Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Society of Wildlife Artists - Annual Exhibition 2011

This week I attended the very well attended and informal Private View of the The Natural Eye - the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists.  Last week I revealed that this Society sells the most artwork of all the exhibitions at the Mall Galleries - and when you visit the exhibition it's not difficult to see why.

The standard of art in this exhibition is exceptionally good.  It is very good to see:
  • an exhibition which puts a very strong emphasis on the quality of the art and the creative process.  While there is a lot of representational art in the exhibition, very little of it is 'straight' realism and even less looks as if it has copied a photograph.  There is a strong painterly feel to the paintings, a masterly approach to the printmaking which as always was stunning and a high regard for the calligraphic mark-making of those who are creating drawings.  All in all there is an amazing range of styles and approaches to creating art via paintings, print-making, sculpture and drawing.  This blog post provides just a little slice of what can be seen in this very impressive exhibition of art
  • an exhibition which demonstrates how many of its artists paint from life in the field (see Out of the Frame)  This is art which is worked at.  The artist has a connection with the animals, birds and fish being observed.
  • an exhibition which places an emphasis on encouraging the younger artist.  So nice to see a society which is succession planning!
Some comment that there's a lot of bird art in the exhibition.  However it needs to be remembered that the Society originally started because a group of contemporary bird painters decided to exhibit their art.

Below is a selection of the art which can be seen in this exhibition covering:
  • some stills of groups of work in the exhibition - which I highly recommend people go and see.  The exhibition runs until Sunday 6 November 2011 at the Mall Galleries. (Click for exhibition details)
  • artists whose work I liked (there were a lot more but these deserve a mention)
  • the special display focusing on the creative process
  • the SWLA 2011 Award Winners
At the end I comment on how to submit work to this exhibition - and a few tips for those who might like to submit work for the 2012 Exhibition.

Click the links in people's names to see more of their art.

Artists whose work I particularly liked included the painters shown below.

Andrew Haslen - Andrew has an interesting technique of combining linocuts with painting - as can be seen in The Hare and the Curlew (below).  He was elected to be a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists in 1988.

The Hare and the Curlew by Andrew Haslen SWLA

Michael Warren - what I like about his paintings is the truth of the bird in its habitat and the confident painting in watercolour.

Woodcock by Michael Warren SWLA

Darren Woodhead - there's something very calligraphic about the way Darren paints birds in their habitats.  I like it a lot!

Fieldfare among Elder and Buckthorn by Darren Woodhead SWLA
The North Gallery - Out of the Frame

The end of the North Gallery has been given over to the display of sketches made in the field - which are pinned to the wall "out of the frame".

This is intended to help visitors to the Exhibition understand more about the creative journey which so very often lies behind the paintings in this Exhibition.  It very effectively demonstrates the way that artists collect information for their paintings.

I was very impressed by the work of:
  • Chris Rose - working in South Georgia and on a small boat in the Southern Ocean (click the link to read more about it and see the paintings produced as a result of the trip).  Below the photograph of his sketches is a description of his painting system for working in the field.
Field Paintings from the Sketchbook of Chris Rose - painting the Southern Atlantic
I have developed a painting system that uses small plastic posts with screw lids that clip on my palette. I fill these with acrylics straight from the tube and, with a damp felt pad stuck to the underside of the lid, the paint remains perfectly usable for weeks at a time within its moist microclimate.  When painting, the lids stick with velcro pads to the undersides of the posts so nothing is lying around loose to be pinched or blown away and it can all be rapidly put away.  This is also useful when painting on the rolling deck of a boat at sea.Chris Rose
Bruce Pearson - and his Troubled Waters Project - more sketches fresh from the South Atlantic.

Field paintings and sketches by Bruce Pearson while on board a fishing vessel
SWLA Awards 2011

The Awards this year went to the following artists
  • Birdwatch Artist of the Year - North Haven, Fair Isle; dark and intermediate phase by Tim Wootton (Tim Wootton Wildlife Art) - see below.  This work is in Charcoal.  
"North Haven, Fair Isle; dark and intermediate phase" by Tim Wootton  
  • RSPB Award - Territorial Fight - into abstraction by Alison Ingram 
Territorial Fight - into abstraction by Alison Ingram
Kudu by Greg Poole
  • BIRDscapes Gallery Printmakers Award - Kudu (above) by Greg Poole SWLA
  • BIRDscapes Gallery - Birdscape award - Flounder Channel, Arnside (below) by Fiona Clucas.  Fiona writes about how she works on her website
Out in the field I tend to sketch using graphite and water soluble pencils, water colour and or gouache on heavy watercolour paper. I work quickly to catch the fleeting wildlife and transient elements. In the studio I work up larger drawings with graphite pencils and powder. My paintings on canvas and board are created using a process of building up different surfaces and textures with impasto, sometimes printing and much overlayering of colour.
Flounder Channel, Arnside by Fiona Clucas
  • The Roger Clarke Award - Dan Cole SWLA
  • SWLA Sea Bird Drawing Bursary Award - Meg Buick 
  • The Wildlife Trusts Underwater Wildlife Art Award - Harriet Mead SWLA.  These are her latest sculptures - some of which are on display in the exhibition.
Awards for Young Artists

Poppy Hegninbotham and her Badger
It's very pleasing to see an Art Society which is encouraging art being made by children and young people.  The Society does this in one of two ways: 
  • SWLA Bursaries for artists aged 15 to 30 to enable them to develop their skills through mounting a special project, travel or education.
  • the RSPB Wildlife Explorers WildArt Awards.  Winners of the latter were all female - which augurs well for the continuing good standing of female artists in this field of artistic endeavour!
    • Under 8 - Poppy Heginbotham who did a very splendid drawing of a badger (I regaled her mother with tales of me winning a national art competition age 6 with a painting of a squirrel!  Her mother told me this is not her first prize - and that she'd not done a squirrel yet and thanks for the idea!)
    • 8-12 years - Rachel Walford
    • 13+ - Alice Flint
Submitting art to this exhibition

For 2012, there is a new process of digital submission and pre-selection which should have a major impact on the number of people applying - with many more living at a distance from London submitting work.

Wildlife artists may wish to note the following observations which were made to me about the nature of the wildlife art which is selected for the show.
  • there is a conviction behind the work - a connection between the artist and the wildlife being painted
  • the work is rooted in observation.  Reference photos may have helped with the artwork but the wildlife which is portrayed has been observed in the field.  The selectors can tell those who have watched the animal and know how it works.
  • selectors can tell work which has been copied from a photograph - as opposed to those who have used and interpreted a reference photo as just one element in the material they have collected.  This exhibition is very much not about copying photographs.
  • artwork frequently says something about the habitat - it's an important aspect of the story
  • Wildlife art does not need to be big - small pieces also work


  1. We went to this exhibition on Thursday, and were lucky enough to go around the exhibition with the President. She introduced us to some of the artists who talked about their work in a very informative way.

    This was our first visit to this society's exhibition and it will not be the last. We were terribly impressed by the standard and originality, even with the children's work.

    We actually enjoyed this exhibition more than the Degas exhibition at the RA.

    p.s. I've also reviewed the exhibition on my blog

  2. Thanks Bernie. I think non-wildlife artists might possibly be very surprised by the quality and range of styles of the artwork in this show!

  3. how lucky to see this - it looks stunning. I'm particularly taken by Bruce Pearson's work. Thankyou for the link to his site.


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