Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2012 - Review

Yesterday, after dropping my artwork off with the Society of Botanical Artists, I went to see the exhibition for the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2012 held at the Bankside Gallery.

This exhibition, as I indicated in my earlier post, RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2012 - Selected artists & artwork, this exhibition is 100% open.  There are no works by members of the RWS.

General impressions of the exhibition

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition - the feature wall
The first thing that needs saying is that there is a lot of excellent artwork in this exhibition and I very much recommend it as an exhibition for lovers of watercolou.  Much of it is "proper watercolour" (and those who've read my previous comments on this topic will know I mean traditional watercolour and goauche rather than acrylic).  That said I saw a stunning painting in acrylic which very much took my fancy! The paintings are also much more a product of freehand painting and hand-eye co-ordination rather than produced with the aid of technical aids.  If you're thinking of entering next year I suggest you pay a visit before the exhibition finishes on 14th March.

That said, I also have to note that I came across what I considered to be some weak examples of watercolour art which I found rather surprising.  I'm not going to name names or otherwise characterise them - although if you're a watercolour artist whose work I rate highly you may find me dropping you a line to suggest you enter next year! ;)

I also noticed that I was seeing more than one painting for the second or third time in the last 12 months.  Good though they may be, I think a competition of this sort really should have a condition that the entries have not been previously exhibited in London.  Not least because those paintings I saw are also produced by artists whose work I rate and I know they have more good paintings in their portfolios!  Maybe a point for the RWS to ponder on?

RWS Open 2012 - South Wall
RWS Open 2012 - The Alcove Wall

In general terms - and for the benefit of those thinking of entering next year - this is what I found in terms of subject matter, media, style and presentation
Winner of St Cuthbert’s Mill Prize
(top) Stu by Mark Haddon
  • styles lean towards the impressionistic and figurative (ie freehand rather than traced) and there is relatively little hyper/photographic realism
  • mainly watercolour and gouache, limited use of inks and acrylic
  • there's an awful lot of landscapes of every size and style
  • there's more botanical work and still lives involving flowers, fruit and vegetables than I've seen before.  I think the botanical artists have just begun to realise they can also apply to become members of the RWS!
  • the portraits and paintings of figures varied enormously - and two won prizes.  There were very few straight portraits.  There were some very stylised treatments of people.  Interestingly these carried more conviction than those where it was very evident the figure had been painted from a photo.  I was somewhat surprised there weren't more out and out portrait painters submitting work in watercolour
  • there's not a lot of abstract work although there are some 'statement' paintings
  • framing is neutral, light wood, white or black.  Study my photos to see what I mean.  Most but not all are matted.  Relatively few were floated.
  • the paintings with impact tended to be either bigger than average (eg whole sheet of watercolour paper) or smaller than average and technically skilled.
Award winners

These are the award winners
Top left - Winner of the David Gluck Memorial Award
After the Storm 2
 by Maki Kiryu
  • Royal Watercolour Society Award (£500 cash prize) - Matchbox Seascapes by David Cass
  • David Gl├╝ck Memorial Award (£1000 cash prize) - After the Storm 2 by Maki Kiryu
  • St Cuthbert’s Mill (£300 worth of paper) - Stu by Mark Haddon
  • Daler Rowney Prize (Daler Rowney Artist Watercolour Set) - Jess Puts up the Boards by Malcolm Wilkinson - see below
  • Winsor & Newton Prizes
  • The Artist Prize (An article in a future issue of The Artist magazine) - Bathers, Sandycove, County Dublin by John Short
Winner of The Artist Prize (top centre)
Bathers, Sandycove, County Dublin by John Short
People whose work I liked

Winner of the Daler Rowney Prize
Jess puts up the boards (sold) by Malcolm Wilkinson
I thought Jess puts up the Boards by Malcolm Wilkinson was absolutely delightful - and hugely accomplished in a technical sense in all sorts of ways.  I really like paintings of people 'doing things' and this was probably the best painting of a person in the whole show.  It also managed to not look like it had been painted from a photograph which was probably helped enormously by his technique of optical mark-making.  I've included a section of of the painting below to demonstrate how it is painted using tiny marks - not unlike those used by painter using Egg Tempera.  This is not a large painting - from memory not bigger than a sheet of A4.

Extract from Jess puts up the boards (sold) by Malcolm Wilkinson
Two full sheet paintings of vegetable gardens in the English countryside by Philip Rundall kept drawing my eyes.  They're well designed with a colour palette that's very pleasing even if not entirely natural - but then I'm very fond of green blues.  They seemed to me to play on the notion that "every green goes with every other green".  They also reminded me a bit of June Berry RWS - but then June paints vegetable gardens in the country!

The White Van by Philip Rundall
Tessa Shedley Jordan has produced an outstanding trio of still life arrangements of fruit, vegetables and leaves - here are two of them (below).  All her work is a full sheet of watercolour paper and it's very impressive.

In a French Kitchen and From the Wild Wood by Tessa Shedley Jordan
I was greatly amused by Christopher Dunn's small painting titled It's raining, It's pouring.  One would be hard put to think of a less likely subject for a painting and yet it works really well - if you like amusing paintings.

It's raining, it's pouring by Christopher Dunn
watercolour and gouache
The next exhibition is the Spring Exhibition of Members Work - it'll be interesting to see which I prefer!

Note:  Joy of joys - Blackfriars tube station is now open again and the Thames Path has been reinstated which makes getting to the Bankside Gallery a lot easier.

However The Thames Path is closed on 10-11 March due to the continued work on the new entrance to Blackfriars Station which is a now hop, skip and a jump from the front door to the Bankside Gallery


  1. Thanks - am going to the exhibition later today, so appreciate your very informative review.

    Jennifer Steele

  2. That's it, I'm doing a Dr Foster painting next! Thanks Katherine.

    I too thought Malcolm Wilkinson's painting was a highlight.

  3. Great review, I'd agree about the mostly excellent paintings, with a couple of odd choices. The private view was crammed so I didn't get a chance to look at everything properly, but it was interesting to be there.
    I was quite surprised by the number of large paintings - possibly encouraged by the online submission process (no need to lug in 3 huge framed paintings that may not be accepted).
    David Paskett's speech mentioned that he'd got to know a number of the regular submitters, and also said something about one artist's work hanging in the same spot as last year (my painting is hanging in the same corner as my last submission too).
    I loved the 'Jess' painting too, phenomenal in close up.

  4. This competition has always generated large paintings - just as the Sunday Times watercolour competition does.

    I thought the Jess painting could have been better hung - in a corner and bending down to view a painting of incredible intricacy was not ideal. Especially not for somebody who falls over when she bends down! ;)

  5. heyy any one please tell the complete information about this event/competition.??katherine tyrrell ??plzzzz

  6. see my previous post

    Call for Entries: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2012

    This post also covers how to apply to become a member of the RWS


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