Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Royal Watercolour Society - Spring Exhibition 2011

This week it's going to feel a bit like watercolour back to back.

This post is about the Royal Watercolour Society's Spring Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery on the South Bank - which continues until 15th April 2011. The Royal Watercolour Society was founded in 1804 and is the oldest watercolour society in the world.


Then today Sarah Wimperis (The Red Shoes) and I are planning to visit

I have to say I've been enjoying the RWS exhibition's less and less in recent times.  There has been more and more acrylic painting which means it looks more and more like oils and and less and less like "proper watercolour" painting.

At heart, I'm verging on being a purist.  That means I'd like artists to be able to use a bit of other media in the artwork but that the majority should "do what it says on the tin".  I'd like to see the Society stick to watercolour painting in the traditional sense and show us what can be achieved with that wonderful medium.  Either that or somebody needs to start a British Watercolour Society for purists!

To my mind the people who want to paint in acrylic need to go and start their own society and stop shillyshallying around between the oil painting society and the watercolour societies.  There are lots of societies which can accept works in acrylic so why take over the watercolour society as well?

Anyway, I've debated this previously in What is watercolour? so enough of that!

So, back to the exhibition.  You may now be surprised to hear that the reason that I started with a comment on media is that this exhibition is very odd.

Initially I thought that the RWS was maybe moving in the direction of a "works on paper by its members".

Art to wear by Angus McEwan ARWS
coloured pencil
The fact is I came away liking the exhibition a lot but unable to understand where the RWS was going with its criteria for the works it displays.  For example, I counted a number of works which didn't include any sort of water based media in the painting sense - including the following:
  • lithograph x 2
  • pencil x 6
  • coloured pencil x 1
  • pen and ink x 1
  • charcoal and/or chalk drawing x 3
  • pencil and charcoal x 1
The exhibition is also remarkable for the extent of calligraphic mark-making on display.  Very sketchy, very drawing oriented, very much not like a normal RWS exhibition of recent years.

I liked it a lot - but thought it rather odd.

Only later when I got home and read the catalogue did I understand that the exhibition aims to celebrate both the spirit of the line and the vigour of colour and wash.  


Now I understand!  That makes so much more sense!  I enjoyed it much more than some others in recent years but then I'm besotted by line and colour!

I think it would have been helpful if there had been some sort of explanation on display of the members' aim with this exhibition in the gallery would have helped.  I don't suppose I'm the only person who doesn't read the small print until I get home.


To see some of the images from the exhibition check out the selection of the works on display on:
This is a relatively new innovation for the RWS and it would appear that some of the RWS members have exactly the same problems as the rest of us when it comes to getting a good image!

This exhibition is limited to works by full and associate members of the Royal Watercolor Society. I didn't count but there looks to be somewhere between 150 and 200 drawings and paintings in the show.  Prices for those interested in such things vary between £250 and £6,000 with quite a few paintings being priced at £1,000+  Interestingly the highest prices are not always associated with what I would consider are the most popular artists.  I guess as always it's a judgement call as to whether you go for the highest prices you can get on occasion or whether you maintain a steady stream of sales by remaining within the affordable (<£1k) bracket.

Michael Chaplin RWS RE has won this year's Turner Watercolour Award (RWS).  Previously awarded at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, it is now divided between the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. Michael Chaplin will be awarded the Turner Medal and a prize of £2,500.

He handles colour beautifully and often seems to work a with a limited palette.  His work always seems to have a really sketchy quality and yet at the same time there is nothing sloppy about his draughtsmanship - quite the reverse - his buildings are always excellent. You can see more of his work on his website www.mikechaplin.com.  The two large paintings on the left in the photo below are both by Mike Chaplin.
Works by RWS Members - Michael Chaplin's work is on the left
The featured artist is Diana Armfield RA RWS Hon. NEAC Rt. RCA Hin. PSRA RWS PS who is now in her nineties and still exhibiting on a regular basis at the RA and other leading art societies of which she is a member.

I think I'll probably do a separate post about Diana Armfield as she's one of the artists I really like and I can't do her work justice in this post.  If you like works which are amazingly well drawn and which mix media with many fewer marks than you initially think are there you should pay a visit to this exhibition.

The exhibition includes access to her sketchbooks via a display cabinet and as you can imagine I was riveted by this aspect!

Wall of Work by Diana Armfield
Wall of works by RWS members
Wall of works byRWS members
Artists who stood out for me included:
  • Liz Butler RWS with her tiny paintings of trees.  They were almost like miniatures.
  • Mark Raggett ARWS for his Boulder at Llanunwas
  • Fay Ballard RWS's botanical studies
  • David Paskett PRWS's line and wash work - which I liked a lot.  Such a pity we don't see more line and wash work in 'normal' exhibitions.
  • James Rushton's work - which I always feel I get lost in - in a nice way.
Boulder at Llanunwas by Mark Raggett ARWS
Wall of works by RWS members
The exhibition also includes a sale of small works and studies to support a project (a video of the members at work).  This takes the form of a postcard sale of the anonymous variety with all works priced at £50 and signed on the reverse.  I took one look at the display cabinet and promptly went to the desk and said I'd buy the June Berry and the Annie Williams, pointed out which ones I meant and came home the proud owner of two small paintings by watercolour painters who I've admired for a very long time.  Total bargain!  The postcard sale continues for the duration of the sale with new works being put out as ones get sold - who knows who you will find if you go!

Richard Bawden RWS RE will be delivering the second RWS Lecture towards the end of the exhibition.  The topic will be his father the artist Edward Bawden - an English printmaker graphic designer, illustrator and painter.

A further exhibition by the RWS is being held at the Royal Albert Hall.  The exhibition is called A Year in the Life of the Royal Albert Hall and is the product of a collaboration between the two organisations. The exhibition will be held in the ground floor corrdior between the 23rd April and 7th June at the Royal Albert Hall. You can see the paintings for free on one of three open days on 23rd April, 15th May, and 21st May between 11am and 3pm. Admission Free.

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5 comments:

Amanda Spencer said...

Thank you for a very interesting review. I totally agree about watercolour being watercolour - being a watercolour artist I have painted with acrylic in a "watercolour" manner - it is much easier to do and I find it detracts from the challenge of painting with pure watercolour. Maybe the society needs to change it's name to Royal Watermedia Society! I am looking forward to the RI private view this afternoon having had my painting accepted to exhibit, it is a pure transparent watercolour ;-)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Wow Amanda - that was a speedy comment!

I shall be sure to look out for your work.

I like your notion of maybe it's time for a review of the title!

Amanda Spencer said...

I was in the right place at the right time and had been looking out for your review! :-)

Angus M said...

Hi Katherine,
the reason there was a lot of drawings at this years RWS was beacause we were asked to consider sending in framed or mounted drawing. The reason being that Robert Hills RWS animal studies from the diploma collection were being shown and they would therefore compliment them.

As for watercolour being put in a straitjacket, I for one wouldnt be in favour of that. I am a member of the RWS and the RSW and I believe that for the medium to survive and to have longevity it must be allowed to encompass many syles and approaches.

Vive la difference!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Many thanks for the update Angus - your comments are always appreciated



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