Simon Palmer is an English watercolourist, a rather old-fashioned thing to be in the late 20th century, but on the face of it, he paints old-fashioned pictures.
His theme is the North Yorkshire countryside, a landscape partly of his own invention and yet, as it appears time and again in these paintings, one deeply rooted in a particular place and in the daily details of rural life.
The most successful, or at least the most serious paintings are those in which the presence of man is implied but not stated. Palmer has a good eye for nature's visual tricks - a line of trees or the curl of a wall leading into the picture - but the little people that provide his titles (Monks Returning from the Nursery, Modest Margaret, etc) detract from the landscapes' simple strengths.
Palmer's people, in their headscarves and cloth caps, belong to a world of nostalgic book illustration; a charming world where the artist is an accomplished practitioner, but the best of his work has a potential way beyond these boundaries in a tradition which stretches back to Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious and occasionally, in the most recent pictures like Dancing to a Golden Moon, to the early work of Graham Sutherland and through him to Palmer's 19th-century namesake, Samuel.
"Whatever artists he recalls," writes playwright Alan Bennett in the exhibition catalogue "Simon Palmer is always powerfully English", but Palmer would do well to avoid the kind of cosy Englishness for which Bennett, through no fault of his own, has become a national symbol.
On the evidence here, Palmer can still go either way, but there is an odd quality to some of the new work, something more than is usual quirkiness,which suggests that he is an artist worth watching.
EYE ON THE NEW The celebrated Flemish contemporary artist Jan Fabre, who is nothing if not diverse, takes over (from today for six weeks) at Cardiff Oriel (01222 399477) and at the Arnolfini in Bristol (0117 9299191) as well as seven different locations in Bath with installations including a flooded cellar hung with teabags. Make of it what you will. See page 34Reuse content