Monday, March 14, 2016

Review of the 2016 RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition

I visited the annual exhibition of the Contemporary Watercolour Competition run by the Royal Watercolour Society on Friday. 

The exhibition continues until 16th March at the Bankside Gallery (right next to Tate Modern and the River Thames on the South Bank.
  • You can see a virtual exhibition here on the RWS website.  This has hugely improved in terms of the page of works, and each work also having its own page (click image and then click "detail page" to access) which then invites people to share work. This is the standard all shows should aspire to!
  • the names of the prizewinners are listed below 
  • the names of the selected artists are listed at the end of this post and can also be downloaded from the RWS website
A view of the exhibition at the Bankside Gallery
This was the Call for Entries (last Autumn) for those interested in a future submission. Blogs posts about previous exhibitions are also listed at the very end of this post.

What's always interesting is to see the image online and then see it again in a gallery. It's very interesting how one's view can change when seeing an image for real. At the same time some were also much more impressive in the gallery than they are online. This competition now does its first round of judging based on digital submissions and these observations only serve to emphasise how important it is to get your artwork properly photographed if you want to get artwork longlisted for an exhibition

The Exhibition

The exhibition has a strong emphasis on "contemporary artwork'.
The judges are looking for pieces that push at the boundaries of watercolour, promote water-based media at its most accomplished and ask audiences to see the medium in a new and contemporary light.
I've not been impressed with this exhibition in the recent past and have said so - in no uncertain terms (see Review: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2015 and in 2013).

However this competition and exhibition seems to have turned the corner. I can only imagine that the very low level of sales in 2015 would of itself have prompted a review of whatever the selection panel had been trying to do in the past.

I've included some views of the works on display above and below.

I think I'd sum it up as 'better editing and much better variety of subjects and styles but still has scope to do much better'.  I'm saying that based on shows I've seen in past years.
  • This year there was more representational art which brought a better balance to the show - with fewer "abstract" and "bad paintings" - which is a good thing! However that is not to say I think that every painting deserved to be in the show.  There again that's a comment most of us can make about most juried shows!
  • This is one of the main routes to elected membership of the Royal Watercolour Society BUT I'm still looking for the successors to painters like Leslie Worth and David Prentice - who were outstanding in their vision of what paintings can be about and their techniques and handling of the 'proper' watercolour medium. However I'm not seeing them in this show. I don't expect to see the mature version of such painters - but I would like to see much more ambition in the basic handling of pure watercolour! 
    • Frances Chapman looks to me to being the nearest to being somebody who may well become a member - if she applies. She has a unique and very distinctive style and demonstrates considerable understanding of colour and technical skills as well as producing paintings which are interesting. I've seen her work before (she's consistently selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition) and it's always excellent . Definitely one to watch - and, should she choose, whichever band of watercolour artists she joins will have an asset!
  • Others who impressed (i.e. I'd have given them a prize!) included:  
    • Wooden dish with Uist pebbles by Angie Lewin (who's much better known as a printmaker); 
    • Albino by Nadia Kurbatov - which had an arresting contrast between extreme sensitivity in the painting of the face and large graphic blocks of black ink. (I can't find her website which is odd given the pictorial 'zap' that this image has.)
    • Bruise Bar by James Albon - it's a really refreshing change to see somebody drawing narrative scenes involving people in pure watercolour.  We see too few.
    Albino by Nadia Kurbatov
    watercolour and ink £500 (sold)
    • I'm still underwhelmed by the majority of portraiture in watercolour - and I know there are some fabulous portrait painters in watercolour - so why don't they enter?
    • I observed some hugely ambitious pricing for works on paper - by artists without an apparent track record of  being a gallery artist or selection for competitions or prizes or an awareness of how prices vary by size. I do wonder at times whether people have done their research or whether they just hike the price because it's the RWS. I'm inclined to suggest people visit the members' exhibitions and note the experience, the prices and what sells.... (I know of one prestigious art competition where the organisers know their market very well and advise the juried artists when prices are 'out of sync'. Since the aim of the exhibition is to sell and at least cover costs, the artists either change their prices or the work is not hung. Just a thought!)
    The thing about exhibitions is that, IF one has the money, you can put on an exhibition which aspires to be whatever you want an exhibition of work in media which dissolves in water to be.

    However if you remember that art society exhibitions started off with the sole intention of displaying work so that it could be sold so that artists could make some money and carry on being artists then one has to ask "Does the current selection/exhibition support the aspirations of the artistic fraternity who want to work in water soluble media?"

    My answer to that would still be 'No it does not' and that is based on what appears to continue to be a very worrying low level of sales compared to other shows - notwithstanding a number of the works LABELLED as winning prizes sold (of which more later!). I only ever remark on sales when they are very good or very bad. This exhibition does not finish until 16th March but the evidence I saw on Friday afternoon would suggest that this exhibition is unlikely to have done well on the sales front given the time profile for most sales.

    Maybe that's because there aren't enough paintings of the type people like to buy?

    A view of the exhibition at the Bankside Gallery

    A very odd thing

    One of the things which I found extremely odd was that the painting by Vince Bridgeman, one of the runners up for the Winsor & Newton prize, had been removed from the wall. Apparently it had sold and the artist had agreed it could be removed from exhibition by the buyer who was returning overseas and wanted to take it with them.

    In all my years of reviewing art exhibitions associated with art competitions and national art societies I have never ever come across this happening.  I don't imagine Winsor & Newton will be very pleased either!

    To compound the issue, the small painting which actually won the Winsor & Newton First Prize is located in an absolutely  dreadful position - suffering double reflections - and it's impossible to appreciate properly.  At the very least the now gaping space on the opposite wall could at least have been filled by the W&N First Prizewinner!


    If there's a rationale to the thinking behind the prizes awarded I've not found it.  Normally one has an explanation of what the prize is and what it is for - but I can find nothing on the RWS website.

    To be honest I thought I understood which works had won which prizes - but I may be wrong! I got hold of the list of prizewinners from the front desk and then carefully logged which works on the wall had the prizewinners label placed next to them.

    I then became totally confused when I sat down to wrote this blog post and saw the photos of "the prizewinners" on the RWS Facebook Page and found that a totally DIFFERENT set of paintings were being highlighted if the painter had painted more than one work.
    • If the Prize is for an artist rather than a work then this needs to be explicit and transparent in the labelling. If both paintings win a prize then in my view both paintings need a label - otherwise the artist can miss out on a possible sale to people who like prizewinners!  How much does it cost to print an extra label?
    • Putting a label on one in the Gallery and the same label on another on Facebook is just plain CONFUSING!!  
    • Changing the artist's name also does not help. What's even worse to an artist trying to develop a following is to have artwork labelled with one name in the gallery and on the selected artists list - and with another on the website. As has happened to Polina Klimova/Egorushkina.
    I don't know what's going on. Maybe the RWS or Bankside Gallery would care to explain?

    Anyway - that's by way of a very long explanation for why what follows are the ones which had labels next to them in the Gallery - and NOT the ones which are labelled as such on Facebook!

    Royal Watercolour Society Exhibitions Award - Andrew Lansley

    The RWS Exhibitions Prize goes to a very interesting painting which I stared long and hard at. I still can't quite work out how Andrew Lansley achieved the surface he has with just watercolour and ink.

    (Top) RWS Exhibitions Award: Fjord by Andrew Lansley watercolour and ink £1,200
    (bottom) Barges, cat and Mutton Bridge, London by Charlotte Knox watercolour £3,000

    Royal Watercolour Society Patrons Prize - Charlotte Knox

    It's so odd that a watercolour artist who has a website with a lot of interesting, vibrant and colourful work should feel the need to enter a virtually monochromatic work.  There again her colourful work has been selected previously - and she seems to have a track record of winning a prize most years.

    Maybe she just wanted to demonstrate that her paintings are also interesting when there is no colour?

    RWS Publicity Prize and The Artist Magazine Prize - Eleanor Langton

    This painting won two prizes and was featured on the Private View Card, the banner, the poster and in online marketing of the exhibition. It's a very striking image.

    Our First Table by Eleanor Langton
    goache and acrylic £400
    Royal Watercolour Society Award - Paul Regan

    There's always a prize which puzzles. I wasn't quite sure of the rationale for this painting winning a prize. It's a nice enough painting and I'm not saying it shouldn't have been selected but I'm just not sure what made it special.

    Woodville Road 1 by Paul Regan
    Watercolour £400
    RWS and Redfern Gallery Prize - Polina Egorushkina

    This one grew on me. Something to do with the sense of isolation at night in a tower block - even though people are above, blow and on both sides. I also liked the subtle use of blue in with the black and white.

    She has two paintings and both looked very good displayed toegther. The gallery labels "Sleep" as the prizewinner. The website labels "Empty" as well. It's just plain confusing - and irritating.  She's also got a completely different name on the website.  Is it too much to ask to get the name right in both places - or to use the one which the artist now uses for her website? (Note: I've gone with the name on the RWS website and her website and not the one on the list of selected artists or the one on the label in the gallery).

    This is important because this artist won a prize for excellence at the Shenzhen Watercolor Biennale in China. This is an artist to keep an eye on - but only if people get the name right!

    by Paulina Klimova (in the gallery) Egorushkina (on the RWS website and her website)
    watercolour £1,500
    David Gluck Memorial Award - (£1,000 cash prize) Floc by Claire Parrish

    This one puzzled me a lot. I do think it's an impressive piece of art. However I don't agree with its selection for this show because of the proportions in the media used - in an art competition about contemporary watercolour!
    I use polyester drawing film, conte, graphite, charcoal, retouching varnish, wax crayon, carbon paper, collage, conte wash and water stain.
    I'm all for a competition which explicitly invites "pieces that push at the boundaries of watercolour, promote water-based media at its most accomplished". However to my mind this painting "works" because of the line work in graphite (drawn not painted) - and this represents a very significant proportion of the artwork. Take it away - to get back to the water based washes derived from graphite and conte and you have a VERY different picture.

    Put simply, my understanding of water-based media does not yet stretch to include lots and lots and lots of line work using graphite pencils or sticks.  It's an issue of balance.

    I think this is another one to add to my list of works which win prizes but don't conform to the brief.

    Floc by Claire Parris
    graphite and conte wash £4,000

    Private Purchase Prize - Two paintings David Wiseman

    A lively, colourful and calligraphic painting! I liked it a lot - especially as it was hung adjacent to its 'pair' - which was unlabelled - but on the website as the winner.

    As his website says
    David Wiseman has been painting for over 35 years since leaving the Royal College of Art in 1975 most spent in his garden studio close to the local rivers, woodland and canal he loves and that inspire his work.
    Pitshanger Riverside - Autumn by David Wiseman
    Acrylic £790 (Sold)

    St Cuthbert's Mill Prize - Vashia Bhatia

    Vashia Bhatia had two watercolour paintings selected which are both very precise and very impressive renditions of the iconic West Door facade of Westminster Abbey and the riverside profile of the Houses of Parliament.

    Westminster Abbey by Varshia Bhatia 
    Watercolour £1,600 (Sold)
    Houses of Parliament £800

    Winsor & Newton 1st Prize - David Cass

    To be honest it was impossible to see this painting properly. It suffered from a double set of reflections. Other exhibitions move prizewinners to a better place after the announcement - why not this one?

    Quì Arrivò L'Acqua Dell'Arno (Floodlines, Florence 1966) by David Cass
    Watercolour on Antique Paper, 35 x 26 cm 2014 £870
    W&N First Prize Winner 2016
    Floodlines (after the Flood: Florence, November 5th 1966)
    on the wall in the gallery
    3 Runners Up: Stephanie Tuckwell, Vince Bridgman and David Hamilton - links to their artworks are embedded in their names

    See also my comment under "A very odd thing"

    Daler Rowney Prize - Gertie Young

    Night flight to Arrecife by Gertie Young
    gouache and collage £250 (Sold)
    Heatherley's Prize - Frances Chapman

    It would appear that this prize was for both paintings - not that you'd know it in the gallery!

    This was a really delightful small work - full of well executed pointillist technique, excellent draughtsmanship - and not a little humour! I liked it a lot - and would love to see more work on a larger scale.

    I very much recommend taking a look at this artist's website. Click the link in the name above.

    Jackson's Young Artist Prize - Three paintings by Antonia Banados

    I liked these three paintings - and liked them even more once I read their titles (see caption of image below)

    I wonder if all three paintings would sell as a set if those visiting the gallery knew that all three paintings by Antonia Banados had won her a prize?

    Her paintings of grids are top centre, bottom left and bottom right. I liked them a lot and definitely thought all three deserved a surprise and wondered how they'd been able to select one from the three to give a prize to.....

    Maybe next time she'll frame them as a triptych?

    Three paintings by Antonia Banados
    (top centre) A Hole £345
    (bottom left) A Drain Hole £300
    (bottom right) A Perceptual Hole £300

    Selected artists

    You can download the list of works which includes the media used and the price - but not the size.

    The judging panel
    I list out the artists as I like to keep a track of who's been selected for what in the past and since a note of who has been exhibited always disappears from the art society's website this is the next best thing. (Why do webmasters always assume nobody is ever interested in information about past exhibitions?)



    Aine Divine
    Alan Reed
    Mont Blanc and Manganese Blue
    Andrew Lansley
    Angela Williams
    Hedge 2
    Angie Lewin
    Wooden Dish with Uist Pebbles
    Ann Davies
    The Picturedrome, Holmfirth

    Crocosmai to Glasshouse-Mount Stuart

    Fields to Kilchattan
    Antonia Bañados
    A Hole

    A Drain Hole

    A Perceptual Hole
    Artur Samofalov
    Obstacle (from the series "Vestige")
    Beata Musial-Tomaszewska
    Life Goes On
    Benjamin Johansen
    Vase of Flowers, 1645 : 2016
    Carolyn Kirkland
    Duchess, Barbie & the Spanish Princess
    Catherine Redmayne
    Odalisque for 9th May

    Seaside garden
    Charlie Reed
    Wandle Willow
    Charlotte Knox
    Barges, Cat and Mutton Bridge, London
    Christie Bird
    Still Life with Clay Bird
    Christine Berrington
    Chung Wei Chien
    Watercolor Impromptu No.2

    Watercolor Impromptu No.2
    Claire Parrish
    Claire Roberts
    Claire Sparkes
    The Passing
    Claudia Bose
    Claudia Bose
    Dave King
    Dave King
    Tempietto - 2016
    David Cass
    Floodlines (After the Flood: Florence, November 5th 1966)
    David Hamilton
    Big Drop

    Short Drop

    In Low
    David Winthrop
    Imaginot Line 5

    Pitshanger Riverside - Autumn

    Pitshanger Riverside - Summer Morning
    Debbie Lee
    Piano Player
    Debbie Lee
    Family Chest of Drawers
    Dennis Geden
    Old School Flash: A Full Sleeve

    Argyle Jumper

    Girl In Red Angora
    Eleanor Langton
    Our First Table
    Frances Chapman
    Rumours of War

    Summer's Lease
    Gertie Young
    Night Flight to Arrecife
    Hisanori Sato
    Dreaming Girl
    Ian Sidaway
    Kew Gardens Topiary 1

    Kew Gardens Topiary 2
    Jackie Taylor
    The House in Devon
    James Abbit
    2 Man Tent
    James Albon
    Bruise Bar
    James Robson
    Hut, Rye Harbour
    Jane Lewis
    Meet Me There

    Janet Darley
    Cowbane and Gorse, near Pickering

    Spekes' Bottom, Darland, Late Spring
    Janet Kenyon
    The Pleasure Beach
    Janet Milner
    A Pizza Fell on Her Foot
    Jansen Chow
    Homeland 1

    Homeland 3
    Jenny Matthews
    Homage to Penrose

    Vapour Trails
    Joanne Hummel-Newell


    John Glover
    John Dew
    Garden Statue, Winter Night
    John Duffin
    Another Arrival - King's Cross St Pancras Station
    John Roger Hatton

    Early Evening
    Judith Logan
    Kimia Pishdadian
    Bakhtiari Woman
    Kiyoko Yamaguchi
    Kyoto Roof
    Leanna Moran
    Lesley Craig
    Mountainside in Spring, Nice

    Mountainside in Autumn, Nice
    Linda Douthwaite
    Still Life with Orange and Crickets
    Linda Saul
    Port Isaac Harbour Wall
    Lucy Duke
    Heaven's light
    Maki Kiryu
    Still Life BLK

    On the Table II
    Malin Persson
    Katarina Kyrkobacke VII

    Bastugatan III
    Marjoke Staal
    Mark Elsmore
    The Posse
    mehdi khosravian
    Bitollahm Church
    Melanie Linfield
    Dog with Lemons
    Michael Clark
    La Corde Pincee, Paris
    Michael Tarr
    Mick Davies
    Mrs Schrodinger's Cat
    Morgan Doyle
    Pale Confusion

    Difficult Pathway
    Nadia Kurbatov
    Nick Malone
    Oona Leganovic


    Patricia Bray
    Summer Comes to Kirkcaldy Prom
    Paul Fowler
    Dusk among the reeds
    Paul Regan
    Woodville Rd I

    Norfolk Rd I
    Paul Stangroom
    Shooting Lodge
    Peter Knock
    Summer in the City
    Peter Shuttleworth
    Silver Birch,winter Millgate Fields.
    Polina Klimova

    Pragati Jain
    Red In winter
    Prashant Prabhu
    Warm grays
    Roger Aslin
    Fractured Image, Doorway, Lake Garda
    Rosemary Randell
    A Reflective Moment
    Sally Maltby
    Mupe Rocks
    Sandra Lane
    Everything is coming or going
    Sara Dudman
    Hidden Currick Study 2
    Shanti Panchal
    Sharon Drew
    Blue Gesture
    Stephanie Tuckwell

    Suzanne Ewart
    Discussion at the Tate
    Suzanne Howells

    Freshwater West
    Suzy Fasht
    Garden things
    Tana West
    Post Card from France

    On The Way To Copenhagen
    Tessa Pearson
    August Garden Dreams

    Pink Patchwork Border
    Tracey Mason
    Dot Calm
    Tugba Duymaz
    Varsha Bhatia
    Westminster Abbey

    Houses of Parliament
    Vince Bridgman
    Solid State

    Previous exhibitions

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