Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: 30th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists

Entrance to the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists

The Society of Botanical Artists is relatively young compared to those national art societies which started life in the 19th century. However this youngster is in robust health and currently going from strength to strength.

As it reaches its 30th Annual Exhibition it seems an appropriate time to take stock of the progress made promoting botanical art and in displaying botanical artwork at its annual exhibition.

30th Annual Exhibition - In Pursuit of Plants

The theme of this year's show is In Pursuit of Plants. You can see it in the Aldersgate Room, in the basement of Central Hall Westminster until Sunday 26th April 2015. The exhibition is open every day between 11am and 5pm and admission is free.

This is a short video of the opening address by Sandra Armitage, the President of the SBA about this year's exhibition and the preparation for next year.

The topic for next year's exhibition is "Shape Pattern and Structure" which will be 15-24 April 2016.

Highlights of the exhibition

I think the thing most worth commenting on is the improvement in the standard of the student work.  The work of students in their final year of the Distance Learning Diploma Course is, as always, exhibited in a corner of the exhibition. (The students graduated from their course last Friday evening). Every year I've seen some stunning work alongside work which appeared very promising.

This year I was amazed to find a display which is truly outstanding in the breadth and depth of the quality of the work.  So much so, that much of the student work on display was an awful lot better than rather a lot of the artwork I used to see in the early days when I first started visiting this exhibition each year. (I started coming in 2006 and you can now find links to all my past blog posts about the SBA exhibition on the Botanical Art and Artists page of this blog.)

Work in coloured pencil by Linda Preston - a Diploma Student
Apparently she was the student with the highest marks
This makes me very pleased as well as it reinforces my reputation for 'spotting the good ones'! :)

A couple of assignments from students just halfway through the course
by Nita Sculthorp and Darren Sleep
exhibiting some fine skills in drawing and creativity in choice of subject matter
I guess one can only conclude from this that the initiation of the Diploma Course by Past President Margaret Steven has helped both to drive up the standards of botanical art and improve the standard of work on view in the exhibition.

It's also evident that the students of leading botanical artists are also doing very well. Overall I conclude that the emphasis on education and training is leading to a very high standard of botanical art-making.

However it's not just down to more entries from the Diploma students and the efforts of those who teach botanical art.

The overall standard of work has improved.  It seemed to me that scrutiny by the selectors has also become more rigorous. I found the complete range of artwork which can traditionally be seen at this exhibition - not all of which is 'strictly botanical'.  However weaker pieces seem to have been eliminated for the most part. In part I think that's because the number of works exhibited has been reduced.

I gather that Jonathan Parker saw the exhibition last week and commented that it was a completely different from the last exhibition he saw some 10 years ago.   I'm very much of the same opinion.

(Incidentally Jonathan Cooper's Park Walk Gallery - just off the Fulham Road in Chelsea - has a botanical art exhibition Work from Botanical Artists in the Collection of Dr ShirleySherwood OBE opening next week on 23rd April - so those planning to be in London for the end of the week can take in two botanical art exhibitions!)

View of the SBA Exhibition #2
(left) wall of work by Susan Christopher Coulson
(right) Part of the 'Red Section
The hang also looks much better - I liked the colour theming which seemed very evident this year.

This is the pink wall. I still have some reservations about the lighting which is still very intense at the top of a wall and leaves work in the lower half of the wall somewhat shaded. This I guess is a problem which is always present when lights have to be fixed to the top of the stands.

View of the SBA Exhibition #3
Part of the "pink section"
I'm not going to highlight yet again the work I liked a lot in terms of the work which won prizes and those awarded certificates of botanical merit - rather I'm going to highlight some other artwork which caught my eye.

I think some of the monochrome and near monochrome art is really good this year. Particularly noteworthy are the trees of Pamela Taylor (and we don't see a lot of trees which is a pity).

Pen and ink drawings by Pamela Taylor BSc, PhD, Assoc SBA
(top left) Taxus baccata - The Ankerwyke Yew £400
(top right) Faxinius excelsior - Common Ash £300
(bottom left) Tilea x europeae Common Lime with Viscum album - Mistletoe £350
(bottom right) Carduus nutans - Musk Thistle £350
I also loved Rachel Munn's pen and ink work with limited addition of coloured pencil.  I particularly appreciated the fact she drew a collection of long and leggy plants in a tall portrait format so once can appreciate better the nature of their growth.  (Rachel is the artist whose drawing graces the Diplomas of those graduating from the Diploma Course)

Pen and ink drawings with coloured pencil of long and leggy plants by Rachel Munn
(top left) Helianthus annus - Sunflower £600
(top right) Anemone hupehensis - White Japanese Anemone £600
(bottom left ) Digitialis Purpurea - White Foxglove £600
(bottom right) Echinea Purpurea - Purple Coneflower £600
I do like to see a good collection - and there were various takes on how to do this on display.

My favourite collection artist is Susan Christopher Coulson who invariably has one or more paintings involving collections. It's rather as if she creates mini florilegia in one artwork. This year she had four on one of the feature walls which I found absolutely delightful and I kept coming back to it.

I did also wonder how many people walking inbetween work by Susan Christopher Coulson and Ann Swan (whose work faced it) realised that they were seeing work completed in coloured pencils.

Group of coloured pencil drawings by Susan Christopher Coulson
I find the subject matter fascinating every year
(top left) Cures from the Potager £1,200
(top right) Bean Counting: In Pursuit of Diversity £800
(bottom left ) Medieval Medicinals, from an Apothcary's Garden £1,200
(bottom right)Winter Greens: In pursuit of Form and Colour in the Winter Garden £1,200
This is a larger view of Winter Greens which I'm guessing is a topic which few other artists would have even attempted never mind made it as interesting an artwork as this one is.

Winter Greens: In pursuit of Form and Colour in the Winter Garden
(coloured pencil) £1,200
by Susan Christopher Coulson
This is Shevaun Doherty with her painting of various spices arranged inside an invisible circular shape.

I'm pleased to say that I'm the person whose blog posts inspired Shevaun to take up a paint brush and start painting plants!  You can read how I came to know Shevaun in my blog post from five years ago Why be an art blogger?

The Spice Market by Shevaun Doherty DipSBA(Dist.), SBA
(watercolour) £950
One of the changes this year is that all work had to be priced above £350 if it exceeded a certain specific framed size. I thought this was a very sensible move for an art society which includes many professional artists.

Robert McNeill DA(Edin) PF (Edin) SBA ASBA CBM (2013)
with his watercolour paintings
(top) Waratah £5,000
(bottom) Pinus wallichian £5,000
However I think it would also be really good to see even more high end work at higher prices in future years - work selling in the thousands - as you need a critical mass of such work to bring in the collectors at that level.

That's not an invitation to put up prices willy nilly but it is a suggestion to produce and present ambitious work which would look good with an RHS Gold Medal next to it or on the walls of (let's say) a museum exhibition.

Typically we're talking about the calibre of artists who have won an RHS Gold or had work bought by Dr Sherwood or acquired by the Hunt Institute.

On the right is Robert McNeill with his two paintings.

and finally......

I'll be very sorry never to see any more work from Wendy Cranston - who sadly died last year. I've always loved her work and only discovered relatively late that she usually started from black paper.

The Memorial Exhibit for Wendy Cranston FSBA

More about this exhibition

2015 - In Pursuit of Plants

More about Botanical Art

See my new website Botanical Art and Artists and learn about resources for botanical art and for artists and students

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