Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflections on the RHS Botanical Art Show Autumn 2014

The Botanical Artists selected by the RHS to exhibit at their Autumn Botanical Art Show 2014
- from Bath, Cornwall and Lincolnshire (England)Midlothian (Scotland)Powys (Wales),
and Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, South Africa and the USA (Maine and Florida)

More from the artists and photographers whose work was submitted and selected for last week's Royal Horticultural Society Exhibitions of Botanical Art and Botanical Photography - with a view to winning those all important RHS Medals!

RHS Botanical Photography

I viewed the Botanical Photography first (displayed on the Mezzanine level in the Lawrence Hall for anybody who missed it).  This is always exhibited at one of the RHS exhibitions in October - usually the Autumnal colours rather than the Harvest themed.

Four Gold Medals were won as follows.

GOLD MEDAL: Kobaimo - Japanese Endemic Fritillaria by Laurence Hill 
It's not really bendy - it's just my camera trying to get it all in!
Laurence Hill has an extremely unusual display of Kobaimo - Japanese Endemic Fritillaria. It was very impressive both in terms of scholarship and techniques.

His display played tribute to:

  • shashin - which relates to how images were created as prints and the incredible importance of demonstrating authenticity - of having handled the plant
  • Iinuma Yokusai - a Honzu-Gaku (Herbal doctors) of the late-Edo period who was responsible for the publication of the first botanical book in Japan - the Somoku-dzusetsu (an iconography of herbaceous and woody plants of Japan)
His photographs are printed on rice paper and the format adopted is that of the old wood block prints of plants.
Two of the exhibits in Kobaimo - Japanese Endemic Fritillaria by Laurence Hill 


Laurance has also developed a website - Fritillaria Icones - which serves as a photographic botanical database for all all Fritillaria species. Its purpose is to help with identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria.
RHS Botanical Photography - The Art of Plants by Nigel Chapman
GOLD MEDAL WINNER: The Art of Plants by Nigel Chapman
Nigel Chapman is a regular exhibitor at the show and has won many Gold Medals  (see my previous post about him RHS Gold Medal winning Botanical Photography in 2012). Nigel and I are both interested in photographing patterns in the same sorts of plants which makes viewing his display a very interesting experience for me. You can see his former exhibits at the RHS on his website

RHS Botanical Photography - Past Perfect by Polina Plotnikova GM
GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Past Perfect by Polina Plotnikova
Polina Plotnikova is a Russian born UK-based photographer who now lives in the London Borough of Bromley.  This is the page relating to Polina's previous submissions to this October RHS exhibition.

The fourth Gold Medal was won by Plants (in this instance "Lichens on Flint") by J Cassidy Photography (Cambridgeshire).

RHS Botanical Art

This is a commentary on other interesting aspects of the Botanical Art Show

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Painting Canada 2 - Emily Carr at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

From the Forest to the Sea, Emily Carr in British Columbia opens to the public at Dulwich Picture Gallery on Saturday 1st November 2014.

From the Forest to the Sea, Emily Carr in British Columbia - at the Dulwich Picture Gallery
This is my video interview with Ian Desjardin, Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Co-Curator (with Sarah Milroy) of a new exhibition about the famous Canadian artist, Emily Carr (1871-1945).




A blog post about my visit to this exhibition and images of paintings you can see in the exhibition follows shortly.

Link: Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven - Review (2012 exhibition)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Three RHS Gold Medals for Botanical Art and a video interview

This week three artists won RHS Gold Medals for their Botanical Art at the Royal Horticultural Society's Shades of Autumn Show in the Lindley Hall in London.

Denise Ramsay (Hong Kong / France) - Papaver orientale - Oriental Poppy.


Papaver Orientale - A Brilliant Life Series by Denise Ramsay GM
Denise Ramsay GM with the first three paintings in her series of six paintings of the Papaver Orientale
A Brilliant Life - Faded Glory by Denise Ramsay GM
A Brilliant Life - Faded Glory by Denise Ramsay GM
Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ - Scale 1:3
Watercolour on paper 640gsm, 2014 
71 cm x 67 cm (28" x 26 1/2") 
(Collection: Dr Shirley Sherwood)
Denise Ramsay was a first time RHS exhibitor - and sold her first painting to Dr Shirley Sherwood at the show. This was before she also sold the rest of her series to Dr Sherwood after the show!

Her series of six paintings - A Brilliant Life - of Papaver Orientale is extraordinarily impressive. Her paintings are so well constructed and have enormous impact. They paintings almost appear as if they are 3D.

Prior to completing her suite of work she had studied, via distance learning, for the Society of Botanical Artist's Diploma in Botanical Illustration and gained a Distinction.

I've been doing video interviews with artists for a while - but I think  my video interview with Denise Ramsay  is a first when it comes to botanical artists. In the video (below and on YouTube) she explains:
  • how she came to enter the show
  • how she chose her plant and theme
  • her preparation prior to painting
  • how she painted specific parts of the poppy


Laura Silburn (Cornwall, England) - Aristolochias of British Botanic Gardens. 


I first met Laura Silburn in April 2013 when she won her first Gold Medal for Varieties of Hardy Geranium that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Laura is a Fellow of the Eden Project Florilegium Society and after her first Gold Medal she started to painted Aristolochias for the Society. She loved painting them so much she started looking for some more and started to contact other Botanic Gardens in Cambridge and Oxford.

Aristolochias of British Botanic Gardens by Laura Silburn GM
Laura Silburn GM with three of her watercolour paintings of Aristolochias of British Botanic Gardens
Laura is viewing her two paintings which were purchased by Dr Shirley Sherwood
Aristolochias use a pollination trap mechanism in order to use insects to pollinate their flowers. They have evolved weird and wonderful flowers in order to do this. Often mimicking carrion, they look bizarre, some say sinister, but I find them captivating.
Laura Silburn
Check out an article by Laura in the September 2014 edition of The Plantsman - Painting Hardy Geraniums (pdf file) is available to read online or download from the RHS website. In this she explains her working practices and how she develops her artwork from measurements, drawings of how the plant is constructed, sketches and thumbnails and colour samples to the finished painting.

extract from ‘Painting Hardy Geraniums’ by Laura Silburn GM
Laura Silburn's article about how botanical art is composed and executed
in the September 2014 edition of The Plantsman
Iris Sibirica by Ruth Kirkby GM
Iris Sibirica (sold) by Ruth Kirkby GM

Ruth Kirkby (Powys, Wales)  - Iris sibirica - Siberian Iris.  


Ruth has exhibited with the RHS previously, winning silver medals on both occasions.

However she has only been painting botanical art for four years and is mostly self-taught.

Her display was very 'quiet' compared to some of the others but very impressive for all that.

Yet More "Top Tips" for winning an RHS Gold Medal!


Regular readers will know that over the past few years, I've asked all the RHS Gold Medallists (exhibiting in London) over the past few years for tips and techniques with respect to both the creation of their exhibit and its presentation.

Here are a few more.  You can find links to previous "top tips" from the Gold Medallists at previous exhibitions listed at the end.

TIP: Think about the scope to be innovative and contemporary

One of the comments I heard from a few exhibitors is that Judges are encouraging innovation and looking for high standards of contemporary botanical art.  I guess I've got this one labelled as "The Rory McEwen Factor" - how can you advance the art of botanical art?

For example, I think Denise's series is an excellent example of how to tell the botanical story of a plant over six paintings rather than showing all the elements of its life in one painting.

TIP: Have a Project in Mind and take your time

Working out what plants or species to tackle and then how to approach it is probably one of the most challenging parts of the process of creating an RHS Exhibit. Don't under-estimate the amount of time needed to think this through prior to making a choice.

In general two years are required for a submission. You need a complete life cycle - and the plants need to "perform" re flowering and fruiting.  It's possible to do it in one cycle but two years makes it easier to maximise your chances of the best possible result.

Gold Medal winners emphasised that there's a lot of preparatory work involved in putting a submission together. In Laura's opinion, by the time you sit down to start the paintings you're probably already halfway through the project in terms of the hours of work for the entire project.
There's no point in having perfect brushstrokes if composition is no good or you're not showing the parts of the plant which matters.

TIP: Check out National Collections and Botanic Gardens local to you

Finding quality plants can be a challenge.  Two great sources are Botanic Gardens and National Plant Collections - used by two of the Gold Medallists at this show.

Laura Silburn found that the Botanic Gardens she approached had friendly Botanists who helped her get to know the range of plants

All of the Irises in Ruth's exhibit came from the same place - Aulden Farm which hosts the National Collection of Siberian Irises.  The farm in Herefordshire is very close to where Ruth lives in Powys - just across the border in Wales. This made it much easier to come and go to collect specimens. Ruth emphasised that the specimens she has painted are a small proportion of those available.

Why not check out whether you have any National Collections of Plants located close to where you live?

Three watercolour paintings of Aristolochias of British Botanic Gardens by Laura Silburn GM
Three more watercolour paintings of Aristolochias of British Botanic Gardens by Laura Silburn GM

TIP: Keep the same external dimensions

Ruth Kirkby's paintings were all one panel. Interestingly she kept the external dimensions identical for all paintings - and then varied the internal dimensions. There are some very subtle differences in margins - however the same external size for the six smaller paintings gives them a much better unity and better presentation across the exhibit as a whole.

I recommend that you always think about the overall presentation and the size of the painting and how it will be matted BEFORE you start to paint.

Iris Sibirica by Ruth Kirkby GM
Ruth Kirkby with her exhibition of seven watercolour paintings of Iris Sibirica (Siberian Iris)

TIP: Paint more than you need

Ruth had painted ten paintings and was able to bring the best seven to the show. If you have the time and you are dedicated to pursuing a particular species it's great if you can select the best of those you have painted to take to the RHS Show.

TIP: Think about your pricing

Artists can sell their artwork at this exhibition. Ruth's smaller works were selling well - and in part that was probably because of the price. Pricing for art varies around the country and naturally varies between different sizes.  Do some research about prices typically paid top notch botanical art sells for in London - or enjoy giving botanical art collectors a bargain!

TIP: Find a good Tutor

A lot of botanical artists are self-taught. At least two of the Gold Medallists at this show have had the benefit of being taught by tutors who are themselves RHS Gold Medal winners and who can recognise whether their student has reached the standard of work which merits applying for a place in an RHS Botanical art Exhibition.  Both Denise and Ruth were encouraged by their tutors to make a submission.

More Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal 

Top Tips

Interviews with RHS Gold Medallists

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Grayson Perry - Who Are You? - on TV and at the NPG

The fruits of Grayson Perry's recent collaborative efforts about Who Are You? are being revealed this week in terms of
  • a series of programmes about identity on Channel 4 and
  • an exhibition of associated new artwork and portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery which opens on Saturday.  
Grayson Perry is one of my favourite contemporary artists - not least because he's an artist who demonstrably exercises his brain cells on a regular basis! I'm beginning to think of him as a bit of an Artist Anthropologist! He's certainly a major chronicler of contemporary life and culture as well as issues related to identity.

Grayson Perry CBE, RA
(Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)
I must confess I very much like this new way of bringing art to the public - a structured project about matters of interest relating to contemporary life, an exhibition and an associated television programme - plus a book.

It makes art-making much more accessible in terms of the concepts behind it as well as the actual process of making the art and seeing the end result.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? - the exhibition (sponsored by Coutts) - opens at the National Portrait Gallery on 25 October 2014 and runs until 15 March 2015. It includes 14 portraits relating to the people who participated in the Channel 4 television series of programmes about identity. You can find it across is across Floor One of the Gallery’s permanent collection displays. Admission free.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? - the television series - started tonight on Channel 4. This follows Perry as he spends time with people who are at a crossroads or crisis in their own identity, and makes works that try to capture each of them in a single, revealing image.
  • Episode 1 - Individuals (Wednesday 22 October, 10pm, Channel 4). The four individuals who feauture in the programme are 
    • ex Minister Chris Huhne - before and after prison 
    • Rylan Clarke, during a period of consolidation of his celebrity

    • Kayleigh Khosravi - a 27 year old Muslim convert living in Ashford Kent with her four children
    • a young female-to-male transsexual Alex
Some of Grayson Perry's sitters have become miniatures, some large tapestries, some statues and, of course, some are ceramic pots.

The portrait of disgraced politician Chris Huhne is a vase decorated with a repeating pattern of motifs such as his face, his personalised number plate and a speed camera. The ceramic pot was purposefully smashed by Perry and then repaired using the Japanese kintsugi technique, where the cracks are repaired using lacquer resin dusted or mixed with gold.

In the National Portrait Gallery:
  • The Huhne Vase is displayed opposite portraits of Gladstone and Disraeli 
  • nearby The Earl of Essex, a Hilliard-inspired miniature of X-Factor contestant Rylan Clark (in porcelain, digital transfer, electro-formed metal and acrylic), is displayed in a showcase between the Gallery’s cabinet portraits of novelists George Eliot and Wilkie Collins.
The Ashford Hijab, 2014 - as seen in tonight's programme
Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London 
© Grayson Perry
The Ashford Hijab, a silk screenprint, shows Muslim convert Kayleigh Khosravi and her children on the path from what Grayson Perry describes as ‘the temple of consumerism’ of the Ashford Designer Outlet Centre to the focal point of her Muslim faith at Mecca.

I am a Man, a small patinated brass portrait of young female-to-male transsexual Alex. This has echoes of the Kensington Gardens statue of Peter Pan and is in the style of some of Perry’s favourite sculptures, the Benin bronzes of West Africa. It is displayed close to The Line of Departure, a tapestry in the style of an Afghan rug which shows three wounded war veterans, in a room surrounded by the Gallery’s portraits of Baden Powell, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and soldiers Lord Kitchener and Frederick Barnaby
  •  Idealised Heterosexual Couple, 2013 
    Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London 
    © Grayson Perry
    Episode 2 - Modern Families
     (Wednesday 29 October, 10pm, Channel 4) explores the idea of family today and how it has changed radically from the conventional notion of Mum and Dad and 2.4 kids.
Three glazed pots depict 
  • Modern Family, Jack and John, white male parents who have adopted mixed race Shea; 
  • Memory Jar showing Alzheimer’s disease sufferer Christopher Devas and his wife Veronica and 
  • Idealised Heterosexual Couple, divorcees who live apart but whose family is brought together through its love of ballroom dancing classes, meaning father Colin sees more of his daughters that many a live-in father. 
Jesus Army Money Box, 2013
Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London
© Grayson Perry
    Episode 3 will tackle groups
    • Jesus Army Money Box, a glazed ceramic reliquary in the form of a mediaeval style
    • Chasse, a small enamelled chest containing a holy relic, depicts a Christian group that works with homeless people.
    These are articles about the project which have appeared in recent days - plus one of his other ventures - editing the New Statesman. They are by no means all uncritical.

    A new book - Playing to the Gallery

    The Channel 4 series and display coincide with the publication of Grayson Perry’s new book Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to be Understood published in the autumn by Penguin.

    I was sent a preview copy and it's an excellent and thought provoking read

    A House in Essex



    In the meantime, his other major project A House in Essex - a house designed by Perry which has been constructed to tell the story of a mythical Essex woman called Julie - is nearing completion and will soon be available to rent!

    There are various articles about this:
    but I saved the best to last ;)

    Who is Grayson Perry?

    Winner of the 2003 Turner prize, Grayson Perry is one of Britain's best-known contemporary artists. He works with traditional media; ceramics, cast iron, bronze, printmaking and tapestry and is interested in how each historic category of object accrues over time’s intellectual and emotional baggage.

    Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, drawing viewers in with beauty, wit, affecting sentiment and nostalgia as well as fear and anger. His hard-hitting and exquisitely crafted works reference his own childhood and life as a transvestite while also engaging with wider social issues from class and politics to sex and religion.

    Grayson Perry has had major solo exhibitions nationally and internationally including the critically acclaimed Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum. His monumental suite of tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences, which were inspired by his BAFTA winning Channel 4 series: In the Best Possible Taste, are currently on a national and international tour led by the Arts Council Collection and British Council. In June 2013 Perry was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Grayson Perry is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    A brand new RHS Show for Botanical Art


    The Royal Horticultural Society have just published their schedule of shows and dates for 2015 and their is a first - a dedicated Botanical Art Show at a totally different time to the usual one.

    We've only once had the major Botanical Art Show at the same time as the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists so it's a pity they are not at the same time. However I guess it's the orchids that get "first dibs" on those April dates.  At least RHS members will no longer have to pay to visit a show (as always happened when it was combined with the Orchid Show) instead of free entry with membership as per usual.

    I've asked the RHS via their Facebook Page for the schedule of which other shows will also be showing botanical art. If I don't get it via that route I'll pull out my members number and ask via another route.

    In the meantime - 27-28 February are dates for the diaries of all Botanical Art fans!

    If you'd rather see botanical art vying for RHS Medals at an earlier date, get down to the Horticultural Halls right now.  There are 12 botanical artists exhibiting at the RHS London Shades of Autumn Show today and tomorrow - including


    I'll be visiting tomorrow and will be doing a review of the artwork on show.

    You can also see botanical art by Anna Mason at a solo exhibition in the Glasshouse Gallery at RHS Wisley. Anna will be demonstrating her techniques in the Glasshouse Gallery next weekend 1 – 2 Nov (11am - 4pm) and signing copies of her books at 2pm each day.

    Botanical art in November issues of Artist Magazines


    Check out the botanical art in current editions of popular art magazines in the UK






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