Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review - The Natural Eye Exhibition 2017

One of the things which struck me when viewing "The Natural Eye 2017" exhibition of wildlife art is how exciting, vibrant and thoroughly stimulating the ART is - never mind the subject matter.

Three prizewinners in this shot
I adored Carry Akroyd's serrigraphs - particularly the one of "Towards Southwold" (top right)
which contained coastline and wildlife I know well!
Wildlife might be the subject and the focus - but what interests my eye is the sheer variety and exciting use of media, styles, approaches and techniques plus the quality of execution in the various ways of making art!  It's an exhibition I always look forward to and it very rarely disappoints. It certainly lives up to its usual high standards this year.

Part of the exhibition in the Threadneedle Space.
I don't always feel the same way at every exhibition I visit at the Mall Galleries. It also occurred to me that it might be very educational for some of the members of the other FBA societies to take a look at the annual education of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA)- even if wildlife art is "not their thing".

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There are 364 artworks on display at the Mall Galleries until 1pm on 29th October - with members of the society demonstrating in the galleries on most days.  I described in my last post Awards - Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition 2017 how you can see the exhibition online

This post is my review of the exhibition. It follows on from 
If this is the first post you've read, be aware there's lots more images in these two posts!

Tomorrow's post will be 
  • a commentary on the sort of artwork gets selected and 
  • why submission criteria will be a lot clearer next year
and will also include a count of the number of works by members, associates and non-members.

Review of the Exhibition

What did I notice this year?

As above - the diversity and the quality of the artwork is outstanding. It's always a welcome sight to see BOTH the:
  • unabashed use of bold striking colour by some works 
  • how subtle shades and colours occur where wildlife merges with its habitat.
A wall which includes very colourful artwork
by Daniel Cole SWLA who won Birdwatch Artist of the Year 2016
and Brin Edwards
I thought the exhibition looked a bit more "birdy" than usual this year - but I've had an explanation which makes sense to me.

It was pointed out that, in terms of wildlife which stays in one place - albeit it might be coming and going, birds are pretty reliable at "turning up" and "staying around" if you know where to go and where to look.  Thus you might have a moving target - but it's often one which stays in full view.

LOTS of birds
A wall of handmade woodblock prints on Japanese paper by Matt Underwood SWLA - around the edge
and a woodcut of Blackbirds and Rosehips by Robert Greenhalf SWLA in the middle

As always with wildlife where artwork is NOT produced from photos, you also need a very good set of binoculars or telescope for seeing your subject matter from a distance which means they behave naturally.

It's always interesting in this exhibition to see both the sketches, sketchbooks and the study sheets.  There were some great images and various styles in terms of those exhibiting studies.

Red Fox sketches by Federico Gemma
pencil and watercolour

(large painting of) Studies of dead Pheasant cock and Long-tailed Duck Drake by Ben Woodhams
Timed Guillemot sketches by Wynona Legg
Winner of the 2017 John Busby Seabird Drawing Bursary
(top) one and two minute timed drawings
(bottom) 30 second timed drawings
Read more about Wynona Legg's experience in Wynona Legg – bursary winner 2017

The sculpture is, as always, diverse and excellent. I think it's the first time I've seen a bear with cubs and I'm also pretty sure it's the first time I've seen a Pangolin. What I enjoy is the natural look of the 3D subject matter.

Nick Mackman SWLA's display of a bearded pig, hare, Ethiopian wolves and a sloth bear with twin cubs 
An Armadillo, a Pangolin and a Tortoise - in bronze - by Adam Binder SWLA

Some of the watercolour painting is top quality. 

In my opinion it exceeds in quality that seen in the watercolour competitions and exhibitions of the watercolour societies.  (Some watercolour competition judges need to be introduced to exemplary demonstrations of watercolour - and it seems to me that Darren Woodhead's work would be a good place to start!)

I'm always hugely impressed with whatever Darren Woodhead produces. It's as if he's always challenging himself on a "less is more" dimension - and just how little paint he needs to use to create the painting he wants to make. The fact that he creates all his paintings 'in the field' makes them all the more impressive! I adore watercolours where there is no light edge, it's suggested through the quality of the design and composition and what gets painted and what gets left. His watercolour paintings are almost minimalist in a zen like way.
A Graduate of the Royal College of Art, he works direct in brush and watercolour outside: there is no studio.
Roosting Teal by Darren Woodhead SWLA

Kingfisher Courtship studies by Darren Woodhead SWLA
The printmaking on display is various, numerous and absolutely first class - at every level in terms of technique and size. There seems to be every sort of fine art printmaking on display somewhere in the gallery.

The wall below includes prints by
Little grebes, also known as Dabchicks, move from the sea-lochans onto fresh water to breed. In summer I heard their high wickering call, but they never let me approach very close. They were diving for small fish to feed their chicks, whilst damselflies skimmed above the waterlilies.

Fine Art Prints of birds and mammals
The small wall of prints - on the left as you walk into the North Gallery is particularly noteworthy. I particularly liked the bird prints by Richard Allen SWLA (a woodcutter) and Richard Jarvis ASWLA (linocutter). The later explains on his website about how he approaches linocuts and printmaking - which, of course, starts with sketches.
    Excellent prints by (Left) Richard Allen; (top and right) Richard Jarvis;
    plus Lisa Hooper and Robert Gillmor
    The prints did make me wonder if artists had had a discussion about the best prices for smaller works as there seemed to be a sense of agreement between artists as to how to pitch prices relative to size. That might of course have developed from knowing a lot about how to get the pricing right!

    Most of the exhibition is given over to native animals and birds - and those that visit these Isles. Although the Society boasts international members and some certainly travel for their art, there's very little by way of what people might conventionally think of as wildlife i.e. lions, tigers and elephants.

    Notwithstanding that there is sculpture that highlights foreign wildlife and I spotted one wall of artwork in the North Gallery relating to wildlife seen in Africa by a member artist.  I dont recall seeing any such artwork in the rest of the exhibition. 'International' animals seem to be pretty much limited to the sculptors....

    Lions and elephants etc by Simon Turvey SWLA
    I sat in the middle of the exhibition with my cup of tea and tried coming up with words to describe the show
    • very graphic and calligraphic describes some of the works which enjoy mark-making
    • very loose and lush - there's very little tight and super controlled photorealism in this show. Instead we have people who have fabulous control of their brushes and use of watercolour. I just love watching what some of the artists achieve
    • very little that's bashful and lots that shout "look at me". That's not to say they're loud. It's just that they're not in any way weak or backward about coming forward.
    • lots of red spots (sales) and green spots (unframed prints) - these are achieved not just because wildlife art has a big fan base but also because the artwork is excellent.
    and finally
    • very British! Lots of native and indigenous animals as well as the regular visitors!
    Tomorrow - the sort of artwork that gets selected and how to help your chances!

    Projects and a video

    One of the things I like about this exhibition is that it takes over the entire gallery - and then uses the two far galleries in the North Galleries to exhibit sketchwork and drawings done plein air as part of projects.

    This is a society which believes in:
    • making its art contribute to people's understanding of wildlife; and
    • enabling others to develop their skills and become used to drawing wildlife in the field!
    This video is of the wildlife field study projects undertaken by the SWLA in 2017. See also yesterday's post VIDEO: Wildlife Field Study sketches by the SWLA

    1 comment:

    1. It is always interesting to read an independent review of this exhibition and particularly this year, the extra article about the selection of work. It is an easy mistake/assumption to make but Max Angus, SWLA Vice-president is a she, not he! Tim Baldwin. SWLA Friend.


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