Monday, April 13, 2009

Wildlife Artist of the Year 2009 - the online exhibition

The entries accepted for the Wildlife Artist of the Year 2009 went online last week. This is the second year of the competition.

The art competition and exhibition are sponsored by the The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. The associated exhibition will be held at the Mall Galleries in London from 1st-6th June 2009. Works include paintings, drawings and sculptures in all media.

The advantages of online exhibitions

I think it's absolutely marvellous when exhibitions put all their images online. There are so many positive aspects to doing this.

Here are some of the benefits:
  • artists can see the standard and type of work which gets accepted into the exhibition. That provides a standard for artists to aspire to reaching.
  • Increasing awareness of the overall standard of works being exhibited presumably also reduces the number of artworks being submitted which won't make it through to the final selection in subsequent years - making life easier for organisers but possibly rather more difficult for the jurors!
  • art lovers can see the art even if they can't physically get to the exhibition
  • potential buyers can see whether it looks like it's worth paying a visit to the exhibition. Many people have told me that they went to see an exhibition on the basis of my reviews and photos of exhibitions.
  • serious buyers can see whether it's worth arranging to reserve a piece pending the exhibition opening at the gallery.
It's worth noting that it's becoming normal practice amongst leading commercial galleries to issue an online catalogue to previous buyers and subscribers in advance of the exhibition. This has resulted in a switch from Private View sales to reservations and even sales based on online preview catalogues.

It would be nice to see all art competitions and art societies considering adopting the same practice. It's one which is likely to enhance the potential financial benefits for both artists and organisers - especially important in a recession.

Which is why it is so refreshing to see the online exhibition for the Wildlife Artist of the Year some two months in advance of the actual exhibition in June. It's really great to find it on a website which loads fast - at least if you are on broadband!

Having said that, the experience would have been even better if the website had a slide show option or a means of advancing from one image to another without having to return to the main exhibit. I want the same experience as the one I get when I love slowly along a wall in a real B&M gallery. Hopefully the organisers will address this by next year.

Wildlife Artists of the Year 2009 - online exhibition

I like to review an online exhibition in advance of seeing the exhibition in real life to see whether the pieces which have impact on screen have the same impact in real life. It's interesting how different some can be.

Of course, the big issue about online exhibitions is that the overall impression of relative dimensions is often distorted and it can become difficult to reach a view about the relative merits of different pieces. Fortunately with this exhibition, details about the dimensions and media and support are well to the fore providing the scope for a more informed appreciation of each piece. Unfortunately the convention of detailing dimensions as height x width has not been followed consistently by all artists.

Here's what I noticed about the online exhibition:
  • Scope: the range of media used and styles employed are very varied. Shows such as this demonstrate what can be achieved when originality and creativity are employed alongside good technique.
  • What gets art noticed: As always the design of an artwork and the contrast it employs makes a huge difference when artwork is viewed in thumbnail. Unfortunately the thumbnails used in the main gallery are crops to produce a square image and this sometimes misrepresents some of the works which look more impressive as a full size image
  • subject matter: big cats are still obviously very popular subjects among wildlife artists. Interestingly I now find I tend to look at these less and I'm more attracted to the unusual animals. There's a lot less birds than are shown at other very popular wildlife exhibitions - which is surprising given that birders are big collectors!
  • standard of artwork: overall the standard of artwork is high and compares favourably to artwork by members of the Society of Wildlife Artists. However the exhibition includes one or two pieces which I wouldn't have chosen - I'm assuming they have some redeeming feature which I've not yet spotted! ;)
  • photography: the importance of good photography and cropping images accurately is highlighted. I think those of you who review all the images will notice that some have achieved much better results than others in this respect. I'm beginning to wonder if artists who are not familiar with how to make your artwork look good online are now at a disadvantage in art competitions like this.
  • pricing: those artists who are pricing their work in £000s had better be "names" with a following or recognised as important emerging artists otherwise they're wasting their time so far as sales are concerned. Unless, of course, the people who visit this exhibition are very different from those who visit other exhibitions at the Mall Galleries including that of the Society of Wildlife Artists
Artists I liked

My cyberchums group and I had a good look at the online exhibition as one of our number - Gayle Mason - is one of the accepted artists this year. Of course we all liked different works!

I'm wondering whether artwork focusing on animals under threat are more likely to be successful. Not being a wildlife expert I'm not too sure what that means in terms of different animals.

Here's what I liked - and why:
  • Healing - A portrait of a dancing bear (gouache, 35 x 35cm) by Amanda Humble - the subject has the same 'look you straight between the eyes' appeal of last year's winner. It looks as though the painting in gouache is excellent. The vulnerability of the animal is very apparent and might well appeal to any juror who was concerned about animals under threat.
  • I particularly liked Flight Path by Martin Aveling (pastel, 29cm x 59cm) because of its illustration of the whole animal at rest and in flight. It also looks to be technically excellent in terms of colour, values and the use of pastels.
  • Cuddles and Huddles (acrylic, 17" c 21") by Steven Smith - strong, simple design with the lemurs looking out of the picture frame straight at me. Technique looks good although photograph could be better. Extremely likely to sell at stated price.
  • Red Ruffed Lemur (graphite pencil, 27cm x 20cm) by Paul Slavin - a drawing of another lemur - technically excellent in terms of fur and eyes.
  • Reflections on Ageing (mixed media 56 x 37cm) by Pamela Conder - I liked the informality of this one and the suggestion that it was drawn from life by an artist who is now considered one of Australia's foremost wildlife artists
  • Snow Leopard (acrylic 80 x 45cm) by Hans Keppel - it was nice to see a painting which demonstrated very clearly the rationale behind the snow leopard's colouring. This is a painting by a very experienced wildlife artist which technically addresses the challenges this poses for design and values. Very nice control of a muted palette.
Hot Spot
a finalist in Wildlife Artist of the Year 2009

8" x 20", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Gayle Mason

Of course, my favourite is Hot Spot by my friend Gayle Mason! Here's why I like this drawing - and apologies to those who read some of this just over a week ago in the feature spot on who's made a mark this week.
When I was watching the stoat on the Loch side running in and out of the huge boulders I couldn't help comparing its brief lifespan to the endless eons the rocks had been in existence. That was my concept behind the painting, a tiny bright spark in a large monochrome landscape
Gayle Mason - Stoat in Coloured Pencil
For me, the drawing combines concept, a thoughtful design and technical excellence in execution - something I've come to expect from Gayle - and at the same time it also represents for me a progression in Gayle's development as an artist.

The importance of background - So often artists hate doing 'backgrounds' as if they aren't really what interests the artist. They can so often appear 'under-cooked' in the hands of artists who are still learning their craft.

However, animals often 'disappear' into their backgrounds and can be hard to spot - and this is an important aspect for artwork when describing their habitat. There again they can sometimes be seen in an environment which is not sympathetic to their colouring. So it is with this stoat against a huge bank of what looks like Scottish granite boulders.

Gayle and I have had long discussions about backgrounds in drawings of animals and this drawing is an excellent example of why they are so important for appreciating the animal in its context. It's also an example of an approach to wildlife art which highlights how small the wildlife can be at times relative to its environment. Another example in the exhibition is Blue Butterfly, Salisbury Plain by popular butterfly artist Richard Tratt,

In style terms, Gayle's drawing is a development of an approach which she has been developing involving the colour being largely monochrome with a splash of colour. This style has proved very successful in relation to her feline art and which can be seen in "Cats with a Splash". This is her first drawing where the background is monochrome and the subject is the colour - and I think it works extremely well - I'm looking forward to seeing some more.

Gayle has exhibited her wildlife art with the National Exhibition of Wildlife Art in Cheshire and the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society at Marwell in Hampshire. You can see more of her wildlife art on her website.

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