Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Derwent Art Prize 2014 Exhibition

The Derwent Art Prize 2014 celebrates pencil art and its current exhibition at the Mall Galleries is very successful at demonstrating the range of artwork and approaches to making art that can be seen in contemporary pencil art today.

This post has:
  • a video of my walk round the Derwent Art Prize 2014 exhibition - to give you a feel for what it it looks like
  • some general observations about the exhibition
  • the artworks which caught my eye - including those that I would have had on my short list for prizewinners

Video - a walk round the Derwent Art Prize exhibition


There are some incredibly impressive artworks in coloured pencil. If you want to see what can be achieved with coloured pencils then this is the exhibition to come and see.  This exhibition also clearly highlighted for me how much more impressive coloured pencil works are when artists don't constrain the size of their pieces.  Three of the four pieces were very much bigger than those typically seen in exhibitions of coloured pencil art.  Time for coloured pencil artists to have a think about size as well as technique!

The pieces worth remaking upon for me were as follows

"After Dinner" (coloured pencil) by Tegan Iversen
an Australian artist, currently studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drawing)
at the Victorian College of the Arts. This is a huge drawing with large marks.
"Vitality" (coloured pencil) by French artist Isabelle Cridlig (or 'big blue' as I kept calling it.)
the image on the left in this panoramic shot
A lot of people were assuming this one had won prior to the announcement.
Virtually everybody I spoke to liked it

This is what 'Vitality' looked like close up - lots of shapes which suggested people
 - or some other sort of life - swimming
As good an argument as many for the need to see - and judge - a work in person

a close up of part of Patsy Whiting's coloured pencil piece which won Third Prize
Note the texture and the delicacy of the treatment of both light and colour.
Extreme right: The Cloud (coloured pencil) by Meghan Hyckie
Meaghan is a Canadian ex pat.
Her artwork was very amorphous - as all good clouds should be - and full of mark-making
There were some impressive series. I gather the process of submission works in such a way that the artworks cannot become separated and hence the judges can see all works together.

There were three series which stood out for me
The drawings are entitled 'A Fall of Ordinariness and Light' and visualise the ‘progression’ of the buildings’ imminent demise, symbolising the fall of social ideals of progress.
A Fall of Ordinariness and Light' by Jessie Brennan
graphite on paper ( drawn as if on crumpled paper)
This major housing development which is due for demolition stands yards from the Town Hall
in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and I know something of the 
fight that surrounded the redevelopment. of Robin Hood Gardens.
It will in part be replaced by private housing for sale.
Anybody who has travelled onto the Isle of Dogs via Poplar will know it well.
Jessie has caught the whole ethos associated with this property and its demise
This is drawing as social comment - using an approach and format which echoes its message
What I also found interesting about Jessie's work is that this built upon a series of four drawings in last year's exhibition - which were small and documented the architecture and features of life lived on a council estate.  Drawing the substance of everyday life for a lot of people always has a lot to recommend it.

The lesson from the series I saw in this exhibition is that if you are going to submit more than one drawing, it's better to make it part of a series.

Interestingly I found the more detailed representational drawings in the exhibition did not "call to me" unless they had interest within the picture or a story about them.

Technical precision on its own did not have an impact.

These four drawings were much more interesting

A corner of the North Gallery
Works in the exhibition included a variety of pencil media - graphite, charcoal, coloured pencils, pastels. Some were combined with other media with some fascinating results eg embroidery and coloured pencils and encaustic and graphite on a wooden panel.

I think it's a great pity there are no 3D works in this year's show unlike last year which demonstrated very clearly that drawing in pencils is not limited to a 2D format. The decision not to include any seemed to me to be a retrograde step - there again, maybe the ones submitted were not deemed worthy by the Judges.  It did seem very odd since I gather one of the aims of the judges was to try and show the range of ways in which pencils can be used to create art.

I do think there needs to be a review of what is meant by "pencil".  If pastel sticks and charcoal sticks are agreed to be pencils then so be it - that's fine. However it did strike me that some of the works didn't actually have a close relationship with a pencil!

The exhibition is generally speaking a well hung show. There's a sense of those works having a relationship one to the other being given the space they need.

A contrast between the very professional and
a presentation which has scope for improvement
 - shame, because the drawing is excellent!
A number of works in the exhibition were not framed - including the winner of the overall prize. I checked the terms and conditions and this was not a mandatory requirement. While it certainly encourages entries from international artists it did strike me that if you compared the exhibition in the North Gallery (Derwent Art) with the one in the West gallery (Sunday Times Watercolour exhibition) then I know which one looked more professional and worthy of a competition with a significant money prize.

Indeed the Derwent Art Prize exhibition had an interesting mix of very professional with corners which had an air of final degree show about them - which, while I was writing that, actually seemed very unfair to the proper presentation of a lot of work seen in final degree shows!

It also seemed somewhat ludicrous to have drawings with a significant value held up by bulldog clips!

If the sponsors wish for the exhibition to continue to gain status I recommend that they insist on all 2D works being framed.

There are framers in London who will frame works for exhibitions (i.e. frame on loan) and this is a suitable option for overseas entrants.

Bottom line it just seems unfair to me that people living in the UK should go to the trouble and expense of getting their work framed and shipped down to London when these aren't expenses which need to be deducted from (say) the individual winning the £6,000 first prize!

For those looking to submit work in the future, in terms of frames you can see from the video that they are VERY neutral - mainly black, white, grey, bleached wood or natural light woods. In other words the standard London exhibition frame!

Finally - I'd love to give you links to the details of the works of the artists shown in this post - but the exhibition website is still not working!

Derwent Art Prize - Links to previous blog posts




  1. omgosh...those clips look SO tacky. It sorta breaks my heart as a pencil artist that they allowed that. To me it down grades our medium by not looking professional!

  2. Hi - That portrait (toward the end) that's unframed was mine. I sent it framed. I have NO IDEA why it's not. Derwent has not contacted me to inform me that that happened. I cannot explain it.

    Please be kind. I would've NEVER sent my piece like that. :(


  3. Megan - that's really very odd.

    It's not unusual for frames and/or glass to be damaged when sending works internationally or long distances. They need to be super well packed to survive some of the chucking about that happens in parcel depots. It's usually movement inside the package that causes the problems. I always have mine sandwiched inside a taped up foamcore sandwich so the pic can't move and can't have its edges damaged either.

    However if something happened to your frame, you'd think that the organisers (Parker Harris) would contact you and ask you what you wanted to do.

    For example it would have been perfectly feasible to arrange for it to be framed in London and very plain framing does not cost an arm and a leg!

    To display it as per my photo without Parker Harris advising you that there was a problem with display seems very odd indeed.

    I suggest you ask them (Parker Harris) what the explanation is and why they didn't contact you. Let me know if you need their email address

    BTW - your drawing looked really great! :)


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