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Sue Fitzgerald 2016

The great colourist Edouard Vuillard said one should ‘conceive a picture really as a series of harmonies’. What a lovely idea. After all, if light is composed of different wavelengths, we should think of colour as some kind of symphony. In that sense, the best painting should be a collection of harmonies as pleasing to the eye as Debussy is to the ear.

This description makes perfect sense when you look at a work by Sue Fitzgerald. She is simply one of Britain’s great colourists. The cobalts and vermillions in her wonderful still lives just dance across the canvas. And now Sue, one of the Catto’s bestloved and most established artists, is back for another show with a fabulous collection of new works.

Of course, starting this overview with a quote by Vuillard was no accident. It’s possible to trace a line between the ‘Nabis’ school of painters (to which Vuillard belonged, as did Bonnard and Denis) and Sue Fitzgerald. She admits they were an influence, and it’s evident in the way she marries a deep passion for colour and pattern with an occasional rejection of conventional perspective.

In Sue’s artistic vision, the maths of ‘correct’ receding space are not always obeyed. Instead, she opens up the foreground. The tables remain square, whatever the viewing angle. This gives Sue the chance to turn compositions into free form arrangements of shapes and planes. In the new collection, there are some standout examples. In Summer Balcony and Daisies, a vase of flowers sits atop a jigsaw of interlocked patterns. In Wild Irises and Fields of Vine and Lilies and Lavender Fields, even the landscape through the window has been transformed into semi-abstract geometry.

That said, Sue is not locked to this technique. Her control is such that she can clearly pick and choose when to improvise with perspective and when to be more ‘conventional’. Thus, Cevennes Mountains and Sunflowers is a very lovely ‘correct’ still life with a background that calls to mind the Provencal landscapes of Van Gogh and Gauguin.

Actually, the backdrops we see in this collection are the mountains of Southern France and the Italian Lakes of Maggiore and Lake Orta. Sue likes to travel! Exotic locations have been an inspiration to the artist ever since graduating from the schools of art at Sunderland and York in the 1960s. She has travelled extensively across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. But it’s not just the landscapes she’s seeking out. Most of the textiles, white porcelain and Nonya pots so lovingly depicted in her work were picked up from flea markets during these expeditions.

Today, Sue’s work is held in many collections around the world. In 2013 she was an invited artist at the ING exhibition in the Mall Galleries in London. Her paintings continue to delight her fans and indeed anyone with a love of visual harmony. Come to the Catto and have a ‘listen’.

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