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By Susan Mansfield, 15.11.2022
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Jenny Matthews, My Summer Garden. Courtesy of Union Gallery.

The small town of Fabriano in Italy, a leading producer of paper, is known as the watercolour capital of the world. Every spring, it is the host of an international watercolour convention, FabrianoinAcquarello (FiA), attended by some 1,500 artists from over 80 countries. (Post-pandemic, due to greater provision of accommodation, the decision was taken to move the event to Bologna). 

Artist Jenny Matthews has been leader of the Scottish group at FiA since 2017. As it has not been possible for Scottish artists to visit the festival in person since 2019 due to the pandemic, she has organised an exhibition at the Union Gallery in Edinburgh featuring some of those who took part in the online exhibitions. 

The exhibition, which reflects FiA’s inclusive, non-competitive ethos, includes a broad spectrum of artists working in watercolour, from Morag Muir’s richly patterned still lifes to Sarah Knox’s expressive, semi-abstract landscapes and seascapes.

Jenny Matthews

Jenny Matthews is one of Scotland’s leading painters of flowers. She made the decision to work exclusively in watercolour after training under Elizabeth Blackadder at Edinburgh College of Art. She says her approach was transformed by watching Blackadder working on a flat surface with pigment and “a lot of water”. “I actually find that quite exciting because you are constantly working with the risk of the painting running away from you”. 

Jenny, who is based in Edinburgh, was invited to take part in the biennial watercolour prize in Fabriano, Marche de’Acqua, in 2016 and 2022, and was elected to membership of the RSW in October.

Her paintings in this exhibition, ‘Gentian Moon’ and ‘My Summer Garden’, reflect two different aspects of her practice, the painting of cut flowers in still life compositions, and painting flowers outdoors in their natural environment. She said: “I feel that if you’re trying to portray plants watercolour works really well because there are a lot of markings on flowers which look as though they have been painted in watercolour.”

Angus McEwan

Angus McEwan, who is based in Fife, is a leading watercolour artist who has won over 30 prizes in the Unites States, China, Thailand, Greece and Italy for his realist paintings. In 2018, he received a third-place award in the ARC Salon Competition, the largest and most prestigious competition in the world for realist art.

He said he is always drawn to weathered surfaces, from rusting metal to peeling paint. “I’ve always enjoyed exploring textures and colours. I have grown fond of old doors, windows, walls and buildings. The more aged, decrepit or falling apart my subject matter is, the more important it is to capturing the fugitive nature of life.”

His painting ‘The Golden Chalice’, a prize-winner at last year’s RSW Annual Exhibition, shows a dimly lit interior, perhaps in a shed or workshop, where shaft of light falls across a table illuminating a mug in gold, a picture of how time and attention can make a simple object precious.

Pascale Rentsch, Autumn Sunshine over Scottish Heather. Courtesy of Union Gallery.

Pascale Rentsch

Pascale Rentsch is a Swiss-born artist based in East Lothian, who studied at Edinburgh College of Art. She is a passionate painter of the Scottish landscape, from the East Lothian coast to the high moorlands of the Lammermuirs. ‘Autumn Sunshine Over Scottish Heather’ captures the colours and moods of a mountain landscape in early autumn.

She says: “I draw and paint en plein air, directly from nature in all weather conditions. I work instinctively, following my feelings, capturing nature and the elements in a spontaneous manner. I enjoy working outdoors with my materials, exploring mark-making and connecting with my surroundings, reacting to what I see, feel and hear.” 

In 2021, Pascale won the RSW Scottish Arts Club Award at the Annual RSW Open Exhibition, and she was elected to membership of the RSW in October. She has made a film about her work, ‘This Is My Voice’, part funded by the Visual Artist and Craft Maker Award 2021.

Kirsty Lorenz

Kirsty Lorenz, who is based in Fife, is drawn to flowers and plants, inspired by their spiritual and medicinal properties. Earlier this year, she exhibited Recipe for a Miracle, a major body of work at Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries, which charted her journey from realistic representations of plants towards more stylised and expressive compositions.

Her work has been informed by research on the history of plants in healing at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, The Royal College of Physicians, Kew Gardens Library and Archive and by looking at plant illustrations in 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century herbalist texts.

Her work in this exhibition is ‘Wheel of Life’. She said: “The daisy chain is something I began painting in 2004 when my first child was born, and it became an ongoing series. It was a subject I returned to during the lockdowns. It gave me comfort in its familiarity, keeping me painting through difficult times. As a motif it evokes childhood and symbolises the life cycle and connection.” 

Reinhard Behrens, The Last Goodbye. Courtesy of Union Gallery.

Reinhard Behrens

While studying art in Hamburg in his native Germany, Reinhard Behrens found a toy submarine on a beach. A year later, working as an archaeological draughtsman in Turkey, he saw a reference in a Turkish newspaper to a ship called Naboland. From these beginnings sprang the fictional world which his work has explored for more than 40 years.

When he visited Scotland on an exchange programme and decided to settle here, teaching at art schools in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, hiking in the Scottish mountains in winter helped expand his village of Naboland. It had continued to grow, taking in other landscapes and climates, usually featuring the motif of the toy submarine. 

The painting in this exhibition, ‘The Last Goodbye’, is unusual in that it features a group of people standing, as if posing, for a photograph, with a child playing inside the submarine: another chapter in his travels in this continent of the mind.

FabrianoinAcquarello was exhibited at Union Gallery 15th October to 12th November.