Thursday, March 26, 2015

Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #2 - Open Entry

Yesterday's post 203rd Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #1 was about the prizewinners plus the events and free events and activities being held in the Mall Galleries between now and when the exhibition closes on 11 April.

Today's post is going to focus on the Open Entry and paintings in the exhibition that I liked.

Paintings by Lilias August RI - I loved the one at the top called Seven Brushes
you can see more of her still life paintings on her website
A different kind of still life paintings by the ever popular Shirley Trevena RI
Shirley's books are in the Mall Galleries bookshop
Paintings by John Raynes, Bob Rudd and Colin KentBob Rudd kindly told me how he achieved the saturation in his paintings!
RI Members small works - North Gallery
It was pleasing to see that the smaller paintings hung in this room were ones
of a similar standard to the rest of an artist's work
One important point to make before I start is that I very much liked the way that there's a much better mix of paintings and members work across both the West and North Galleries.  

Too often of late when viewing  exhibitions by the FBA Art Societies I have seen the West Gallery "reserved" for members work and the open entries apparently "relegated" to the three smaller North Galleries.

Big mistake!

I've been to exhibitions by other art societies where the North Gallery has been packed with people viewing an extremely high standard of work by juried artists - with rather fewer people viewing members' artwork in the cavernous West Gallery.  In my view, that says an awful lot about how engaging members' artwork is and whether or not there ought to be a review of the quality of work being submitted by members and what actually gets hung.

In addition, for all but the larger works, I actually prefer viewing works in the North Gallery. It's friendlier and more intimate and succeeds in engendering a closer connection with the work.

Plus I very often think the lighting seems to work better!

Painting on the Feature Wall in the North Gallery
a very nice balance between realism and more impressionistic figurative art
Most of the paintings are from the open entry
I liked Nature Morte 1 and Nature Morte 2 (bottom row extreme left and right) by Sarah Ball
plus the bold and graphic watercolour paintings by Nigel Priddey - The Lighthouse and Landscape with Railway Viaduct

Also on the walls of the North Gallery

watercolour £1,850
I really liked this - it's like a puzzle and is technically very accomplished
The fact that there is a better mix of works this year in the RI's Annual Exhibition - between the two galleries and between members and juried artworks - led me to an interesting conclusion. I found it very difficult to tell the difference between the artwork which was selected from the open entry and members' works.

I drew two conclusions:
  • the RI is looking to encourage artists, via selection for the Annual Exhibition, who are at least as good as existing members - and that can only be a good thing for painting in water based media.
  • there's a lot of very good watercolour artists who want to get their work into this show!

The Open Entry 

The Open Entry is the lifeblood of any art society. It's where an art society find future members. 

In thinking about how to sustain high standards and quality within an art society, a lot of thought needs to be given to how to encourage the open entry and ensure it meets and even exceeds the standard of work members want to encourage from their future members

Stimulating a good quality submission via the open entry, provides the RI with scope to raise the overall standards of painting in water based media over time.

Prizes and the Open Entry

One way is through ensuring that the open entry gets a fair crack at the prizes - and as per yesterday's post we can see that 6 of the 14 Awards went to artwork selected via the open entry - that's 42% of the prizes.

The RI embraces styles which are more abstract and abstracted
Taken before the show opened to the public
This wall in the Main Gallery includes two of the prizewinners coming through the open entry

Open Entry Submission and Selection Statistics

I spent a very large part of my career developing and reviewing performance management statistics and I naturally like looking at the numbers to see what story they tell.  I know what a very major aid they can be to improving the performance of any organisation - of whatever size or function.

On Monday I discussed the question of statistics for the open entry with Andy Wood, the President in relation to the need, as I saw it, to being a bit more transparent with the artists submitting work. Andy felt it was a good idea for people to see both the chances of getting their work selected and the sort of standards they're up against - and so I now have the stats!

In terms of the numbers:
  • 732 paintings were submitted; of these 
  • 186 passed the digital selection and progressed to Stage 2 selection - where the framed paintings were assessed at the gallery; Of these:
  • 98 were selected for the Annual Exhibition - and hung. 
That means:
  • 13% of those submitted were hung in the exhibition
  • 52% of the paintings which made it through to the Stage 2 selection phase were hung in the exhibition. If you got this far this year but your painting didn't get hung you should definitely think about submitting again - but maybe think about why it didn't get hung first.
  • 25% of the 383 paintings hung in the exhibition came from the open entry
To my way of thinking if an exhibition is to be described as an 'Open Exhibition' then ideally the ratio between members' works and those of members needs to be nearer to 50:50.  A ratio of 60:40 (members to open entries) seems to me to be a good target to aim for compared to the 75:25 that they are currently achieving.

How you  change the ratio while keeping members happy is very much more difficult - and, of course, such a ratio can only ever be achieved if the open entries are good enough. However the standard of the open entry in this exhibition certainly suggested to me that there is some scope for movement over time.

One method I've always thought has some merit is to make ALL work eligible for scrutiny ie including the members' work.  That truly makes it an open exhibition. Being a member would then relate entirely to having a bigger "allowance" of paintings which can be displayed. Such a move would mean that members would be incentivised to submit their very best work every year rather than holding it back for other exhibitions at their galleries.

Guest contributors

Of course another reason for going to see the exhibition is that it contains a couple of paintings by Prince the Wales  and another two paintings by broadcaster and amateur watercolourist Jon Snow who opened the exhibition.

Watercolour paintings by Jon Snow
 - the top one is of the citadel in Aleppo

Artwork I liked

I've highlighted some of the paintings I liked above - and here's some more paintings which attracted my attention.

Paintings of Venice are somewhat cliche. However paintings of Venice in the rain (and snow?)  and dark and the depths of winter are something else! This set of paintings of winter in Venice by Geoffrey Wynne RI caught my eye as soon as I entered the gallery. They display a masterful control of tone and understanding of watercolour techniques

Paintings of Winter in Venice by Geoffrey Wynne RI
watercolour, between £1,300 and £1,400

River Walk by Richard Caplin
Acrylic (£850)
I noticed the above painting on the screen at reception and liked it there and also on the wall in the main gallery.  I think it's probably because it's "my colours". Never ever underestimate the capacity of people to love paintings that use the colours they love!

I like looking to see what Sue Read has produced each year. She produces small and sometimes exquisite paintings of small objects.

Shell and Egg by Sue Read RI
She builds tones using transparent colours - and I do like a watercolour painter who avoids opaque paint.

Suggestions for next year 

PLEASE can we have the medium stated in the catalogue.

  • This is an exhibition of paintings in water-based media and people do want to be able to recall what medium was used for a painting after they've left the gallery.  
  • Plus this detail is on the website so shouldn't be difficult to achieve (i.e. other FBA societies do it!)
The website still needs an overhaul and more paintings.......

........and more use needs to be made of the Facebook Page

Exhibition details

Books about watercolour painting on display
The exhibition opened to the public today (25 March) and continues until 11th April and is open from 10am to 5pm daily.

The price of admission is £3.00; £2.50 concessions, (Free to Friends of Mall Galleries, National Art Pass holders and under 18s).

There's also a rather good bookshop!

My book would be there but it's sold out and has gone to a second print which means it won't be in again until April - which is a pity as it's got a lot of watercolour sketching in it!


  1. Your review and analysis make for very interesting reading, and it is great to get some real background information as to the number of entries etc. Did you manage to get any similar information from the RWS? It would make for some interesting comparisons between the two societies. I so agree with your comments about transparency; as working artists, submitting to open exhibitions is expensive and it is useful to have this kind of information to inform our choices about which societies to apply for, or if to try for both.

  2. No I don't have the numbers but I can certainly ask them.

    It's also important to note that it's slightly different with the RWS as they hold a competition and then have a show which is 100% open entry.

    see my recent post Review: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2015


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