This week at Rook Lane Chapel we have exhibited a collection of work by two artists which spans more than five decades. Bruce Barnden and Elizabeth Feltham met at art college in Hereford in the 1950s, and exhibited in the town in 1959. Following Bruce’s death, Elizabeth and other family members investigated the paintings, drawings and etchings which had been in storage and discovered a huge body of work. The pieces were un-archived and framed for an exhibition in Hereford, where the couple had lived for some years before moving to Sussex, and then Frome, where Elizabeth lives now.
Bruce’s work reflects on landscapes, architecture and street scenes. There are dramatic panoramas of moonlit beaches and tide-beaten shorelines. ‘There are also alleyways – painted on long thin canvasses; a dark forest; a yellow cave;the bare branches of a tree, silhouetted against the dawn. Bruce also produced architectural etchings and line drawings, in incredible detail. “He was a painter, but he drew like an architect” said Elizabeth as the show was installed. From a distance, the drawings of Gentle Street, Palmer Street and Apple Alley look almost too realistic to be rendered pen and ink and pencil.
Where Bruce Barnden seems to have been compelled to create vast landscapes and photo-realistic buildings, Elizabeth Feltham’s paintings reflect a close, focused look at nature. Elizabeth looks for “atmosphere and design” in her subjects – the majority of which are flowers. However, these are not static still lifes; the paintings radiate the same dramatic light and colour as the landscapes created by her husband.
Although each artist has chosen different subject matter, and often a different approach to painting, the two bodies of work seem to mirror one another. There are yellows in common between courgette flowers and caves; the same brush strokes can be detected in a dark shoreline and a bank of hollyhocks. This has been the fascinating point of this exhibition: tracing the two entwined histories of the artists through their work.