Thursday, April 02, 2015

Review: RWS 'Watercolour Etc' Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery

"Watercolour Etc", the Spring Exhibition of the members of the Royal Watercolour Society is on display at the Bankside Gallery until 25th April 2015.

Watercolour poster for the RWS exhibition - featuring a watercolour painting by Richard Bawden
The exhibition is for members and associate members only. Each member could also submit one exceptional artwork done in another media. Interestingly not all artists submitted work in other media. That means c.20-25% of the c. 210 artworks on display in the exhibition are NOT paintings in water based media.

The rationale is that "many artists" embrace a range of tools and media in the making of their art and remain open to the possibilities whether technical or expressive. I'm not quite sure what the relevance of other media is to a media based society although I can readily understand the rationale in relation to a subject based one.
The Society is the centre of excellence for water based media on paper, which allows for a diverse and interesting range of approaches to the medium of watercolour.
The RWS keeps making me think it wants to be something else and is no longer 100% behind the promotion of water based media. It claims to be a centre of excellence but to do that it has to deliver - comprehensively and consistently. Diversity is fine but excellence is everything. It's a point worth pondering.

A view of the exhibition (Thames side)
If you're unable to get to the exhibition you can see the artwork (not to size):
But if you want to see the paintings up close you need to visit the exhibition. The Gallery is open between 11am and 6pm every day during the exhibition.

Interestingly neither the Bankside Gallery website nor the RWS website provide any sort of facility for any art collector who wants to trigger a purchase online (e.g. reserve a painting). I think maybe they need to think quite seriously about the fact that this is how quite a lot of art is sold nowadays!

More about the paintings

Turner Medal

David Brayne RWS was awarded The Turner Medal. I thought it was a very great pity that his paintings were hung behind the desk which made it impossible to look at the way they are made - which is fascinating

Two watercolour paintings by David Brayne

Featured Artist

The Featured Artist for this exhibition is Richard Bawden son of Edward Bawden RA (1903-1989). He's an artist who works in a painter, printmaker and designer. He studied painting, printmaking and graphic design at Chelsea, St Martin's and the Royal College of Art.

He paints in watercolour and produces prints and illustrations using lino and etching techniques. Examples of the latter are the two mackerel (top row - lino) and The Mackerkl (bottom row - etching). He also combines etching and watercolour such as in the Royal River Pageant work. I loved the fact you could see the same subject - the staircase (middle row) - as both an etching and a watercolour.

I very much like Richard Bawden's work - and that's not just because I like his interior scenes and the fact that cats keep getting inside the picture frame! What I really is the fact that this is an artist who places an emphasis on draughtsmanship and design and very obviously thinks about what he is doing.

Featured Artist Display by Richard Bawden RWS NEAC RE
It was rather odd for me seeing Richard's work on Monday morning this week and then the watercolour paintings of his father's close friend Eric Ravillious (1903-1942) at Dulwich Picture Gallery on Tuesday afternoon. There's a certain similarity in style. It is however a neat juxtaposition to have the two exhibitions running at the same time.

If there's one comment I'd want to make about Richard Bawden's work it's that I do wish he'd get himself a website!

Guest Artist

Barbara Rae CBE RA Hon. RE had been invited to exhibit - and her large mixed media painting dominated the end wall of the gallery. That said, three paintings by Janet Q Treloar held their own next to it.

Janet Treloar (left and bottom) and Barbara Rae (top right)

Painting I liked by other artists

As always I loved the watercolour (and oil) paintings of 91 year old June Berry RWS.  I just love her watercolour technique and use of colours - nobody does it better!

June is a stalwart of the RWS shows - she always submits and always puts on a good display. She paints the same places in the same way and every time she manages to come up with a new perspective. That rather goes to show that, over time, it's not the style or the techniques that need to change . An artist just needs to ensure they maintain a fresh eye on their subject matter.  A leisurely review of the painting on her website will stimulate those who like narrative paintings.

I thought the notion of placing her work next to that of new Associate member Emma Haworth ARWS - also a figurative painter of urban narratives - was inspired!

Paintings by (left) Emma Howarth and (Middle and right) June Berry
Paintings by Jenny Wheatley RWS
Others who impressed:
  • Jenny Wheatley RWS NEAC - one of the few people who was demonstrating what can be done with transarent watercolour paint. I thought sidelining her next to the toilets was very poor hanging
  • Liz Butler RWS - I very much liked her small watercolour paintings of allotments. I'd love to see more large watercolour paintings by her
  • Angus McEwen's large painting was as impressive as ever - but it would have been nice to see more of them
  • I always like the paintings of Annie Williams RWS RE and her prints are equally accomplished.
Leaving aside the "other media" artwork, this exhibition certainly has more of what might be described as paintings which look like they have involved the use of water. However the use of water was not evident everywhere.

That's not to say there isn't some very good figurative art in acrylic.

Two acrylic paintings by Iain Nicholls ARWS

Acrylic Paintings by Bill Henderson RWS
I was very impressed with the one at the top
While there are many good paintings in the show, I want to emphasise yet again my personal preference is for paintings which actually look like they involved water as opposed to ones which, in theory, could be shown in an ROI exhibition!

Bottom line I would very much like to see an exhibition that includes much more evidence of the all round skills in watercolour painting as exemplified by well regarded painters in the past.

(Note: Those who are of a like mind might like to go and see the annual exhibition of the Royal Painters in Water Colours - whose exhibition fits much better with my definition of water based media - see 203rd Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #1 - Prizewinners and Events and Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #2 - Open Entry

I looked at the exhibition and tried to find a connection between it and the recent exhibition of the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition (which I was critical about see my Review).  To my mind their open exhibition is a "feeder" for membership of the RWS and therefore says something about where the art society wants to go in the future.

In particular I looked at the artwork in this show by the current President - Thomas Plunkett PRWS - who has two small works in the exhibition which are not on the RWS or Bankside website - and three past Presidents - (Francis Bowyer PPRWS Hon RE - Over the Meadows (who takes 'on handmade paper' to a whole new dimension!), Richard Sorrell PPRWS Hon RE - see A Hot Day and David Paskett PPRWS - see Boaty Bits).

To be honest, it's very disappointing to say that I didn't see anything in the exhibition which says to me "top quality watercolour painting" in the context of most people's understanding understanding of that term. The media seems to be incidental rather than celebrated by the artwork. See the paintings in the "In Memorium" section at the end of this post to see examples of paintings which celebrate the medium.

Maybe the wish for diversity needs to think about some other options:
  • How about a new art society devoted to traditional watercolour paints - with the aim of promoting painting using such paints? (See What is watercolour?).
  • Or alternatively an art society devoted to acrylics?  I've no problem with acrylic per se - what I have a problem with is exhibitions which don't comprehensively deliver excellent paintings in traditional watercolour.
  • Or maybe a female President next time round? Perhaps a different perspective on the way forward?

In Memorium

The exhibition includes two displays to members who died since the Members' Autum Exhibition last year.

I shall be very sad not to see any more watercolours by Charles Bartlett PPRWS (1921 - 2014) in the exhibitions at the Bankside Gallery. To my mind he strode the boundary between figurative and abstracted with a masterful eye and a sure touch.

Charles Bartlett was President of the Royal Watercolour Society between 1987 and 1992.

Paintings by Charles Harold Bartlett, artist and teacher,
born 23 September 1921; died 19 December 2014

William Bowyer RA, RWS, RP,  NEAC (1926 - 2015) is a much more recent loss - he died 30 days before my visit. He is represented by a really splendid watercolour painting and a small oil painting of Walberswick jetty which was a place which stimulated a lot of his paintings in recent years. You can see more of his art on the family website.

There also can't be many men who have been President of a national art society (NEAC) for three decades and fathered two sons who have each gone on to become both artists and Presidents of their respective national art societies.

Paintings by Arthur William Bowyer, landscape and portrait painter, 
born 25 May 1926; died 1 March 2015

Talks and Events

There are a number of Talks and Events taking place during the course of the show - some of which are already fully booked.

I note one of the booked up ones is on Urban Sketching - which closely follows an Urban Sketching workshop run by NEAC Drawing School!

(For those wanting to find out more about Urban Sketching,you can join the London Urban Sketchers Sketchcrawl which I'm organising on the 26th April for FREE. Check out: 

Reviews of previous Exhibitions

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