The first of these is Simon Palmer (b. 1956), described in a book about his work as ‘one of Britain’s leading watercolour artists’, whose special subject is North Yorkshire, where he lives. Blackwell’s Art Bookshop in Oxford had The Art of Simon Palmer (2011) on special display: independently Christina and I looked at it, and were attracted at once. It may be that we picked it up thinking that it was about the 19th-century Romantic artist, and contemporary of Blake, Samuel Palmer; in fact, Samuel was an early influence on Simon. As we paged through the book, we saw similarities with other artists we know well, such as Eric Ravilious, Tirzah Garwood, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, and Hieronymus Bosch; and indeed, some of these are cited in connection with Simon Palmer, as influences or analogues, in the accompanying essay by Elspeth Moncreiff.
Palmer is chiefly a landscape artist, with a special affinity for trees, tall and slender, for reflections in water, for long shadows, for the textures of earth, bark, and stone. But his paintings are by no means soothing country scenes. There is often in them an exaggeration of form, a sense that nature has been slightly twisted. A quiet surrealism tends to sit next to the familiar, occasionally (as in the more Bosch-like of the paintings) becoming the dominant feature. Christina says, and I am of the same mind, that she would be hard pressed to decide which of Palmer’s works she would choose, if (in a daydream fantasy) given the chance to own an original.
We did not have that problem with the paintings of Rosalind Lyons Hudson, which we saw at Shakespeare’s Globe. One in particular stood out for us. We knew nothing about this display before we happened upon it, which made the joy of discovering such a talented artist that much greater. Hudson is a young painter inspired particularly by Renaissance, Tudor, and Jacobean sources. The paintings (oils on panel) we saw at the Globe were the result of Hudson’s term as artist in residence, developed from rehearsals and performances at the theatre and from research into period details of stage and costume. Each picture is hauntingly beautiful and richly colored. The painting we particularly liked was Peasblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed, inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m still very fond of these four young fairies, though I now wonder if – choosing my own fantasy acquisition – I wouldn’t prefer The Changeling, used as the cover of the Globe’s 2013 calendar. Although a selection of images described as the ‘Globe Theatre Exhibition’ may be found on the website of the artist’s gallery, additional paintings were on view in May, including the two just mentioned. These can be seen on the Red Dot Gallery website also, among works from private collections.
I’d like to mention as well a third artist whose work it was fun to discover, just twelve months ago. I happened upon images of the work of a Belgian named Quentin Gréban (b. 1977) while searching references for Lisbeth Zwerger, an artist we’ve mentioned before and eventually will write more about in ‘Our Collections’. Gréban’s painting style, with soft colors, a sensitive line, and a love of decoration, has affinities with Zwerger’s, and struck an immediate chord. Gréban, too, is an illustrator for children’s books, particularly of classic tales. We’ve picked up only a few titles so far – Pinocchio, Snow White, Le rossignol et l’empereur, Sarah So Small (originally Capucine, written by the artist’s brother Tanguy) – but will undoubtedly add more.
Images, top to bottom: Detail from the dust-jacket for The Art of Simon Palmer; art by Rosalind Lyons Hudson, The Changeling, on the cover sheet of the 2013 Shakespeare’s Globe calendar, featuring Hudson’s paintings; cover of Le rossignol et l’empereur (The Emperor and the Nightingale) by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Quentin Gréban.