|Mary Fedden, Fruit Dish, 1992|
These are strange times at the Royal West of England Academy, an institution which has traditionally served the region's artists with a genteel lack of concern for footfall or fashion. With the appointment of a new director, Trystan Hawkins, the old dowager has been given a thorough makeover, with a cafe installed where the New Gallery used to be and a summer exhibition designed to pull in the crowds and - judging by the merchandise on offer - part them from their cash.
There's a giant Damien Hirst sculpture of a 1960s Spastics Society collecting box on the balcony and an exhibition, combining behind-the-scenes photographs and paintings, of professional ballroom dancers. The paintings are by Jack Vettriano, who is 'arguably one of the country's most popular living artists', according to the exhibition flyer. The photos, by Jeanette Jones, capture the tension, excitement and fear of a tough competitive world; the paintings offer a less emotionally intense, more glamorous vision.
|Mary Fedden, Window Still Life, 1994|
There are three gorgeous etchings made by Frink in the 1970s, but I really came to see Fedden, an RA and former president of the RWA who is now in her nineties and still painting. She was born in Bristol during World War One and, after studying at the Slade, returned to paint and teach here. The Second World War and marriage to Julian Trevelyan took her away from the city, and today she lives beside the Thames in London.
|Mary Fedden, Red Tulips, 2010|
There are some intimate details - a watercolour of an elephant painted for a friend - but most of the work is of a familiar kind: still lifes of fruit and flowers and jugs, with perhaps the view from a window beyond, also some landscapes. What one tends to lose when looking at reproductions, apart from the texture of the paint, are the subtle variations in colour that add so much to the feeling of a painting. There really is no substitute for seeing a painting live...
Perhaps the next stage in the 'Your Paintings' scheme should be for participating museums and galleries to put on a whole host of one-room shows - not massive, expensive affairs but small, manageable exhibitions. Look what 'Ravilious in Essex' has done for the Fry Art Gallery and tourism in Saffron Walden (3000 extra visitors in a couple of months). Many other artists have a dedicated hard core of fans who would willingly travel for a small, well-thought-out, show.
|Mary Fedden, Lilies, Bird and Zebra, 1999|
You can see photos of the work hanging at the RWA here (scroll down a bit)...