Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 Exhibition at the Mall Galleries

Today I went to see the 26th Exhibition for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition.
  • 813 paintings were submitted by some 413 artists
  • 83 paintings by 79 artists made it through the selection process to be exhibited in this week's exhibition at the Mall Galleries.  (It closes 5pm on Saturday 21 September)
  • 4 artists won prizes
Prizewinners - Sunday Times Watercolour 2013
and - for those who didn't get through - I've got some images of and comments about the ones that did!

We already know:

Below you will find my observations in general about the paintings in the exhibition.
Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - The first afternoon of the exhibition

General observations about selected paintings

  • Most of the works are large.  A rough estimate would say around about 80% are large or largish.  The photograph above gives you some sense of scale with respect to size of paintings selected.  Not all are large - but all those selected for a prize were.  If you want to be selected for this competition, take a full sheet of watercolour paper and start thinking big!
Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - Smaller paintings
I left the card racks in to give you a sense of scale for the smaller paintings

  • A good proportion of the smaller paintings were complex in nature. 
Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - Smaller paintings
Note the complexity of these smaller paintings, the colour palettes and the saturated colour
There's nothing "wishy washy" about these!

  • The emphasis is on representational art - but there is very little photorealism. None of the better paintings are trying to look like photographs.  Paintings which appear to be very realistic are revealed to be quite painterly when you study them up close.  Those which have elements of hyper-realism make a careful selection of what is and is not included and how colour palettes are adjusted to enhance the image. Photographs may be used for reference but they are emphatically not copied.

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - Two Scottish Painters
left: Beneath the Bow (gouache) by Lachlan Goudie
right: Waiting for the Tide by Angus McEwen RSW RWS 

    • Most have well constructed colour palettes - and colour is often saturated.  There is nothing bashful about these paintings.  These watercolours aim to show what can be accomplished when watercolour is used by artists who paint well. Even the greys and neutrals have colour.

    Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - colour in the greys

    • Most of the paintings read well across the gallery.  This is a competition where you need to pay attention to what your painting looks like from 10 feet away as well as from 10 inches away.  Does it invite you over to take a closer look?

    Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013 - More of the larger paintings
    Note the very neutral framing
    • The subject matter is typically atypical. There's no sense of "same old, same old" of the kind which one so often sees at local amateur art society shows. Many of the artists submitting work are professional artists. So landscapes are not views which have been done many times before.  Some take very familiar objects - but give us a new perspective on them - eg Gordon McDowell's Horses St. Marks.  
    Horses, St Marks by Gordon McDowell (£3,400)
    • The work is original. It's fresh, new, innovative, unique, independent. If you're copying somebody else's motifs or trying very hard to copy the style of a successful painter it is unlikely your work will be selected.  One of the very refreshing things about this exhibition is that virtually all the artists give me a strong sense of their unique sense of vision and style.  My favourite was Glitter by Luke Elwes (see below) - it kept catching my eye wherever I was standing in the gallery.  It was also a painting I heard others comment on.
    Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2013
    Left Thames Van in Wood by David Poxon RI (£1,850)
    Middle: Glitter my Luke Elwes (£2,000)
    Right Dome of the Carmelite Church, Valletta by Denis Roxby Bott RWS (£2,500)
    • The picture comes before the practice.  What I mean by this is that at this level it's more or less assumed that you are technically a good painter.  However technique is never enough to impress.  It's about making pictures that look good in watercolour.  Making pictures look good generally means that you have a chosen theme which you pursue and repeat and refine.  In a way the representational becomes abstracted to different degrees. Look at the websites of the selected artists and note how many choose to paint with motifs and styles which have been developed over time.  These are, for the most part, mature paintings.
    Artists should note that whilst any water-based mediums are acceptable, this competition aims to celebrate and reward excellence and originality in the genre of watercolour painting. The judges will therefore be looking for work that makes the most imaginative or otherwise impressive use of a water based medium in this respect.
    Sunday Times Watercolour Competition - Help and FAQS

    I'm 100% guessing, but I would imagine that the selectors probably have to reject a lot of submissions where the work might be characterised as
    • "same old same old" - more of the same, subjects which have been done to death
    • weak washes - fail to carry, have no impact
    • poorly designed compositions and tonal patterns - means the work does not carry well at a distance
    • suffers from "copying photograph syndrome" i.e. using the reference without editing for the weaknesses of photographs and without the adjustments necessary to make it look like a painting rather than a photograph.

    First Prize - David Forster

    Sunday Times Watercolour Competition - FIRST PRIZE (£10,000)
    Not long afterwards the country was overrun by war (Port Edgar, Scotland) by David Forster

    acrylic on paper, 91 x 74 cm

    The first prizewinner struck me as having much more colour and nuances of light than I had seen in the more neutral photo sent to me.  Plus layers upon layers of work which you could tease out by looking at it steadily - in person.  In fact that's what I well remember doing last time I saw a painting by David Forster.  His paintings combine big shapes and controlled palettes with a network of tracery - the interlaced and branching skeletons of the trees, the pattern of steps within the snow, the dappled shade, the light on some but not all the grass in the foreground, the counterplay of the light and shade of the railings.  They're a bit of a puzzle in more ways than one.  Most of all they convey a sense of a man who enjoys painting - and what could be better than that?

    The exhibition continues at the Mall Galleries until 5pm on Saturday 21 September. I highly recommend a visit.  Not least because this is only one of three excellent exhibitions in the Galleries this week.  The others are:

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