Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Review: Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition 2016

The 155th annual exhibition of the Society of Women Artists has a lot to recommend it. The exhibition opened last week at the Mall galleries and continues until 7th August.

A very well hung exhibition 
The end wall in the Main Gallery exemplifies how to hang large and/or dark artworks
without having an adverse impact on other artwork in the exhibition.
You can see images of artwork in the exhibition in the two online exhibition galleries:
This eclectic exhibition displays huge diversity in terms of topics, media and type of artwork. There's a very good mix of media on display and a range of different types of artwork - in terms of drawings, paintings, fine art prints and sculpture. As in other art societies exhibiting at the Mall Galleries, the work of the printmakers is impressive.  The sculpture and 3D artworks are also extremely varied both in terms of subject matter, media and concept behind it.

The exhibition is also well hung - with the Main Gallery being particularly impressive.  I also appreciated the way that walls were hung with a view to the whole. It lent coherence and unity to the whole. I was reminded of very good shop windows where a colour theme unites the objects even if they are very dissimilar in character. Given the diversity of artwork within this exhibition, this is no small achievement.

I went to see the exhibition on Monday and below you can find out:
  • what I learned about what has been done differently this year to improve the standards of artwork on display - which you can read about below.
  • who won which award. I've listed this year's prizewinners towards the end. Top prize is £2,000.
  • artists whose work caught my eye are listed at the end.

The North Galleries

What's different in the SWA Annual Exhibition 2016?

Last year I was very pleased to see that the Society of Women Artists seemed to be making a concerted effort to 'raise their game'.

This year they have continued to make changes and below you can see a list of the main differences - which are significant and includes ones which other art societies might be well advised to adopt also!

Main Gallery

ALL entries - by both members and non-members - were judged

As a result, the number of works hung by some members has reduced - and the works exhibited have improved. Getting ALL members to produce and submit top quality work for an annual exhibition is a very significant challenge faced by most art societies. Problems arise because members become older and produce less good work (although this is certainly not true for all artists) or have competing business and/or personal priorities in their lives which mean that, they sometimes give less priority to their membership of the society. It's good to see that the SWA is addressing this issue head on by making selection mandatory for all entries. I think it's the way forward for a number of art societies - but one which many may be loathe to adopt.

North Gallery wall

An Independent Judge joined the Selection Panel

Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC (Past President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, BP Portrait Award Winner and judge on the BBP Painting Challenge competition and an honorary member of the SWA) - was invited by the Executive to be an independent voice on the Selection Panel - and to open the exhibition. The choice of works exhibited in the 2016 exhibition undoubtedly reflects this contribution - and addresses any lingering concerns some people might have about "it depends on who you know". Indeed the practice of including an independent voice in the selection process is one which many leading art societies might care to adopt. It's always good to have an independent eye cast over both entries and who gets which prizes!

A good-looking print wall in the far North Gallery 

Images of both members and non-members can be seen on the website

In 2016 Digital images of both members and non-members can be seen on the website
  • While many art societies show digital images of work by members on their website, fewer also show work by non-members which has been selected for the show. However digital entries means that images are now readily available and the only thing stopping all art societies from adopting this practice is the time employed in getting suitably sized images onto the website.
  • At the moment they are both quite slow to load - and this is a function of the size of the images. Both galleries need much smaller web-ready images (in terms of file size and dpi) that will help both galleries to load much faster.  I generally recommend no bigger than 72dpi and 100kb in order for image heavy pages to load fast. (That's the guide I use for this blog!)
  • Pleasingly links to websites are included on the page related to each artist and image. Many art societies are ignorant of or underestimate the significant impact and value of linking out to a member artist's website.
The catalogue only includes images by members and some would argue this is one of the 'perks' of being a member.

One of the long walls in the Main Gallery

The exhibition mixes works from members with the open entry.

Every time I see an exhibition at the Mall Galleries where the focus is on producing the best looking exhibition rather than cramming members' paintings into the Main Gallery I see a good looking exhibition.  This is invariably because the open entries have been mixed in with the members' entries.

I keep wondering how long it is going to take for other art societies to see the light!

More fine art prints on wall close to the cafebar.
There are some remarkable works in the exhibition. A number of them caused me to do a 'double-take' whether it was because I realised I was looking at small drawn heads peering out of an arrangement of paper folding or because what I thought was a conventional painting actually had two right arms on the same young lady and a lot of angles which seemed to be positively associated with MC Escher.

The exhibition also includes some weaker artwork. It's typically smaller and/or a bit timid and/or lacks either good draughtsmanship or good handling of tonal values (or both!) However given the progress made to date in upgrading the exhibition I confidently expect to see fewer still at next year's exhibition.

2016 SWA Awards

The images of artwork receiving awards can be found below.  The website does not yet have the awards on and I recommend that this is addressed in time for next year's exhibition. People who win awards do like to point people to the society's website for validation of their claim to have won an award!

£2,000 SWA Special Fine Art Award
Margiela Jacket (£1,800) by Irene Lees SWA
Drawing Pen on paper - Research Text
The drawing is entirely constructed from words written in pen with minimal spacing between lines and words - however you can still read it - and I did!

Irene Lees was born in Oldham, UK, and currently lives and works in Cornwall.  Her focus is on ways in which bodies are packaged, female garments and gender/sexuality matters.  She draws using either black ink on white paper or white ink on black paper. She has in the past been selected for the RA Summer Exhibition, The Jerwood Drawing Prize and the Cheltenham Drawing Prize. She regularly exhibits with and is a member of the SWA
By carefully selecting and weaving together texts on the history of underwear and questioning why constricting and quasi-barbaric items such as chastity belts and basques appear as erotic to today's liberated woman. Her work hopes to explore social history, as well as analysing a seemingly 'female' obsession with surface appearance.

£1,000 Derwent Special Award
Children of India 3: Rajasthan (£2,250) by Jo Dixon SWA
oil on canvas
I can't find a website for Jo Dixon.

President and Vice-President’s Award
Quince Tree (£5,000) by Raquel Alvarez Sardina

pencil on paper
Raquel Alvarez Sardina MA, SWA was born in Spain and studied for a degree in Fine Arts in Barcelona. She also attended a a drawing course at ‘Academia Lorenzo de Medici’ in Florence. After graduating in 1991 she came to England where she studied a Masters Degree at Cardiff University.  She is represented by a number of different galleries around the UK.

She was elected a full member of the SWA this year. She's doing a Demonstration of 'Fruits in Oils' on 3rd August in the exhibition.

£500 SWA Fine Art Award for a Young Artist
Raven 'Listening' by Alessia Avellino YAA

Charcoal on paper
Alessia Avellino has two large charcoal drawings on the prestigious end wall of the Main Gallery. One of them won the SWA Young Artist Award.

She was born in Italy. She did her Foundation Year at the Chelsea College of Art and Design then graduated BA (Hons) Drawing and Painting, Camberwell College of Arts in 2007, followed by a postgraduate Drawing Year at the Prince’s Drawing School, London. She has exhibited her paintings at the Royal Academy and the Rivington Gallery in Hoxton

Wang Ziling
Premium Art Brands £500 Materials Award for a Young Artist
The existence of us and them in time and space (No.2) by Wang Ziling

acrylic on canvas
Wang Ziling was born in China and lives in London. She has an MA in Fine Art, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, University of the Arts London, London, UK and a BA in Painting and Printing, from the Academy of Art & Design, Tsinghua university, Beijing, China.

Her paintings were some of the most striking in the show - very much ones where you looked and then had to look again more carefully.

Olga Brown
Great Art £500 Materials Award
Drifting around (£2,500) by Olga Brown 

oil on board
These two works are by Olga Brown and were selected from the open entry. They are also featured on the prestigious end wall of the main gallery. The top one won the Great Art Award and the bottom one has sold. I liked them a lot.
Her recent figurative work introduces a new theme in her art, exploring ideas of escapism through elegance and movement.
Olga was born in the Ukraine and received a MA in art and textiles from the Academy of Fine Art, Lviv, Ukraine in 1982. Since 1997 she has worked and lived in London and exhibited widely. She also paints landscapes.

Cavendish Venues Sculpture Award £300
Rhino (£7,000) by Bushra Fakhoury
Bronze, Edition 1 of 12
Bushra Fakhoury started sculpting age 7 using marzipan - she now uses bronze! One glance at her website reveals she has a vivid imagination and a sense of humour. She looks very collectible to me!

My themes and inspirations are mostly based on myths, fables, folklore, carnivals, parades and by observing, and studying people in their daily activities.

Bushra has lived in the Ivory Coast, France, Kenya and Lebanon but for the last 40 years has lived in London. She has a Master of Art, Major Education, American University of Beirut and did her PhD in Education at the London University's Institute of Education. She's also a member of Chelsea Art Club and Chelsea Art Society.

HRH Princess Michael of Kent Watercolour Award
Two hounds - Chilled and Content (£995) by Kate Bentley
watercolour on Yupo
Kate Bentley SWA ARSBA is a professional, award-winning artist who also runs private courses in the Lyth Valley in the Southern Lake District. She's also a member of The Lakes Artists Society and the Birmingham Watercolour Society and an Associate Member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

This is a lovely painterly watercolour.  It's great to see an award for watercolour going to somebody who isn't being hyperrealistic.

HRH Princess Michael of Kent Trilogy Award
Beaufort Hunt No.4 (£5.365) by Vicky Palmer
oil on canvas

Vicky Palmer  is a Wiltshire based portrait artist.Cows and hounds form a large part of her portfolio. She trained at Bristol and Salisbury and then spent 10 years as a graphic designer before starting a family.  She mainly exhibits at places like Henley., Hurlingham and Game Fairs. Her dogs look very real to me.

I concluded from the  Princess's choice of paintings that she probably liked dogs!

Artist Editor's Choice Award
Orphan at school, Zimbabwe (£10,000) by Caroline de Peyrecave SWA YAA
Caroline de Peyrecave SWA trained at the atelier of Charles H. Cecil at his studio in Florence, Italy. She mainly works on the basis of sight-size. She has had numerous commissions to draw or paint famous people for clients and has won several awards. She's an active member of the SWA.

This is a large work in an unusual format which really catches the eye.

Rosemary & Co Art prize (£100 worth brushes)
Body of work by Rosalind Robinson

Rosalind Robinson's three small works were selected from the open entry. She studied Fine Art at Hornsey & Walthamstow Colleges of Art and worked as a scenic artist with the BBC. She has been a professional artist and specialist decorator for more than 25 years. She has also exhibited with the Royal Watercolour Society, RA Summer Exhibition and the Royal West of England Academy.

St. Cuthbert's Mill Paper Award
The Journey Began with One Step (£870) by Victoria Perloff
Acrylic and Ink
 Victoria Perloff SWA studied Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art from 1993 to 1996 and regularly attends life drawing classes.

Frank Herring Easel Award
Ladies Waiting (£400) by Olga Knight

Olga Knight doesn't have a website.

London Art.Co.UK Award - website membership
Cerulean by Emma-Leone Palmer
oil on canvas
Emma-Leone Palmer has exhibited widely at smaller venues and hasn't got around to including any information about herself on her website as yet. She does however have an impressive command of paint - this is a very large work.

London Art.Co UK Special Sculpture Award
Lapis Philosophorum by Lilya Milpetrova

ceramic clay and metal
I'm not sure if the piece is supposed to be seen inside a glass case or not. It certainly is a great way of exhibiting a piece like this. Lilya Milpetrova has a Facebook Page but not a website.

Lilya Milpetrova talking to Princess Michael of Kent

The Barbara Tate Memorial Award
The White Sands of Eriskay, Outer Hebrides (£1,275) by Joanne Powell RBSA SWA

Joanne Powell RBSA SWA was born in Cumbria and studied at Carlise College of Art and now lives in Worcestershire. She's also an elected member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) and a number of other societies.

What caught my eye

Three paintings by Sophie Glover
I really liked the three small pen and ink and watercolour paintings about 'Women who Make' - showing women in their studios making their particular kind of creative output. These were produced by Sophie Glover who was one of the artists eligible for the Young Artist Award.

I really like the emerging trend among younger artists to spend time focusing on other people who make things and portraying them within their own particular creative context.

Sophie draws extremely well. She really needs to award herself a better website for her work so she can market her artwork and herself better.

The other work which caught my eye as being very unusual were a couple of of 3D items - see below

I like people who experiment with new ways of creating 3D artwork and these two sat well together.
Armed by Mandy Rice and Life's Twists and Turns by Julie Rawson

Demonstrations and Workshops

  • Wednesday 3 August: 
    • Ali Lindley – Bold Brushstrokes & Dynamic Colour
    • Raquel Alvarez Sardina – Fruits in Oils
  • Thursday 4 August: Gill Brown, Sculptor – Making a Sculpture
  • Friday 5 August: Karen Charman – Texture and Atmosphere in Watercolour
In addition, the Federation of British Artists is hosting a debate....


‘Women Only – is there now a growing trend for more Women’s Exhibitions and Awards’ ? 

We have all been asked about ‘The relevance of a Women’s Society today.’ Well, as far as we are concerned we are a modern tradition and are proud to celebrate the work of female artists past and present. Our aims to encourage and nurture tomorrow’s artists is of paramount importance to us and since we are now probably more popular as a society than we have ever been why not carry on with our plans for the future?SWA Press Release for this event
The Mall Galleries are hosting a panel talk/discussion Wednesday 3rd August at 2.30 ‘Women Only – is there now a growing trend for more Women’s Exhibitions and Awards’ ?

The Panel members are:
  • Eliza Gluckman MA (RCA) Curator, New Hall Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University and 
  • Melissa Cassoff of Freelands Foundation. Media Executive, philanthropist and 
  • Tate trustee Elisabeth Murdoch 
  • Sue Jelley, President of the Society of Women Artists
This debate follows the launch of the Freelands Artist Award - a £100,000 annual prize to give female artists a mid-career boost.
The annual Freelands Award will enable a regional arts organisation to present an exhibition, including significant new work, by a mid-career female artist. The aim is to support an artist who has not yet achieved the acclaim and public recognition that her work deserves.
This initiative is sponsored by Elisabeth Murdoch’s London-based arts education foundation.

Past posts


  1. I applaud the Society's idea of having online galleries devoted separately to work from members and work selected from the open entry. But what a shame that neither of these displayed any of the sculpture.

  2. Agreed - however there's a major problem with sculpture insofar as it's very difficult to get just one pic which does the work justice. (I walked round and round that rhino trying to work out the best perspective!)

    What people do when submitting sculpture via the open entry is submit more than one image.

    It's not an easy problem to resolve.

  3. Can I see a couple of JEANETTE BARNES works hanging there (in the first 1 of 2)? She so made me look again at the way I draw.

  4. How rude of me, I forgot to say thank for such excellent coverage. Thank You! :)

  5. No they're not John - but I can understand how you might draw that conclusion.


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