Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2015

Yesterday I visited the first day of the 28th exhibition of Sunday Times Watercolour Competition at the Mall Galleries. If you want to see the exhibition you need to make a date this week as the exhibition is only on until Saturday 19th September. It's open every day (10am until 5pm) and admission is free.

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2015 - Prizewinners
Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2015 - Prizewinners
Left to right:
Left - Winner of the The Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize: Drip... Regents Canal, London by Leo Davey
Middle - First Prize: Blue Room by Akash Bhatt
Right - Second Place: Land, Sea, Place by Michael Williams
This post is about:
  • the exhibition of selected works - there are 90 paintings in total in the exhibition
  • which artwork I liked the best
  • the catalogue - and recording of eligible media
  • plus news of a new support for painting with watercolour....
You can read my previous posts about the exhibition here:
I'm tempted to go back on Saturday to see what sold!

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2015 - The Exhibition

View of the exhibition from the MezzanineThe prizewinners are in the middle of the left hand wall
As you can see most of the works are medium to large sizes
I always make a note of the initial impression an exhibition gives me when I'm starting to look at it. This is what I wrote as shorthand:
  • large watercolours
  • looks like a "proper" watercolour exhibition (as compared to the exhibition for this watercolour competition)
  • nicely hung
  • huge diversity of styles of painting 
  • generally very restrained and neutral framing (not competing with the work)
  • neither the catalogue nor the labels specify the media used
On a further note, generally many paintings were presented well - however a number of paintings did not benefit from expertise in framing.  A number of artists could do with spending more time and expertise on presentation. For example, a few know how to float mount well while the attempts of others are crude to look at and/or appear to run the risk of becoming detached or deteriorating.

This is a prestigious art competition not a student show. Given the number of paintings being submitted to this show, is it too much to ask that the organisers and selectors ensure that every painting actually selected for hanging should also exhibit excellent presentation or at the very least presentation which meets acceptable standards for a commercial gallery?

I certainly had difficulty equating some of the prices asked with the quality of the presentation and I certainly know galleries which would refuse to hang such works.

Next - lots of images and I expand on those general observations about the exhibition.....

Starting with the smaller paintings - this is the wall devoted to the smaller paintings - one of these is highlighted in the section on artwork I liked.  By and large, the artists made the right choice in selecting subjects and/or styles which suited working on a smaller scale.

The wall of smaller paintings
- right click and open in new tab to see a larger pic.
It includes (top left) two paintings by last year's prizewinner Kathryn Maple.  She continues to demonstrate calligraphic elements to her paintings in watercolour.

Sunday Times Watercolour 2015 Kathryn Maple
Paintings by Katherine Maple,Winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2014
(Top) Behind bars £1,800
(Bottom) High on stilts £1,800
These are the paintings on the mezzanine - the level that you enter the exhibition.

Paintings at the entrance to the exhibition
A colourful corner
Above is a closer look at one of the colourful corners. One of the paintings - top left - appeared to have been rolled prior to framing and the effect had the effect of being a distraction when looking at the painting.

Below is a different treatment for the other grey feature wall - where the emphasis was on the apparently simple and monochromatic. These two paintings underlined the diversity of approaches to producing watercolour paintings.

Interestingly Peter Lloyd Jones was omitted from the original list of selected artists. He works using ink on a large scale. Julie Ball was also selected for the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2015 - and her painting Common Fly 1 was highlighted in my post.  Her way of creating artwork with acrylic paint continues to fascinate!
Julie's series of work Navigational Error, is the result of a study using a digital microscope of the dirt and debris left on the car windscreen following a journey. The findings were parts of flying insects which were not easily seen with the naked eye. Digital images of the microscopic findings were saved and.... reproduced in Acrylic paint. 
(Left) Willow and Wild Thing (£4,000) by Peter Lloyd Jones, ink on paper. 48x48ins
(Right) Common Fly 1 by Julie Ball acrylic 
Another corner has two paintings by two artists who create figurative paintings
  • Gordon McDowell has been a prizewinner on two previous occasions - he won the Cityscape Prize in 2010 with a similarly complex painting of buildings in Toledo and in 2013 he won second prize with a splendid painting of the horses on top of St Mark's in Venice. Gordon is very definitely a skilled painter of large and complex urban scenes!  I've tried drawing the Campo in Sienna and it's a brute in terms of perspective!
  • John Cahill also paints very realistic views - but his genre is the landscape in the country. The weather and vegetation are created by a sophisticated pointillist technique using acrylic and gouache. 
(Left) Piazza del Campo (£3,250) by Gordon McDowell
(Right)  Winter Cottages (£4,600) by John Cahill
I loved the hang of paintings on the end wall of the gallery - very subtle and sophisticated and not "in your face". Well done to Deborah Walker RI (Winner of the Turner Medal in 2014) for another centre end wall seascape!

A sophisticated blend of darks, greys, blues and white
This is part of  the right hand wall - as you look into the gallery

More paintings

The artwork I liked

This section is devoted to work I liked. In the main I'm just going to let the images do the talking and will link to the artist's website in their name in the caption. However I will pass a few comments where the draughtsmanship, use of watercolour and skill with brushwork merits comment

Staring with the small and working up to the big!

This small portrait 'Journalist' caught my eye. Frances Chapman demonstrates excellent draughtsmanship and character in her portrait plus her painting is impeccable. The tones are built up using a pointillist technique using optical colours.  She has previously exhibited at the 2008, 2010 and 2011 exhibitions of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and I can well understand why. Her drawings are also delightful.

It occurs to me that if she submitted a rather larger painting she could be in with a shout of one of the major prizes. I certainly think her talent and skill merits a prize. I'm only surprised she submitting or had not been selected for exhibitions by the RI or RWS of late - although she did win the St Cuthbert Mill Prize in the RWS Open in 2011.

Journalist by Frances Chapman
Journalist (£495) by Frances Chapman20cm x 15cm, watercolour
You can see a bigger image on her website in the portraits section (link in title)
Another small monochromatic painting of an usual subject that appealed to me was The Washing Up by Diane Gerrard which for some reason I forgot to take a good photo of - but worth a mention for its "one touch" approach to watercolour painting.

Tamariu (£250) by Dennis Lewis (an artist without a website)
What I like about Dennis's approach to painting is that he's a painter
who gets it right with the first stroke of a brush on paper
and his compositions are always good
I've always been a fan of people who do repeat paintings of the same view. Below is South Series - tiny paintings of sea and sky with precise dates, times and locations by Martyn McKenzie. You can see a much bigger nicer version on his brand new  website (just click his name)

South Series by Martyn McKenzie

As an avid sketcher of gardens I always love other people who paint gardens well - particularly if they are gardens I also know!  Karen Bowers seems to work plein air with watercolour and then produces paintings in oils from her sketches back in the studio. You can see both this watercolour painting (on two sheets of paper) of the bulb slope at Hidcote and an oil painting of the same scene on her website.  The watercolour is beautifully "wet and washy" and also has some fine painting of negative shapes using darks.

Hidcote by Karen Bowers
Hidcote (£900) by Karen Bowers
Watercolour 30 x 56 cm
Beach escape (£6,000) by Annabelle Shelton
Watercolour on Aluminium, 120cm x 120cm 
Annabelle Shelton's Beach Escape is a real "come over here and look at me" painting. I thought it deserved a prize for more than one reason.
  • It was the first one to zap my eyes when I walked into the gallery. 
  • It has great colour, great impact and lots to interest the eye. 
  • I particularly liked the fact it entirely focused on the people and removed all the distraction of their surroundings with the exception of the beach umbrella.
Shelton creates paintings on Aluminium, which are extractions of people in place and figures floating in a white space to create semi-abstracted circles, clusters and lines when bunched together. More recently she has been working with landscapes that are only partially revealed whilst still composed in negative space.
  • I was absolutely fascinated about how it was painted and this was the painting which grabbed the most 'up close and inspecting' time.
  • It's got no mat, no glazing and no frame!
The side of Beach Escape by Annabelle Shelton
No mat, no glazing and no frame!
It's painted on an aluminium panel
then  presented in the same way as a box canvas
I could not work out what she'd painted it on (see the image at the side). I thought it might possibly be a thick Bristol Board - but wondered about the archival issues.

However, I got the  answer from her website - it's watercolour on ALUMINIUM! Which is very definitely a new one on me.

I know the oil painters have started using aluminium dibond panels (very strong, stable, archival and very light) but I hadn't realised that some watercolour painters has also started to experiment with this medium as a support for their paintings.

There again, when you think about it, if you use lightfast watercolour paints the only thing stopping you from exhibiting a watercolour painting like a box canvas is the support - because paper tends not to be robust enough. So if you solve the support problem with an archival quality panel and are picky with your paints and make sure they are accredited lightfast plus finish the painting with a suitable varnish then you can start to exhibit watercolours without glazing - as Annabelle does.  The image at the side looks at her exhibit up close and side on.

I've included some links at the end of this post to more information about painting with watercolour on aluminium!

The catalogue

The catalogue is £2 and is not one of those super sophisticated affairs. It has a foreword from the organisers, three pages about the prizewinners and then a plain list of the selected artists - with the titles of the work and the price.

It is NOT informative about dimensions or medium used. This information is also missing from the labels.  The lack of information about media is to my mind is a major and serious omission.  It means that visitors to the exhibition may think a painting is in one medium when it's actually in another.

I know I saw artwork which was in traditional watercolour, gouache, acrylic inks and acrylic paint. For all I know it could have included water-based oils as well!

Interestingly the terms of the competition is that the entry must be "a painting in a water-based medium" - which I think might mean a painting in water-soluble oil paints could very well be eligible.

I never want to see this competition go the way of some of the so-called watercolour exhibitions and become swamped by acrylics and other media. That's because this is one of the few exhibitions where you can actually see the full range and diversity of ways in which traditional watercolour can be used - and long may that continue to be the case.  I'd personally like to see acceptable media limited to traditional watercolours, gouache and inks.

Alternatively, I'm sure there's an artist out there who might like to accept the challenge to see if they can get a painting in water-mixable oils selected next year! If you do, do please tell!

If you'd like to see more of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition you should either

    For those wanting to see what the competition was like in previous years..........


    Painting with watercolour on aluminium

    Here is some information about painting with watercolour on aluminium

    Product Information 

    Reviews and Advice:

    One of the best ways I have found to overcome the limitations of size is to use an aluminium composite panel primed with watercolor gesso then, after the painting is completed, protected with a finishing varnish.


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