Monday, March 04, 2013

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013 - exhibition review

This post is for all those who are thinking about entering the annual open competition run by the Royal Watercolour Society in 2014.

I wasn't able to get to the Bankside Gallery to see the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013 until the last day.  (a combination of the "the cough" which followed the flu and latterlly post viral fatigue!)  Hence you can't see this exhibition as it has already closed.

Bankside Gallery - RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013
This perspective gives you a sense of the size and framing of some of the paintings
Note how the frames are mostly neither wide nor obvious
However sight of what the exhibition looks like will be helpful to those whose work was rejected this year or those who are contemplating an entry next year
The RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition is an annual competition open to non-Members. It aims to encourage innovation and experimentation in watercolour painting, spanning work on paper in watercolour, acrylic, gouache, pen & ink and watercolour mixed media.
These are the lists of
The pdf files provide listings of the images with title, name of the artist and details of size, medium and price.  Note that the image on file is not the same as the actual image as some are heavily cropped.
Below you will find:
  • images of the exhibition and prizewinners
  • observations on the exhibition, the prizewinners and artwork I liked
Bankside - and Tate Modern - on a Sunday (3 March 2013) is the video I took while walking along Bankside, past Tate Modern on my way to the gallery - to get you in the mood!

(centre) Winsor & Newton Prize
Locksmith, 2nd Avenue, New York by Charlotte Knox (Charlotte Knox)
watercolour, 65.4 x 65.4 cm
St Cuthbert’s Mill Prize
Storm in Barbados II by Christine Berrington
watercolour 17.5 x 12.5
I'm not too sure of the process used for deciding who gets a prize.  One or two surprised me somewhat.

St Cuthbert’s Mill Prize - Christine Berrington Storm in Barbados II

Winsor & Newton Prize - Charlotte Knox Locksmith, 2nd Avenue, New York 

Winsor & Newton Runner up Prize 1 - Paul Gadenne No. 3 Slip 

Winsor & Newton Runner up Prize 2 - Aine Divine Matthew

Winsor & Newton Runner up Prize 3 - Nigel Priddey RBSA Kent Coastal Landscape 

Winsor & Newton Runner up Prize 3
Kent Coastal Landscape by Nigel Priddey RBSA
watercolour, 51 x 33
(Bottom left) Daler Rowney Prize
Valeriya Yanushevskaya Birthday Wishes £3,000

(Top right) Winsor & Newton Runner up Prize 2
Aine Divine Matthew £750
Daler Rowney Prize - Valeriya Yanushevskaya Birthday Wishes

The Artist Prize - Alan Reed Jebel Akhdar, Oman (You can watch him paint on his website)

The Artist Prize 
'Jebel Akhdar, Oman'  by Alan Reed
99 x 81
(top left) Royal Watercolour Society Award
Still Life in B by James Faure Walker 
acrylic, 76 x 56
Royal Watercolour Society Award - James Faure Walker Still Life in B

David Gluck Memorial Award - Heather MacKinlay Dornoch Beach

Royal Watercolour Society Patrons Prize - Bridget Moore Night Café

Royal Watercolour Society Exhibitions - Stephanie Tuckwell Aber Series 2 No. 1

Heatherley’s School of Art Prize - Elaine Giles Portrait Study in Paynes Grey (see below for an imag)

The Exhibition
    RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013
    The main changes this year were:
    • an emphasis on welcoming submissions from
      • practising artists
      • international artists - and I certainly saw evidence of this with more Chinese artists submitting work than I've seen before
    • impasto acrylic works are not eligible - and it was a real pleasure to walk around an exhibition which was I would call a "proper" watercolour exhibition.  There were a few acrylic works but typically not ones which insisted they be viewed as acrylic as opposed to an opaque paint.  I rather liked the novel and imaginative approach Debbie Ayles takes to painting construction projects - as if they were Mondrian paintings!  I'd have given this one a prize. 
    Restoration Project: Cromer by Debbie Ayles
    acrylic on paper, 50 x 60
    (Her Colchester Garrison: New Build has just been selected for
    the RI Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in April)
    • all works must be on paper - and again it was a pleasure to see a variety of papers being used as supports - and some, like Sherry Andrens Owen, were rather more creative with their use of paper (she produces watercolour collages in 3D)
    Summer Garden by Sherry Andrens Owen
    watercolour and handmade rice papers, 63.5 x 73.5 cm

    One of the things I very much like about this exhibition is that it always brings out the people who can draw in paint - typically using inks.  It is so nice to see calligraphic mark-making which is one of my particular passions (can you guess from the title of this blog?).  I particularly liked Max Naylor's drawing/p[ainting of Brockley in Indian Ink, I'd love to see more people submitting work using coloured inks which I've certainly seen in the past although not this year.

    RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013
    Amongst the Trees by Kathryn Maple (top left) is done in watercolour with a pen

    I really liked paintings by Caroline Ali and Laura Bell.  I also liked Diana Green's gouache paintings of gardens - on the left in the photo below. It also seemed to me that Justin Hawkes graded coloured washes was a perfect Summer 2012 Study!

    RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2013
    Left - two gouache paintings of gardens by Diana Green
    I visit this exhibition most years.  However, I have to say this year I was very surprised to see quite so many paintings which, to my mind, met the standard of a local art society but not the normal standard set by the RWS for this competition.  While some were just very ordinary, others left me quite open-jawed. It struck me maybe the same view had occurred to those who hung the exhibition!

    The fact that one or two of them also won prizes had me wondering what particular aspect of art was being rewarded by selection and prizegiving.  The point is made in two respects:
    • relative to the other work in the exhibition - much of which was good
    • relative to previous years.
    I was also surprised by the calibre of portraiture in the exhibition - I would certainly have expected to see a better selection of higher calibre works than I saw - certainly in terms of how to handle flesh and hair colour in watercolour.  (see for example Sue Rubira's 'Maggie' - a large portrait of an old l;ady with cataracts in 21st century watercolour - RWS 2008 painting competition)

    A selection of portraiture and paintings of figures
    top row centre: Heatherley’s School of Art Prize 
    Elaine Giles 'Portrait Study in Paynes Grey'
    ink and pencil, 72 x 55
    In general rather a lot of work has obviously been done from photographs.  I don't mind people painting from photos - but I would prefer not to be able to tell quite so easily.  Essentially the difference is whether the artist takes the photo as the starting point or simply tries to copy it.

    The one thought which I'm always left with at the end of these exhibitions is that, as a matter of routine, I see far superior work in watercolour in the exhibitions of the art societies which specialise in a particular subject area.  Where are the high class watercolour works in miniature, of botanical art and of wildlife?  It's such a pity that the calibre of technical skill, design and composition and mature artistry that I see elsewhere is not reflected in the works typically chosen for the exhibitions by the watercolour societies (ie this is not just an RWS issue).

    I've asked artists from these art societies in the past why they don't put their work forward and the answer I typically get is that they don't think the watercolour societies are interested in their work.

    It makes me wonder whether the watercolour societies might be interested in the excellent sales records achieved by the art societies in these fields - through careful cultivation of their very enthusiastic art collectors!

    It's a conclusion to ponder on - for both the artists and art societies - particularly given the sales record of this exhibition (I counted 15 sales in total).

    One more thing.

    I've often been struck by the alphabetical listings of artists - and this is one which prompts comment.  I've not done the count however there are four pages to the catalogue.
    • Page 1 Ali to Chavannes
    • Page 2 Chavannes to Hawkes
    • Page 3 Haworth to Moran
    • Page 4 Moran to Zeng
    It's not usual for surnames starting with letters in the first half of the alphabet to comprise nearly 80% of the works exhibited.  Maybe next year start the selection process at the other end of the alphabet?

    Past Exhibitions

    You can review my blog posts below about some of the previous exhibitions below. These include gallery shots of works in the exhibition and links to the websites of prizewinning artists.

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    1. Thank you for a very interesting post.Your analysis of London exhibitions is a real boon to those of us out in the sticks and unable to attend. I was interested in your remarks about AD (Alphabetic Discrimination). I was sure it was a real phenomenon and not just my paranoia, so cheers!
      I remember in art classes when I was little, that we were sent to fetch our art materials in small groups, alphabetically. Invariably by the time I got there all that was left was a dried up bottle of PVA, a manky brush and a slightly torn sheet of vomit pink sugar paper. *sigh*

    2. I'm personally waiting for Malcolm Galdwell to get round to noticing this as a phenomenon and writing about it in a New Yorker followed by yet another best selling blook! He's already identified how much a difference the date you are born makes - he's got to do surname discrimination soon!

    3. You will have noticed that I too have a surname near the end of the alphabet!

    4. Eileen Dunphy's work was a beautiful poetic piece.


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