Thursday, October 04, 2007

Society of Wildlife Artists at the new Mall Galleries

Sea Turtle by Harriet Mead SWLA
First Prize - SWLA / Capmark Europe Art Awards 2007

sculpture in scrap metal
copyright: sculpture - Harriet Mead; photo - FBA

I was impressed twice over yesterday. First by the splendid artwork - sculpture, paintings, drawings and prints - at the 44th annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists. Secondly by the result of the refurbishment to and redesign of the Mall Galleries.
The SWLA aims to encourage all forms of visual art based on or representing wildlife. As well as encouraging all forms of wildlife art, the Society also aims to further an awareness of the importance of conservation in order to maintain the variety of the world’s ecosystems and its wildlife. All the work on show takes the natural world as its starting point and the exhibition explores the entire spectrum of wildlife art, offering dramatic themes, colourful insights and gentle observations of the natural world.
Society of Wildlife Art
It's always nice to visit an exhibition which includes sculpture, fine art prints and sketchbooks as well as really excellent drawings and paintings. This year there has been a special effort made by artists working in 3D and I saw a number of very striking sculptures on display - and of course the first prize was awarded to a sculpture (see above and below).

This year's exhibition has been running since the 26th September and closes this Sunday (7th October) - so there is no time to waste for people interested in art on a wildlife theme.

Cover of the SWLA catalogue
Daniel Cole (Avocets - detail); Michael Warren (Linnets - detail) and Brin Edwards (Snow bunting flight - detail)
Copyright - the artists

I was also very struck by the number of birds in the exhibition - until I realised the Society has its origins in an exhibition by contemporary bird painters in 1960. As you will see from the members page, the strong interest in birds continues within the membership to this day. Click on an image to see more about member artist.

Prizes and sponsorship

Capmark generously sponsor both Bursaries and £5000 worth of prizes. Prizes are awarded to the most distinctive, exciting and creative work in the show.

Harriet Mead SWLA has won the £4000 first prize in the Capmark Europe Art Awards with her imaginative scrap metal sculpture Sea Turtle. The inspiration for the piece comes from her trip to Borneo last year where she saw green sea turtles in the wild. The sculpture is made entirely from ‘found objects’ – the shell is made up from a tractor seat, the neck from horseshoes, the flippers from combine harvester blades and the eyes from old harness clips. Mead describes her work as “creating natural history from agricultural history”. You can see more of her work of her website. She also had some pen and ink drawings of fighting hares in the show (north gallery) which were spendid - you can see more examples here.

The £500 runner-up prizes were won by Julian Meredith’s unusual woodcut Five Fish and a painting 'Over Willowherb and Teasel' (oil and canvas laid on board) by Matt Underwood SWLA. You can check out Julian Meredith's website for more about his impressive artwork.

Birdwatch Magazine together with Swarowskioptic sponsor the Birdwatch Artist of the Year prize which was won by John Threlfall and his mixed media painting of ' Black Winged Stilts' (see his website for an image of the winning entry). I was fascinated to read on his website about the artists who have influenced his work - he made some good choices! John also won the Birdscape Gallery Award with his pastel painting of 'Arctic Terns'.

The RSPB Award was won by Carry Ackroyd SWLA for Willows, Kites and Crows. I loved the airy perspective of her screenprint and the colour and stylised treatment of the fields which acted as a backdrop for her subjects.

Nick Derry's mixed media work of the Dyfi estuary won the St Cuthberts Mill Award.

Nik Pollard SWLA won the PJC Drawing Award with a large monoprint drawing of an oystercatcher. His series of oystercatcher monoprints had great impact.

The Dorset WildLife Trust have launched a new award - the Underwater Wildlife Art Award - to enable an artist to learn to dive and then interpret this neglected habitat. The first award was won by well-known wildlife artist and SWLA member Kim Atkinson, who has subsequently gained an open-water diver qualification near her home in Wales and visited Dorset for a week to start ‘sketching' beneath the waves. You can read more about the experience of producing art underwater in Sketching under the Sea, an article by Nicholas Roe for the Daily Telegraph - this is an extract....

Sprawled on the seabed, Kim was amazed at the sights to be seen just off an ordinary beach, eagerly sketching snakelock anemones in dingy pink with purple tips, wrasse resplendent in orange and turquoise, spider-crabs, defiant gobies defending their territory, tompot blenny with cream and liver markings, pout, fan worms, and numerous varieties of seaweed.

"There were rich ochre colours and reds and browns and oranges and turquoise - oh, much more than I expected. What is different is being surrounded by something that is not air. In the work itself, I'm trying to get a feeling for the movement of the water, a feeling for what I saw there on that beautiful seabed, the rippling anemones, the fantastic swell."

I'm not a wildlife artist - although have been very tempted by one or two very colourful birds from time to time. What follows are some notes I made which may be of interest to artists interested in wildlife art.
  • What I really liked a lot was the painterly nature of much of the artwork. There was very little of what I'd call 'photorealist' art (ie hard to distinguish from a photo) while there was a huge amount of art which while clearly very accurate as to habit, fur, feathers, colours etc was also nonetheless clearly art made by hand - and by eyes which had observed the wildlife in question for some time. I guess the reason for this might be that there is a very healthy cadre of wildlife photographers and those who would be interested in that level of technical detail may well prefer a photo over a work of art. Which I guess means the art has to be distinctively different and to add value in visual terms to attract potential purchasers. This certainly seems to be borne out by the guidelines for submission (see below).
  • What struck me very forcibly from the pattern of sales was that birdlovers buying paintings seemed to very much like birds that look like birds and paintings which focus very much on the bird - within an appropriate context - as opposed to an appropriate context which happens to include a bird. Alastair Proud's work was a very good example of this and was (I think) a sell out and I gather is in very many collections internationally. The quote which follows is I think an excellent guideline for those wishing to excel in realism in the field of wildlife art.
“Alastair Proud is one of those painters with the skill to achieve entirely correct detail without inhibiting the 'life' of a subject.” Keith Shackleton RSMA SWLA
  • Another artist who particularly impressed me was Martin Ridley - and I see from this webpage that I'm not alone! What I particularly liked about his oil painting of an 'Alert brown hare' were the masterly draughtsmanship and attention to detail combined with his excellent appreciation of light and colour which was abundantly evident in his painterly style of using fine single strokes of pure colour to produce his oil painting. See his website for more about his artwork.
  • It was really great to see such a lot of watercolour, pastel and mixed media work on display. Although I've picked out two artists painting in oil, oil is by no means dominant as a medium in this society. There was some excellent work in graphite and charcoal as well.
  • I saw a very impressive array of artists' fine art prints which were selling well. Etchings in particular seemed to be doing well. (Note giclee prints are not allowed)
  • The beautiful driftwood sculptures of birds by invited guest artist Guy Taplin were really wonderful. I've seen his work before but it continues to impress - as indeed it does worldwide. It's a wonderful mix of observation from life, good design and utter simplicity.
Encouraging new talent and submitting work

The Society indicates its commitment to encouraging exciting new talent through its open submission policy for the annual exhibition and bursary award scheme. The very best work by non-members is selected from hundreds of entries hangs alongside members' work. This helps both the Society and the exhibition to continue to introduce fresh perspectives on wildlife art.

For those interested in submitting work, this is what the Society's website has to say as a guide.
The selection committee of the SWLA seeks to encourage all forms of three and two dimensional artwork in any medium* (see below) that is based on or representing the world’s wildlife. The committee is particularly keen to encourage all artists with fresh visions to submit work to the annual show.

The committee will consider work
  • that evokes the spirit of the natural world
  • which reveals a personal experience or true understanding of the natural world
  • that shows imagination, artistic ability, originality and genuine creativity.
Work which is inadmissible
  • that which has previously been exhibited in London
  • botanical subjects, pets and domestic animals
  • work in metal frames, poorly framed or badly presented
  • photographic reproductions/mechanical prints*
SWLA website - extract from guide to submitting work
Mall Galleries - redesign and refurbishment

A major refurbishment has recently been completed at the Mall Galleries. It has been funded as part of a 3-year financial sponsorship package by Threadneedle, a leading City-based asset management firm.

The overall design is much improved. Apart from brand new lighting installations and what looks like a large digital screen at the entrance, the bulk of the work appears to have been focused on radically improving access to all the galleries. There is now much more flat space for the reception desk and bookstand at the entrance which has in the past been a frightful bottleneck at popular Private Views. The opening to the North Gallery (a gallery which people unfamiliar with the layout could sometimes miss out altogether) is very much more obvious and much improved without any loss of display space. Disabled access for those with mobility problems has also been radically improved with the installation of both a chairlift and a ramped access through to the North Gallery - people in wheelchairs will now be able to access exhibitions for the very first time. Altogether it's now looking a very attractive gallery space for all those interested in seeing fine art.

A new competition

I noted from the catalogue that Threadneedle is also backing a major new figurative art competition, to be launched in September 2008, with a first prize of £25,000. I'm sure there are quite a few artists who will be waiting with interest to hear more details!



  1. Did you see the ladies toilets in the Mall Galleries? The cubicle walls and doors are made of green glass and are slightly transparent. Very unusual!

  2. No - I didn't use "the facilities" this time - but will definitely go and have a peek next time. I hope I won't be peeking at too much!

    I wonder if it's like that obscure bathroom glass - but I think that works much better the bigger the distance between object and glass.

    I'm intrigued now!

  3. Oh, I wish I lived near here to visit! I love animals, reading about them, observing them, and playing with domesticated ones.
    I'd like to branch out into wildlife since I'm a landscape and pet portrait artist. Birds have always fascinated me. My kids and I even named the ones that regularly visit our yard.
    Delightful post. Your blog is a wealth of information.

  4. (sorry- realized too late that I "typoed" my url)
    here is the correct one here, so you know the comment above is not spam.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.