Monday, March 17, 2008

The Pastel Society UK - 109th Annual Exhibition

I visited "Pastels Today" - the annual exhibition of the The Pastel Society UK last Friday and made lots of notes. I also have some photographs of the exhibition plus some links to excellent reproductions of work done last year by members on the Pastel Society website. This post is going to:
  • review any year on year changes which I thought I perceived in exhibited work
  • highlight artists who caught my eye - and images of their work
Connections 2 Ann Wilkinson PS

I visited the exhibition much later than I normally do because of suffering a close encounter with a rather nasty bug. Halfway round the exhibition I realised it was shaping up for Round Two! Anyway, let's see if I can read my writing!

What has stayed the same and what has changed

Every year I attempt an analysis of what appears to have stayed the same and what has changed in terms of what is being exhibited and how it is being presented. For the most part, the points I noted are much the same as last year, although some were more striking.
  • As last year, the hang now benefits from grouping PS members work together in a much more defined way. I continue to benefit from reading the mini profiles of each member. People usually like to know more about an artist whose work interests them - I wonder whether an even briefer version might be offered for all artists exhibiting in future.
  • Overall the standard remains high, although curiously not all met the standard I'm used to seeing at PS exhibitions.
2 birds 2 boats by Libby January PS
  • As last year there is an ever increasing emphasis on a more contemporary and abstracted style of working. Abstract, semi-abstract and abstracted paintings now form a significant part of the show. This might well reflect the nature of the commercial market for 'modern art' - although sales would indicate that maybe they're not yet attracting the right audience. The show continues to have very little work which might be deemed to be 'photo-realistic'.
  • Landscapes continue to predominate - both in terms of representational and the more abstracted variety - I'll comment further below. Each year I see fewer and fewer 'traditional' landscapes.
  • I had an impression of there being more figurative work - or it may have been that some of this was very striking. Portraiture still features in the show but, for me, much of this falls short of the level of work seen in the RSPP show.
  • There were very few 'pure' drawings (meaning without any attempt to complete a 'background') but those that were exhibited tended to be striking . Skills in drawing and mark-making continue to be reflected in a lot of the work on show.
  • Although coloured pencil is a permitted medium, but very few of the exhibited works appear to use it.
  • Yet again I was struck by the number of works which have been done on an artist prepared surface and/or with the use of solvent. Brush marks were clearly present in an awful lot of the work - either under or in-between layers of pastel.
  • I noted very few works which were clearly on paper.
  • The neutral coloured/painted frame continues to be favoured - as indeed it is at other exhibitions at the Mall Galleries.
  • Some artists had done very well for sales. Others had done much less well and overall, it didn't look as if trade had been brisk. However I can't say I'm at all surprised given the current economic climate and the current level of trade in many galleries. [Update: I understand sales are actually up by about one third on last year.]
I do continue to wonder how many more sales the Society might be able to achieve if either the Mall Galleries or the Pastel Society organised an e-commerce section to one or the other website and included digital images of all available works online. Much pre-selling of 'high end' art via quality galleries is now routinely done via digital image in advance of exhibitions opening. It also means that an exhibition has the potential to reach a much wider audience - including overseas buyers.

Individual artists

In this section I'm going to highlight my favourites in terms of both artists and individual works - and then comment on work by other artists.

Artists whose work I particularly enjoyed this year included Felicity House, Sarah Bee, Norma Stephenson, Keith Roper, Luis Morris and June Arnold.

Sarah Bee had a suite of work about trees - which are a constant motif. This year Highland Trees with Lichen 1 won the Sarah Samuels Fine Paintings Award (sponsored by the Sarah Samuels Gallery). She works in a very defined and limited palette of colours on a handmade abrasive surface. This is one of her paintings from last year's exhibition which demonstrates very nicely the quality of her work and the very lively surface she achieves in terms of values, colour, mark-making and brushwork.

You can read about her approach to pastel painting (as featured in The Artist June 2007) and see more of her work here.

Work by Felicity House.
From top, clockwise, these are: Contentment in blues; Sloes and ceps, forest forage; Answering the door; and Young girls reading (after Degas)

I was struck this year by the similarity in drawing between Vice-President Victor Ambrus PS and Council member Felicity House PS - and by others who were trying to draw in a similar fashion. However, you can't manufacture a relaxed draughtsmanship of this quality.

Both artists consciously 'draw' and their work frequently focuses on line and splashes of colour rather than any attempt to fill the surface. I love the quality of the mark-making and could stand and stare for ages just mentally following lines and the rhythm of how they were made.

You can see a work by Victor Ambrus which I particularly liked in last year's exhibition here. - note the quality of the line and the patches of colour. Above you can see 4 of the 5 works exhibited by Felicity House.

I guess the lesson I learned from this exhibition is that I really need to continue to do what I do already with pencils - but on much bigger supports!

Works by Keith Roper

In terms of landscapes I was very struck by the work of two artists who both 'abstract' their landscapes. Keith Roper PS and Norma Stephenson PS.

Both work with big shapes, simple colour palettes, glazing, scumbling and mark-making which makes their work endlessly fascinating.

You can see also much larger works exhibited last year:
By way of contrast Lionel Aggett represents a more traditional approach to pastel landscapes - and you can preview online his forthcoming exhibition at the Walker Gallery in Harrogate.

I particularly liked a couple of figurative works by Luis Morris AROI. They struck me very much as an oil painter using pastels but what was particularly striking was the use of colour - and in fact this is an oil version of one of the pastels on show.

I highlighted the work of June Arnold PS last year and do so again this year as she has a really great mark-making technique and an uncanny knack of representing light with a very subtle way. This is an image of one of last year's works Siesta Time. This year she has three works - all variations on 'Reflections on India' which I really liked. You can see more of her work here.

Award winners

The "Pastels Today" 2008 award winners are as follows:
  • Arts Club Award - Antony Williams PS RP NEAC
  • Linda Blackstone Gallery (Debra Manifold Memorial) - Jeannette Hayes PS
  • Buzzacott Award - John Tookey PS
  • Cross Gate Gallery Award - Brian Plummer
  • Daler Rowney Art Materials Award -Peter Vincent PS
  • Frank Herring Easel Award - David Brammeld, Cath Read & David Walker
  • Willi Hoffmann-Guth Award (Quality of Light) - B Waterson ARCA
  • Anthony J. Lester Art Critic Award - Clive Hayball
  • Annie Longley Award - John Blandy
  • Orange Street Gallery Award - Mark Leach PS
  • Bill Patterson Memorial Award - Michael Norman PS
  • Alexander Prowse Website Award - Mark Lowes
  • Sarah Samuels Fine Paintings Award - Sarah Bee PS
  • Brian Sinfield Fine Arts Award - Ann Wilkinson PS RBSA
  • Unison Pastels Prize - Bob Last PS
I know there are going to be quite a few pastel artists clicking their way through the links - enjoy! Links to coverage of previous exhibitions are given below.

Pastels - workshops and summer school

Workshops were held during the exhibition at the Mall Galleries and more workshops, delivered by Pastel Society members, will be held at Farnham Adult Education Centre at the end of March.

The Pastel Society is also holding a Summer School in the delightful Gloucestershire village of Alderton, nr. Tewkesbury on the 18th, 19th and 20th August 2008. A pdf booking form is available from the website here.

Here's hoping that by next year the Pastel Society might have started a blog which would hopefully give more people an opportunity to appreciate both its scope and the work of its members.



  1. Great posts!

    I meant to say yesterday that I was struck by the free expression and quality of the work at the TPS Exhibition. My first thought was that it makes a better, more contemporary show than I am used to seeing from another noted national pastel exhibit. I may be wrong, but it's a first impression.

    Last year's exhibit did not have an online display, if I remember right. Or maybe you were commenting then about the lack of a shopping cart system.

    I was struck by Roper and Stephenson, too. Also some others.

  2. I always love the Pastel Society show, it is by far my favourite Mall Galleries show and I've always thought had the greatest diversity and best quality overall. (And I was thrilled to get a piece in back in the year Japan was their theme, ages ago!) Thanks so much for showing the little abstracts, they're lovely. (I am of course slightly biased.) I'll have to check how long the show runs to see if I can stop in.

  3. I'm afraid it finished last Sunday Tina. I was struck down with "the lurgy" the day it opened and last Friday was the first time I'd felt fit for the journey into town - hence why the review is so late this year.

    However invited members of the Pastel Society are currently exhibiting at the Southampton City Art Gallery until 30th March. That's easy to get to by train from London - I can even give you directions! :)

  4. Great article on the pastel exhibition Kathrine! Looks like they had lots of wonderful artwork there!


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