Founded in 2010, FabrianoinAcquarello is an annual international watercolour convention which takes place over five days in the mediaeval town of Fabriano, Italy. The famous handmade Fabriano paper has been made here since 1264, combining natural fibres with pulp by skilled artisans of the craft. Every May, over 80 countries are represented by a team of artists working in watercolour to create a five-day festival attended by over 1,500 participants, enjoying exhibitions, debate, demonstrations, creativity, friendship, dialogue, music, culture, local food and wine. The aim is based on ‘art as world heritage’, to protect the tradition of painting in watercolour, promote innovation and encourage younger generations of artists. The 2022 convention took place in its new home, Bologna, as well as events in Fabriano.
Scotland has been represented by fifteen artists every year since 2017, but due to the pandemic lockdowns and other issues, submissions for 2020, 2021 and 2022 were only exhibited online. Now their watercolour paintings can be viewed at the UNIONgallery.
The leader of this year’s Scottish group showcase is Jenny Matthews RSW (Royal Society of Watercolourists), who is renowned for her delicate floral studies. She studied at the Edinburgh College of Art, where the late Elizabeth Blackadder was her tutor at the Royal Botanic Garden. ‘The versatility of watercolour lends itself to the depiction of flowers. My paintings are almost like portraits. I’m interested in the character of the flower.‘ – Jenny Matthews
Gentian Moon, with its flower pots and decorative jug under a crescent moon, represents a still life ‘Portrait’ in the detailed design – a splatter of star-like dots, sweeping brush strokes and fluid ink blots giving a washed effect. Gentian plants have intense blue flowers and are traditionally used in herbal medicine.
‘My Summer Garden’ – I grew all the flowers and spent many hours sitting amongst them, painting and listening to the bees and the birds.’ – Jenny Matthews
Angus McEwan has recently been appointed the president of the RSW. A multi-award winning artist, he received 1st prize at the Marche d’ Acqua Fabriano Watercolour International in 2012, then invited to present workshops and be a judge for Fabriano competitions. ‘I love watercolours’ vibrancy, its matt quality. I work for long hours perfecting each piece using multi layers of pure colour to develop that crisp, sharp quality. I have enjoyed exploring textures and surfaces with watercolour… old doors, windows, walls and buildings, in fact anything which is transient in our environment.’ – Angus McEwan
The title Sacred and Profane is borrowed, perhaps, from Durkheim’s theory on the difference between religious objects relating to God, in contrast to everyday life in a secular society. The surface texture is akin to a collage, the multi-layered technique of torn, curled edges of the poster, faded text, ad hoc scraps of paper and graffiti as if randomly painted with an aerosol spray. Study it carefully to spot the faint portrait of the Madonna – her serene, youthful face almost hidden in a white headdress, camouflaged against the tobacco-brown stone of a wall or a wooden door.
‘The image is taken from a poster seen in Venice, and the sacred Madonna is inspired by a painting by Sassoferrato’. – Angus McEwan.
This refers to Sassoferrato’s devotional portrait, Virgin at Prayer, an intimate moment of silence and solitude, her bowed head and hands pressed gently together.
Sheena Phillips specialises in painting abstracted landscapes, fascinated by the drama and transience of changing light especially under the evening sky.
‘I want to capture the moment of exhilaration, the moment can be over so quickly, and I want to hold it – nature at its best. I was painting on the Scottish moors near Edinburgh ..there had been a thunderstorm the night before, and I turned to the south to see this glow through the heavy clouds – it was mesmerising.’ – Sheena Phillips.
After the Storm is indeed a mesmerising scenic view, the soft misty light enveloping the shadowy silhouette of hills and then the eye is draw to the half-hidden, glimmering glow of light, right in the centre on the horizon – a fleeting moment in time before the sunlight vanished.
Having reviewed previous solo exhibitions by Sarah Knox, her artistic style captures ‘magical, masterly landscapes, a journey around tranquil gardens, glens, islands and seashore illuminated with such expressive, poetic vision’. Sarah also represented Scotland at FabrianoinAcquarello in 2018, which was a most inspiring experience, as she describes: ‘a remarkable event, delightful setting and artists from 80 countries networking – it’s magical.’
Soul Sea is once again, a painterly poetic, impressionistic, cool composition. The subtle palette of pale indigo, dove grey and aquamarine blend in a swirl of translucent watercolour: ‘While on a cruise around the Inner Hebrides on board the Hebridean Princess, we saw the Corryvechran Whirlpool from the deck – a truly amazing maelstrom. ‘Soul Sea’ is inspired by the Gulf of Corryvreckan, the strait near the Isle of Jura. I aim to capture the light and the tidal current.’ – Sarah Knox
With a delicate sweep of brushstrokes, this is a sketchy, abstract to depict the ebb and flow of watery waves, streak of rain clouds – an evocative, soft shimmer of a seascape which is so captivating.
A new member of the RSW, Pascale Rentsch is a Swiss artist living in East Lothian, surrounded by tranquil countryside and coastline. She draws and paints outdoors in all weather conditions, instinctively and spontaneously to capture the vision of nature and the elements. Drawing us right into the landscape, Autumn Sunshine over Scottish Heather creates such a stunning, colourful view, the plum purple flowers of heather like a carpet over the rolling Lammermuir Hills. While grey clouds linger overhead, a strong burst of sunlight illuminates the scene through a light misty smir of rain.
‘My language is paint. I enjoy exploring mark-making, reacting to what I see, feel and hear. I love the fact that whenever I am in nature, I know I will always find something beautiful, something that touches me, however small and insignificant might appear‘. – Pascale Rentsch
Kirsty Lorenz is inspired by nature, informed by research into the work of Victorian botanical artist Mary Delany, science, spirituality, magic and medicine. Recent decorative illustrations reimagine the glowing light of the moon and sun as blossoming golden flowers.
‘My work is inspired by nature, specifically flowers and plants, a subject both resilient and profoundly fragile. Visually my work is informed by my observation and research of the plants I depict. but recently becoming more stylised and expressive.’ – Kirsty Lorenz
The perfect circle of a charming daisy chain is the subject for Wheel of Life, which does indeed capture the essential fragility of flowers, the soft velvety texture of the petals and slender green stalks. Set simply on a white background, the subtle effect of light and shadow is most impressive.
‘This is one of an ongoing series of paintings of daisy chains, a subject that evokes childhood memories and suggests that in life everything is connected.’ – Kirsty Lorenz
This selection of paintings, featured as part of FabrianoinAcquarello over recent years, certainly illustrates the high professional standard – six of the artists are members of the RSW – and its diverse range of subjects. This showcase of 25 watercolour paintings also includes charming travel scenes in Scotland, France, Mexico, still life, animals and abstract designs.
The full list of exhibitors comprises Angus McEwan PRSW, RGI, RWS, PRSW, Emma S Davis RSW, PAI, Emma Selina Blackhall, Jenny Matthews RSW, Jennie Tuffs, Jennifer Irvine RSW RGI, Libby R Lilburn, Liz Dulley, Pascale Rentsch RSW, Peter Quinn RSW, Reinhard Behrens RSW, RGI, Sarah L Knox, Sheena Phillips, and Kirsty Lorenz.
With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.