I want to express something one feels it must be part of what one calls a creative impulse, a momentary compulsion to identify with a scene, a farmer, an animal in the zoo. For a few minutes the desire is desperate.
Excerpt from artist statement in Rae Perlin: Sketches and Studies exhibition publication, organized by Memorial University Art Gallery, 1982.
Rae Perlin was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1910. As a child, Perlin was inclined to sketch and draw, but as a young woman she thought it more acceptable to follow a career other than art. To depend on art for a livelihood was not a feasible thing at that time in Newfoundland, especially for a woman. Instead, Perlin moved to New York City where she became a nurse in 1934.
Living and working in a large cosmopolitan city, Perlin was exposed to art she would never have encountered had she remained in Newfoundland. The nursing profession sustained her financially and provided her with flexible hours so that she could continue to work towards a future career as an artist. When Perlin began working evening shifts, she was able to attend art classes during the day.
At forty, Perlin moved to Paris to study at L'Académie Grande Chaumière and Académie Ranson. She travelled around Europe in the 1950s, sketching and absorbing the fine art cultures of the countries she visited.
In 1959, Perlin returned to St. John's to work as an artist and writer. In 1960, she began a career as an art reviewer, writing regularly for local newspapers The Daily News and The Evening Telegram, as well as the weekly magazine The Newfoundland Herald. She was an active member of the Newfoundland Writers' Guild and a regular participant in the Newfoundland Arts and Letters Competition, winning their highest visual arts award in 1962 and in 1967.
In 1982, Memorial University Art Gallery organized a retrospective of Perlin's work that consisted of 78 sketches, drawings and paintings. The 1980s and 1990s were very successful periods for Perlin as her work was exhibited extensively in commercial galleries and at the Memorial University Art Gallery, now the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador (AGNL).
In Marion White's biography of Perlin entitled, Not a Still Life, AGNL's director, Patricia Grattan, writes that Perlin's sketches "exhibit the best qualities of such artwork directness, economy of line, impressions conveyed through a few eloquent strokes and shapes and washes of colour, a sense of sharing the artist's first fresh vision. They suggest Rae's own lively curiosity, restlessness and selective eye."
Perlin's artwork is part of private and public collections including the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's Permanent Collection, and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.