Professor Lynne Suo on Simon Fletcher.
Simon Fletcher was born in Birmingham and since 1982 has lived with his wife, Julie, in the mountains of the Herault in Languedoc. An unapologetic europhile he is widely traveled and exhibited in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, England and France. The inspiration for his work, in recent years, has extended to Morocco, India, Japan, but retains the classical European watercolour traditions at its core. A professional landscape designer, Fletcher is passionate about the possibilities for emotional reprieve in landscape and attends his brilliant watercolour palate and brushes with great intensity, flirting with abstraction at the edges of his paper yet never leaving the recognizable structures of his experience. His works have an appreciative audience.
Patrick Cameron, a retired businessman from London, living on the spectacular hillsides of the Orb valley has a particular love of landscapes, no doubt inspired by the situation of his home, and is a collector of Fletcher’s work. He now owns three watercolours and a print from a recent vernissage in Pezenas. There is a vibrant Garden in Neffies, a celebration of the houses, gardens and palms in hot reds and deep blues, a purple church with bleeds of red into sage. Another, “must have” for Cameron is a view of Vernaza from Monterossa in the Cinqueterra that is startling in its shadow. The view is from under a boardwalk, at low tide, eight heavily encrusted posts recede into the middle of the frame. Often, in Fletcher’s work there is an unexpected darkness, a blur of a rock, a bloom of Payne’s grey that hints at a not-so-pretty history of place. It is indeed hard to work in the Mediterranean without some reminder of conquest, some bloody battle, some dark purge of Cathars or Jews and, if one takes history as seriously as Fletcher does, it is hard not to see those threats in the blur and swipe of his brush. Even in the more sedate prints (Cameron owns one of French Catalonia) there is a sickly yellow in the calm of the marsh—a disturbing stain on the landscape, a smudge of industrialism on the far horizon. These are contemporary takes on landscape, not merely a transparent nostalgic romancing. A more recent purchase for Cameron (from the summer of 2008) is an atmospheric scene of spring blossoms, splattered with peach and all the yearnings of spring racing the depth of the village. This is Haut Languedoc, Fletcher’s home turf, but it is not all unadulterated—one layer washes over the other. Like Eliot, there is churning and breeding, if not some cruelty, in these April works, a sadness for things past and a recognition of what we have done to blight our planet.
Fletcher, when he wants to, also finds a profound Arcadian métier in villages and fields. In numerous Languedoc village scenes traversing all seasons we find domestic dwellings, tumbling volumes, contrasting colours, one squeezed up against the next, centuries imploding under the gaze of bell towers, church spires, turrets. There is a sense of the eternal, the persistence of human labour in these works. If Poussin, Gauguin and Edward Lear could compose a picnic they would take it in the middle of a Fletcher watercolour. In his celebration of landscape, Paysages de la Vigne and du Vin en Languedoc (Fletcher collaborated with the journalist and wine and travel writer, Rupert Wright, on a giddy tour of twenty Domaines.), the viewer sits in the timeless fields shared with labourers from the Greeks and Romans to the present day, sipping from a sheepskin as the sun pours honey colours over the villas and grand chateaux with their cypress allees, wild flowers, tended gardens, and mazets. We can relax under open skies, in the camaraderie of exhausted vignerons and watch as shadows merge through endless rows of vines. For full sensory overload, these watercolours demand a glass of wine. One of the paintings from that book depicting the Chartreuse de Mougeres, is owned by sometime-resident Jonathan Miller and hangs on the wall in the centre of his library in Caux. It seems a requirement of slow middle age that one should also sit there awhile, scanning shelves, debating the varietals of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre while gazing at this glorious monastery in the sun.
Clive and I have had the pleasure of living in the Languedoc for the winter in Rupert Wright and Helana Frith Powell’s house that contains a large charcoal by Fletcher of a rainstorm over the nearby hills. For weeks I looked at the sleet coming down and the spots of light breaking through cloud as I sat reading by the fire. The work is grey and gloomy with a church spire almost submerged in the centre of the frame. One day while driving through the mountains north of Lamalou-les-Bains we were hit by a sudden rainstorm and fierce ice pellets clacked on the roof of the car. Clive pulled over and I opened the window to scoop a cold breath and snap a picture of the descending cloud. When I downloaded the photos I realized I had subconsciously replicated the view I had been living with all winter. Sometimes, the scenes press down on the memory and stick there, riding the junction between reverie and dark dreams. So in my slower years I would like to spend time pondering these passionate landscapes, the lives of those who came before and will come after. I have left clear instructions for my daughters: do not wheel me out to gaze into the teeth of some rotting shark, please pick up the torn clothing in the corner, and for pity’s sake make my bed. I do not wish to be left, like Kurtz, pondering “the horror, the horror.” I wish to remember what I love about this life. Give me a Fletcher landscape any day.
Professor Lynne Suo MA