Is it possible to keep learning, and to find new avenues of expression, after five decades of painting? Absolutely it is. For proof, check out Sue Fitzgerald’s painting Studio Table in the Spring. And look at the orange.
On the left side of the canvas, this rogue fruit appears half in and half out of the frame. It’s a small idea, this notion of an object breaking out of the composition. But it’s something Sue had not explored before. And it intrigued her. In fact, the entire painting was something of a departure.
“I had been reading a book about Bonnard, who is one of my favourites,” she says. “I looked up and saw my table cloth bathed in light and decided to paint it. But because of ideas I had picked up in the book, I left much more white space in the centre of the canvas than I normally do. And I decided to push the orange to the edge of the frame. It’s a very different composition for me. But I was really happy with it.”
The story of Studio Table in the Spring reflects Sue’s undiminished appetite for exploration. Normally, this takes the form of overseas travel. Typically, when preparing a new collection, Sue roams the world seeking out exotic settings for her trademark landscapes and still lives. This new show is no exception, though interestingly it sees Sue returning to familiar places.
One example is Emerald Hill. This is one of Sue’s lovely window scenes, and it shows the view on to one of Singapore’s increasingly rare traditional locations. Sue lived in Singapore many years ago and was delighted to find this spot unchanged when she went back.
“So much of Singapore is like a shopping mall now,” she says. “It was lovely to go back and see glimpses of the unspoilt old country at Emerald Hill. I had to paint it.”
Elsewhere in the show, the artist brings us similarly vibrant work from other favourite locations. For example, she returned to her beloved Languedoc in the south of France – and Peach Trees in the Herault Valley is the result. It’s such a beautiful piece. This painting is, of course, a typical Fitzgerald landscape, with its flattened planes and scintillating colour palette. It shows what’s possible when an artist breaks free of the restrictions of ‘correct’ perspective. Sometimes Sue goes even further with this idea. For example, Farmhouse in the Luberon reinvents the hilly landscape as if it’s a giant patchwork quilt.
This may be an apt comparison given Sue’s great passion for fabrics, which often serve as a visual cue for a painting. She loves to collect silks, ceramics and other artefacts on her travels. One can only guess at her baggage allowance bill.
But long may her suitcases bulge. Sue has been refining her artistic approach since graduating from art school in the 1960s. Her appetite for painting is undimmed, and it has helped her become one of Britain’s finest colourists.
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