Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Royal Watercolour Society Spring Exhibition 2012 - a review

I went to the Private View of the Royal Watercolour Society's Spring Exhibition 2012 last week.  The exhibition continues until 21 April at the Bankside Gallery on the South Bank next to Tate Modern.

Below you'll find my observations on the exhibitions and artists whose paintings I liked and the name of the artist who won the Turner Watercolour Prize - plus images of the exhibition.

The Wall next to the Entrance

One of the things that is unique to the RWS is that their shows are members only.  Their open exhibition is via a competitive call for entries - and that show contains no images by members.  I think this method of operation has some considerable merit.  The members get two shows a year and those entering the competition know that the whole gallery is given over to open entries.

The Turner Watercolour Award

Tom Gamble RWS (b. 1924) has been awarded the Turner Watercolour Award £2,500.  The Judges were Rosalind Turner, Ronald Maddox PRI and Andy Wood RI.  It's customary for judges from the other watercolour society to determine the winner in conjunction with the Chair - who is a niece
Tom Gamble was born Stockton-on-Tees, 1924, is a Freeman of the City of London, a Liveryman and Gold Medallist of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers, and a Member of the Art Workers Guild. His work is held in many private and public collections including H.M the Queen and Lloyds of London
He exhibited work this year for the first time after a gap of some years.

Le Marseille de la famille Bonnet by Tom Gamble RWS

The work he has produced could really be the work of a younger manDavid Paskett
I have to say I totally agree.  Looking at his paintings made me think he was a very much younger man as they are so fresh.

Paintings in the Exhibition

You can see a number of the paintings in the exhibition in a slideshow on the RWS website.  Not all the members have images in the slideshow (I assume not all provided digital images).

The reason for referring you to the website is that for some reason I always have lots of problems with reflections and spotlights in the Bankside Gallery.  I try walking up and down and sideways and move the camera up and down trying to find a way to get a decent shot of the artwork.  It works with some and not others.  This is by way of apologising for the fact that I liked work in the show which was impossible to photograph.

Private View for the Royal Watercolour Society Spring Exhibition
It's a good exhibition with a variety of styles and techniques - and indeed a variety of water-based media.  The hang, as usual, is very good with some very nice groupings of paintings.

What I noticed in this exhibition:

  • This year I think there's more traditional pure watercolour and less acrylic - or maybe it's just more people using acrylic more like watercolour?  I'm pleased to see any move that places more of an emphasis on the very special qualities of traditional watercolour paint.
  • Drawings remain in the Exhibition - I did notice that the drawings I saw in the same exhibition last year have carried over to this exhibition.  I like drawings an awful lot - however I'd like to see drawings with a more evident use of water-based media.  
  • I also noticed rather a lot of pastel in various paintings by various artists.  I've absolutely no problem about people using other media in a painting.  However when something is described as an exhibition of paintings in water based media I do expect to see the main effects of the work achieved through the use of water based media!  I did like the paintings in question - but would have been happier seeing them eg at NEAC rather than the RWS.
  • Subject matter is getting very skewed.  There are very few paintings which are portraits or incorporate a large painting of a figure.  I'm not sure why this is.  However, as I remarked to the President, it's very odd that the RWS exhibition should have no portraits, wildlife, miniatures and very little botanical art - despite the fact that watercolour has been a traditional medium used with great effect in all these genres over the centuries.  So why is it that the RWS exhibition is now mainly landscapes and still life with a bit of abstract on the side?  Do you know?
  • On some of the paintings the description of media needs to be a bit more precise (ie WHICH water based media?).  It's not the case with every artist. I'm left wondering if it's the back office filling in when the member hasn't completed their form properly?
  • You need to move very fast to buy a painting by Diana Armfield - which had gone within minutes of the PV opening! (see my post Diana Armfield RA, RWS - an appreciation)

Artists I liked

Lots of visual interest by June Berry, Richard Bawden and Neal Pittaway

I always like looking at June Berry's (White Butterfly in the Autumn Garden and A French Farmyard) and Richard Bawden's paintings (February Still Life and William and Kate) - there's always a story in there somewhere.  Here are the links to the paintings you see above:

Work by Annie Williams and Mark Raggett and one other whose name I can't decipher!
I think everybody knows by now that I really like Annie Williams RWS's still life paintings (see Annie Williams demonstrates a still life in watercolour).

I was also drawn to the paintings by Mark Raggett ARWS which hang just below them in one of the central bays.  Do have a look at the slideshow of this paintings on the RWS site and those who know me will see straight away why I found them appealing ie the combination of drawing in ink and painting.

Liz Butler RWS's small paintings of the Umbrian countryside are gentle and unassuming but repay close study. To me they're out of the classical tradition of landscape painting by English artists.  The website describes them as miniatures but I wouldn't agree as the word "miniature" has a very specific meaning in the art world.  However I'd love to see her tackle a 'proper' miniature.

This year she's also showing one botanical work - which I found odd - until I had a chance to speak with her that is - and discovered that she actually spent a lot of years being a botanical artist!

I liked the two sky paintings by the past President David Firmstone PPRWS.  I didn't to start with because the blue sky is very emphatic - but they grew on me over the course of the evening.  This is the best I can do with a bad photograph (I can't wait for the new camera!)

One of the Flight paintings by David Firmstone
I liked Peter Quinn's sketchy paintings of street scenes - they had that nice quality of relaxed realism.  I'm nor sure whether he's drawing with ink before applying paint or not but that's what it looked like to me

Lupus Street by Peter Quinn RWS
Wendy Jacobs's paintings of fences - groynes and palings - on beaches made an eye-catching series albeit in subdued colours.  I do appreciate an artist who takes the trouble to present a series of paintings for exhibition.  Here's more of her fences in her recent work gallery on her 'made on an iMac' website

Events during the Spring Exhibition

There will be a number of workshops during the Spring Exhibition.  Sadly most are already fully booked which suggests to me maybe there should be more of these?  See what is (and was) on offer here - and bookmark this page for future offers.

For all those whose artwork didn't get hung in the Open Competition

One of the things David Paskett mentioned in his speech at the Private View was that opening up the the competition entry to digital submissions increased the number of entries by a factor of 4.  So for all those entering the competition next year, it's very obvious that you need to send your very best work.  For more information see
Plus maybe ponder on the next comment....?

Elections to membership of the RWS

I'm going from memory here but I think the President said that they'd not elected any new artists to membership of the RWS this year.

I wonder if artists presented work which was highly skilled in the use of watercolour for portraiture, wildlife, botanical art or miniatures that they might change their mind?  Just a thought! ;)

Summer Exhibition - Royal Watercolour Society: Picturing Britain

A Summer Exhibition by the members timed to take place during the Olympics was announced by the President in his valedictory speech.  The exhibition Royal Watercolour Society: Picturing Britain 2012 takes between 27 July - 12 August 2012 (Open Daily 11am - 6pm).  Plus....
In honour of its Royal Patron HM The Queen and her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations taking place this year, Members of the Royal Watercolour Society will also be undertaking a ‘Recording Britain Project’ as a distinct part of this exhibition, by making paintings that depict the full panoply of these celebrations, from the River Pageant on the Thames to the Beacons being lit in celebration across Britain.
This is the first art society I've come across which is celebrating both these events in this way.

More about the Spring Exhibition 2012

Bankside Gallery
  • Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1 9JH.  
  • During exhibitions the Gallery is open daily between 11am and 6pm. 
  • Admission to exhibitions is free.
Telephone: 020 7928 7521

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