains and buildings are made of the same stuff. Or rather, humans, by using their intellect, have fashioned their world and created their civilization by taking from what they find around them. Man in his hubris exploits the earth, and sets himself up in opposition to it. However, the earth fights back. From The Origin of the Work of Art by Martin Heidegger:

“Earth … shatters every attempt to penetrate it. It causes every merely calculating importunity upon it to turn into a destruction.  This destruction may herald itself under the appearance of mastery and of progress in the form of technical-scientific objectification of nature, but this mastery nevertheless remains an impotence of will.”

Thus the present work is situated at an interface between man and nature, an uneasy, confined and claustrophobic space where the friction between these two is irreconcilable. It is a relationship of strife and struggle, there is no meeting point, they are in opposition to one another, yet they are never separated. They are essentially different from one another, yet there is this paradox that they are part of each other.

I do not make the paintings because I am preoccupied with the above ideas and concepts. Rather the paintings are a response to the emotional power that the subjects hold over me. The choice of the subjects is irrational and involuntary, they simply force themselves upon you and demand to be put into the paintings. The possible meanings of the paintings come afterward. One can theorize at length and fruitfully about meaning, but there are always aspects that will not yield to such articulation. Essentially the language of painting does not speak in words.

Inner City

Blue Façade
50×50 cm

Building Mountain
50×50 cm

St. Peter’s
50×50 cm

Big Face-off
150×89 cm

45×35 cm

Known Unknowns
90×50 cm



by Dr Julia Teale

The closer he came to this deceptive image of the island’s shore,
the more this image receded; it continued to flee from him,
and he knew not what to think of this flight.

 -Francois Fenelon, The Adventures of Telemachus (1699)

Before embarking on what turned out to be a deeply complex engagement with Janice Rabie’s body of painting titled “After the Place”, it is worth framing the following reflections on her work by stating the following:  These works represent a journey that begins bleakly and ends with the sort of radiance that has something of the quality that we see in those who have relinquished their fretting about the existential questions that dog us as humans, turning instead to gently observe the garrulous world and the silent earth – leaving us to muse, as we must, over what they mean.  This leaves Rabie as painter free to play between two telling images – buildings – that can be taken to represent the man-made world, and mountains – that can be taken to represent brute nature.  But for now enough has been said and a journey through the works should begin.

Inner City (2009) and Grey City (2010) are two of the earlier of Janice Rabie’s recent works that mark a journey for the painter that begins with the spatial coordinates of a Kafkaesque nightmare. These are the sorts of places the unfortunate Joseph K got lost in, airless and alienating, the restricted, predominantly grey palette and the stark, urban compositions speaking of an unsympathetic and hostile modern world, ruled by an authoritarian system that is both remote and inaccessible.   When the mountains do appear in these works, such as Skyscrapers (2009), the rude upward thrust of the buildings causes the mountains to shrink back, speaking to an arrogance that is blind and overwhelming.  These works tell us that nature and everything else or other cower before the brute domination of a cruelly defined and ideologically definite world.

In 2010, a radical, and very sudden shift in her painting dismisses the relentlessly dehumanized spaces of the earlier works.  In Blue Façade and Façade  of 2010, the layered, refracted and reflected surfaces of buildings are at once seductively beautiful and profoundly disorientating.  Within them the mountain is reflected, bizarrely fragmenting and dispersing its monolithic presence, effectively throwing the binaries of earth and world, of nature and culture into subtle and luminous disarray.  That these works provocatively elude becoming anything certain suggests a more complex, generous and happier world on the brink of being realized.

However, accompanying these works, paintings such as St. Peter’s (2010), signal the impossibility of this project and remind us that any attempt to bring a new, kinder world into being, reasserts the binaries that hold us hostage in our particularly human cognitive process that through language brings the world into being.  Heraclites of Ephesus was the first to articulate this concept of the unity of opposites: 

The path up and down are one and the same.

They would not have known the name of justice if these [unjust things] did not exist.

Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger [does the same for] satiety, weariness [for] rest.

In the aftermath of the joyous dance that marked Blue Façade and Façade, the mountains and buildings pull back from one another, and that they are of the same scale in relation to one another suggests the possibility of an equalizing of power, a balancing of scales – but the works no longer have any sense of the open playfulness found in those two works.  In Mountain City (2009), Building Mountain (2010) and Face-off (2010), a portentous stillness is introduced into the paintings where mountain and building seem locked into an interminable gaze.  Initially one may be tempted to read into them the ‘green’ politics that are currently gaining momentum globally, what with debates raging about global warming and all that goes with it.  Of course, this reading is readily aided and abetted by the general sense, these days, that we have alarmingly and irreparably damaged our relationship to the mother, Earth, and are seeking to make amends for the arrogant ‘husbanding’ of her resources, recognizing her power as equal to, if not greater than, our own.1

However the immense subtlety of Rabie’s paintings demand much more than cursory glances and easy assumptions. St. Peter’s (2010), shows a tired and faded dome and hazy, indistinct mountain dominated by a clear and dark shaft of building aggressively cutting into the left field of the composition, containing within it an equally strongly painted rendering of mountain.  This shaft leans forward and the dome of St. Peter’s shrinks back.  Considering the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral as standing for the old world, the thrust of the modern building could then stand for the new world, a world that sees itself not in opposition to nature, but rather as having completely assimilated it. These differentials between the disparate elements are calibrated in such a way as to introduce the viewer to infinitely more complex and perhaps even treacherous meditations on reality and meaning that are slowly unfolded in the works hereupon.

In Grid, Face-off and Big Face-off  of 2010, in the reflecting, netting, devouring of earth (mountains, nature) by the world (buildings, culture), the idea of the balance between opposites goes awry and perhaps we can find in the following assertion from Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art a way to negotiate this reading:

World and earth are essentially different from one another and yet are never separated.  The world grounds itself on the earth, and earth juts through world.  Yet the relation between world and earth does not wither away into the empty unity of opposites unconcerned with one another.  The world, in resting upon the earth, strives to surmount it.  As self-opening it cannot endure anything closed.  The earth, however, as sheltering and concealing, tends always to draw the world into itself and keep it there.

For those that would have the buildings represent world, in juxtaposition to earth, as represented by the mountains, it is Big Face-off (2012) that entertains this fantasy.  The composition is simple: on the left the mountain rises without foundation, and on the right the building which is of equal height and is also without foundation, mirrors it.  Each is ungrounded.  Yet inside the building, framed in such a way that both forms are contained within it, we have the same building and mountain, with one subtle difference:  On the outside of the building, earth and world, as represented in the world of this painting as a whole, are equals, yet, in the building’s fantasy (contained within it) it is slightly higher than the mountain and thus placed above the earth.  Thus the world elevates itself, without foundation, above earth.  Within the idea of mastery, world has always believed in its masterful position in relation to earth, and this is in some sense true: but as elicited in this painting, one sees that the master is, in fact, also enslaved, but less apparently so, by his servant.2 

The mountains, resolutely unreflective, are reflected by the shiny surfaces of the buildings, exposing the emptiness of the world that presumes itself to be full, and thus generous.  While both mountain and building loom massive, the sharp, polished hygiene of the buildings seem to swallow the mountains into their sterile guts in an orgy of desire, but the mountains cannot be digested, transformed or surmounted, nor can the buildings, as revealed by the refusal of the indifferent mountains in their stubborn opacity.  Thus, the place of world is empty, existing only in form.  What is cunningly suggested here is that, without the articulation of the world, the ostensible relation between world and earth would not exist, however, at the same time we are shown that the world is nothing more than our articulations of it and therefore does not exist. The world then, is precisely the entire backdrop, the foundation upon which this articulation of the relation between world and earth is built: it is not shown and in not being shown it suggests the actual (terrifying) absence of the world, the world which we have to conjure, and which, as such, is ours [mine] alone. 

Rabie’s exquisite rendering of veils of light and colour infuses the buildings and the surrounding space with an almost romantic sense of the sublime, lending them something of the power invested in the Christian tabernacle which it is believed holds secure the “Real Presence” of the Holy Spirit.  However both of these objects are empty.  While the Tabernacle is deliberately opaque so as to prevent the “Real Presence” being defiled by what we might refer to as the logic of the gaze, the luminous, reflective surfaces of the skyscraper are a pretence that there is, ironically, “nothing” to hide, suggesting its fictitious fullness by reflecting back at us the emptiness of the “substance” that caused them to be built.  Thus these objects call upon our tacit need for them to be full of meaning, if actually full of nothing.  It is in these that we reveal our insecurity with being human and with being mortal and thus blindly trust in what cannot be founded in actuality.

Before continuing, it may be useful to think of world as Ouroboros, the serpent that eats its own tail.   In order for the world to exist, it must perpetually generate and simultaneously devour itself in order to avoid encountering the gap between existing (worldliness) and not existing (or simply being earth).  This may explain the tension, that arouses a certain anxiety in the viewer, between the building and the mountains, as though they are pushing against each other, but neither moves the other. (Can it be that the very gap that is perceived between them is what holds the world in place?)  The anxiety is such in the strict Lacanian sense: it is honest, it cannot lie, but it also does not tell/point – it does not show its cause, does not expose itself and therefore cannot exist as a problem able to be overcome.  The root of the anxiety evades diagnosis. 

 It is the opacity of the relation between the buildings and mountains that reveals that both are earth. That which is spontaneously read as standing for world, and as such satisfying our desire for the gentle balance and reassurance of the unity of the opposites, is in fact fugitive; in the opacity of their relation to the mountains, the buildings perform the same relentless retreat that we now know earth to, and in the place where world ought to be held, instead there is again earth.The place for world is the same emptiness (as earth). The repetition of earth in mountains and earth in buildings is precisely what points us to the impotence of those grand gestures: that they cannot escape earth, it is not even that all our attempts to hold earth in the openness of world fail, it is that our attempts to formalize world are impotent and fail to escape earth.4  It is perhaps in works such as Götterdämmerung (2013), where the mountain overwhelms the building that no longer even reflects anything, that the futility of bargaining a difference to the earth is admitted. 

Before submitting to what might be read as the nihilistic tone of this interpretation, it is worth considering Rabie’s works again.  The delicate and luminous light and colour that infuse her paintings after 2010 and the rendering of the buildings as towers suffused by light lend them a sense of transcendent beauty that provides a gentle, but unbalancing nudge to the central and somewhat uneasy and anxious quality of the work.

It is the last of these paintings that appear to gracefully concede to the world as just that, ideas that form about things in relation to other things and thus make them recognizable within the ephemeral and restless ghost that is the world – the world as the work of cognition, and thus endlessly generating the meanings and perceptions of existence. 

We can see here that the earth does not need to know that it exists and is indifferent to our ontological naggings that try to make sense of the anxiety we feel. We can see too, that world or the things we identify therein are nothing more than earth too – to bring them into the world we have to both see them and then see them again in relation to everything else. Thus both the mountains and buildings address this particular understanding of being, and humans are both the masters and slaves of the constructions of world as experienced by each of us in our own worlds and those we share.  So, as worldly creatures, as with Ouroboros, the painter must continue to paint and the philosopher must continue to think or, as Slavoj Zizek once remarked, “if I stop talking the world might end.”

There is a delicious capitulation of world in the last works of this series, seen particularly in The Canyon (2013) and Known Unknowns (2014).  Here the emptiness of the world is gently acknowledged and its vestigial, ghostly presence drifts over and into earth.  Thus Rabie’s work performs precisely as painting should.  It does not tell, it does not opine, it refuses in its openness to be closed and is therefore resolutely of the world.  What it does do is take us to that barely discernible horizon, the source of our deepest anxieties that we perceive as the gap between the earth and the world.  This gap, most certainly for want of a better word, defies definition, while being that on which the being of the world depends.  Some try to name this the abyss, the thing, the gap, some the Absolute, others God and yet others, nothing at all.  These quietly thoughtful and compelling works hold us there until our desire to name and thus be worldly becomes unbearable and then words must prevail, again.


1. Despite the increasing violence of natural forces and the overpopulation by humans of the planet’s land-mass, we are still convinced that we can master her, perhaps more kindly, by introducing ‘green’ consumption – a wonderful self-deception that demonstrates the construction of the idea of Nature by World, thus being something to be remade at will.

2. The master-slave relationship is an idea forged by a number of thinkers including Jacques Lacan who based his theory of the “Discourse of the Master” on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic.

3. On the retreat of earth, Heidegger says in The Origin of the Work of Art:  “[Earth]… shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained.  Earth thus shatters every attempt to penetrate it.   It causes every merely calculating importunity upon it to turn into a destruction.  This destruction may herald itself under the appearance of mastery and of progress in the form of technical-scientific objectification of nature, but this mastery nevertheless remains an impotence of will.  The earth appears openly cleared as itself only when it is perceived and preserved as that which is essentially undisclosable, that which shrinks from every disclosure and constantly keeps itself closed up.”

4. Escaping earth is another way of referring to the desire for transcendence and thus immortality that is a foundational drive of western thinking, whether expressed philosophically or theologically.  The binaries with which we have made our world arrange opposites on a kind of sliding scale between earth and world.   Not surprisingly these are also gendered as is God (father) and Earth (mother).   Hence, most corporeal things are female, such as ships, and ideas are male, explaining the valorization of male thought over female thought.  Within this too, feeling, especially via the senses, is female and seen as inferior to rational thinking which is celebrated for its objectivity – in other words, not sullied by feeling.  The celebration of the idea is that it can continue without the physical body of the maker – thus it can be deemed transcendent and immortal.

Tree Long Ago (2006) 25x18.7 Acrylic on canvas

Tree Long Ago
25×19 cm

Tree in the City
129×63 cm

After the Place
90×50 cm

Blue City
129×60 cm

110×75 cm


by Lloyd Pollak

Although the theme of ecological catastrophe dominates this entire corpus of paintings, nowhere is this doomsday scenario addressed with such unequivocal directness as in Tree Long Ago.  In this strictly symmetrical, centralized and frontal Y-shaped composition, a tree stands in complete isolation against a stony mud-coloured ground and a cloudless sky. The lean, stripped-down tree is handled in a manner so simplified and stylized, that it acquires the iconic impact of traffic signage or a logo. The tubular shape of the round trunk is accentuated, so that this looks far more like a piece of lead piping, than a living thing, and in fact the tree is so generic and de-particularized that it seems to form a sign for a tree, rather than a real tree. 

Entirely gray in colour, and devoid of any hint of leaf, or redemptive green, this arboreal specimen clearly subverts the conventional symbolism of the tree of life with its brace of positive associations.  Rabie’s tree represents impotence and sterility, rather than the generative principle, growth, reproduction and the nurturing forces of nature.   It rises upward, but never attains its true height, as its upper reaches have been brutally felled.  Not only has growth been arrested, but the tree has been rendered barren and incapable of either regenerating itself, or reproducing. There it stands, its two branches uplifted in solemn warning and hopeless imprecation.

Some gaseous brown substance gathers in the sky, and creates a toxic sense of smog. As the tips of the tree’s branches move outwards, so they become drained of colour and substance, as if acid rain and a polluted atmosphere were relentlessly gnawing away at them.  There is deathly finality, a terminal conclusiveness about this wan threnody on the death of nature, and by implication, that of humanity, for this is a wasteland in which nothing but stones, and the remains of the tree survive.  The same tree reappears in Tree in the City where it is surrounded by corporate headquarters and office space.  This image obviously aims at a wider significance, and serves as a metaphor for the sterility of modern urban life, the severance of the links, ties and bonds that once united humanity, the rupture of contact, the vanished feeling of community and the growing sense of loneliness, isolation and emotional atrophy.

Known Unknowns, the converse of Tree Long Ago, generates a sense of untrammelled boundlessness and release.  This panoramic, bird’s eye view of a dense, luxuriant forest of African trees sweeps over the undulant hills and dales, stretching for miles before it disappears over the horizon line of tiered hills lined up neatly, one behind the other.  All this surging verdure and growth creates a sense of a lush, primeval forest; of unspoiled nature in the raw; of a pristine wilderness left untouched by man.   

However a question mark hovers over this, as yet, untamed wild.  The outline of two gigantic skyscrapers superimposed over the carpet of greenery strikes an ominous note, and hints at imminent despoliation. Unreal, transparent and devoid of any material substance, volume or weight, these looming monoliths appear chimerical, rather than real, and it is as if the landscape were experiencing a premonition of its future fate. Sometimes, as here, and in Twin Peaks, the artist conjures up Edenic  spaces, and appears concerned with the possibility of future devastation, and sometimes, as in Tree Long Ago, she shifts the tense to the present, and records a grim fait accompli.  

Such is the case in the title painting, After the Place, where the assault upon the environment proceeds apace, and nature, in the form of cliffs, is juxtaposed with invasive architecture. A massive, slabby, windowless block of building rises up from the rocky heights it so hideously disfigures. The inference is that part of the mountain is buried beneath it, or alternatively, that the latter has been demolished to make way for this philistine town-planner’s dream.  The building strikes us as a barbaric profanation, and we recoil in horror, for Rabie’s delineations of fragments of rock faces always form a shorthand for Table Mountain, prompting a glow of recognition in the viewer who bristles at any interference with this beloved landmark and symbol of our identity. Although these very partial glimpses of gorges and ravines are mere segments of a greater whole, ruthlessly taken out of context, they prove rousingly emotive, as they evoke something with which we wholeheartedly identify, something that radiates benign overtones of divine creation, and thus appears, almost sacred. Sunlight pours onto these lofty rock-faces, bathing them in a golden light so that they glow with warmth.  

As in the companion pieces, Face-off and Big Face-off, what is proposed is a sustained comparison between the architecture and the mountain, both of which are given equal weight. Boldly silhouetted against the sky, they form two blocks that balance each other, but fail to coexist in harmony.  Although the seams, cracks, fissures and gaps in the cliffs in Face-off form patterns clearly reminiscent of brickwork, and mirror the divisions of the floors and windows in the adjacent building, the sharp contrast between the organic and the man-made, clearly imply that mountain and architecture contest the space upon which they stand, and exist in opposition to each other.  

In After the Place and Götterdämmerung, the architectural excrescences assume a smooth, sheer, planar form as featureless as a cardboard egg-box, or a polystyrene cup.  A bludgeoning inflation of scale is accompanied by a stylistic nullity and lack of any expressive dimension.  The architecture makes no statement about time, geography, climate, materials, the people who built it, or the people who work in, or inhabit it.  The blunt, bald blocks make no effort to blend in with their environment, nor to acknowledge human tastes and needs.  This is brutalism at its most brutal and pitiless.  

This group of hybrid paintings, half cityscape and half landscape, treat of invasion and encroachment, and portray the mountain in the process of being devoured by ruthless urban development. Rabie’s art is an art of estrangement, and it emotes a haunting blankness and vacancy. The canvases ache with absence and loss.  There is nary a glimpse of man.  There are no animals, no flowers, and in most, although not all, of the works, no trees or vegetation. This is a bleak vision of an apocalyptic future in which life appears to have entirely died out, and all that is left in its wake are the craggy stone heights of the deserted mountain and the empty architectural monoliths. 

Blue City’s title describes both the colour and the mood of the painting which is executed in the artist’s distinctive palette of cold, leaden, gun-metal grays and dark blues. These create a deeply depressive and intensely anti-naturalistic effect in which the time is neither day nor night, but a perpetual dusk, with Wagnerian overtones of Götterdämmerung and impending doom.  In Blue City and City, a clump of tall, thin, glass and cement skyscrapers, seen from below, careen upwards toward the frame, and their soaring motion possesses a Jack-in-the-box dynamism and thrust.   The two ranges of towering masses are viewed diagonally as they travel into the picture space, and meet near the centre.  Both their position, one placed in front of the other, and the diagonal lines formed by the fenestration, seem to carve out a three dimensional space, but, in City, this recession is immediately denied by the flat gray at the centre of the buildings which returns the eye to two dimensions in the lower register.   

Rabie’s formats and architectural totems are both tall and vertical, forcing the viewer to choose between looking at either the top of the composition, or its base, as both cannot be encompassed in a single glance. Because the viewpoint is placed high above the level of the ground, any allusion to terra firma is eliminated, and all we see is this jostling barrage of skyscrapers many of which are cut off by the frame above, below, and on both sides.  Not only do we loose any frame of reference, but no vantage point invites us into the picture space, nor is there any path between the buildings to allow us to pick our way through the maze of glass, bricks and mortar. These profoundly inhospitable paintings, like the cities and structures they represent, clearly state ‘No Entry’ and ‘Keep Out’.

As the orthogonals actually meet within the picture space, rather than at infinity as they are supposed to do, they assume a potent outward-pressing momentum, so that the buildings invade the void spaces in front of them, and jump out, toward the viewer.

Rabie’s cities may be ghost-towns, but they pulse with an unnerving vitality, and the latter does not inhere to the subject matter, but proceeds from the style the artist applies to it. It is Rabie’s galvanic idiom that makes the city spring into life.  The vertiginously steep skyscrapers diminish in width, as they rise in height, at a rate far more rapid, than a normal perspectival construction would allow.  The distortion causes all the ascendant vertical contours of the buildings to whisk the eye from the bottom to the top of the picture, hurling us, like a projectile, into the mottled gray sky.  At the same time, there is a suicidal tumble downwards towards the absent ground space between the buildings. This dive-bombing, free fall sucks the viewer into the picture space, but provides him with no support, so he is subjected to the full pressure of gravity as he hurtles down towards the earth.  The orthogonals of the fenestration also conduct the eye to the centre of the picture, at the same time as they move it outwards towards the frame on either side.  A whole variety of forced perspectives endow all these warring directional thrusts with an irresistible force that sends the eye spinning every which way, allowing it no rest.    

The unreal, collapsing spaces, unanchored structures, and unnaturally dim light and steep shadow give the paintings an uncanny Surreal appearance. After the Place is a harrowing suite of prophetic dream images that clearly predict the horrors the future holds in store. The paintings bristle with internal contradictions which render Rabie’s vision of urban space even more eerie and alienating.  In City, the light fails to fall in one consistent direction.  It pours onto both the buildings to left, and to right, which would be impossible in reality.   The façades are strongly illuminated, whereas the mountain peaks directly above them, are illogically cast into deep shade. The sky is completely empty and untenanted, yet clouds waft across the reflective glass surfaces of the building to right. Whatever space there is between the townscape, and the mountain beyond it, dissolves in City where the peaks crown the buildings, making the painting top-heavy and imbalanced.  The craggy heights become an oppressive deadweight, applying a shattering pressure to the architecture beneath them which threatens to disintegrate and bury the city in debris.  

Rabie’s soaring arrays of hubristic skyscrapers seem to convey psychological repercussions, and record how the monotony and uniformity of a completely regimented, environment impoverishes experience. The cities with their almost identical buildings presuppose a race of genetically engineered clones, an acquiescent Orwellian citizenry of stupefied zombies.

Blue Façade, a tonal study in blue and gray, teeters on the brink of pure abstraction. The entire picture space is monopolized by the sides of two separate glass buildings which meet at centre. However the latter are so radically cropped, and so charged with effects of see-through, dazzle and light, that they become almost unrecognizable, turning the painting into a discombobulating brain-teaser.   The steep gorges and gullies of the mountain appear in the glass cladding of the buildings, but whether these are reflected, or whether we see them through the glass, remains a mystery.  In this tour de force of spatial wizardry, the problem of deciding what lies in front, and what lies behind, becomes insoluble, creating complete confusion. The viewer can no longer identify what he is looking at, and is thus deprived of all purchase on reality. After the Place establishes Janice Rabie as a highly inventive artist, who has devised an entire kit of purely personal devices and strategies to eloquently convey the complications of our emotional and visual responses to our rapidly changing environment.