Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review: Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2018

I went to see the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2018 Exhibition at the Mall Galleries yesterday. I always like it because of its emphasis on draughtsmanship which can sometimes be in short supply in other exhibitions.

Lynn Painter-Stainer Prizes - Left to right:
Young Artist Prize | Second Prize | First prize

It's also an exhibition I've been visiting every year since its third year (in 2007) when Ben Sullivan won (Ben is last year's BP Portrait Award Winner).  This year he selected artwork as a Judge along with Artist and Educator - Robin Mason - Head of Fine Art at the City & Guilds London Art School; Art Gallery Owner - Johnny Messum - Founder and Director of Messums, Wiltshire and Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC - Past President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, BP Portrait Award winner in 2010 (and second prize winner in 1983) and latterly a television celebrity as a judge in the BBC's The Big Painting Challenge.

So 2018 starts the second decade of visits to this exhibition! If you can't visit the Mall Galleries to see it you can view all the selected artworks online - in a rather curious slideshow.

It got me reflecting on how the exhibition has changed.

View of the Lynn Painter-Stainer Exhibition 2018
The most obvious change is the move from the Painter-Stainers' Hall in the City of London to the Mall Galleries.  

I think I preferred the earlier exhibitions more - which is in no way a reflection on the Mall Galleries (the lighting is much better at the Mall even if they can't compete on the chadelier front!)

I decided in the end that I think it's because I maybe liked the art more in the earlier exhibitions - and you can see the artwork from 10 years ago in the 2008 exhibition in my post Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2008 and Exhibition (with others listed at the end of this post - all of which come with images of artwork in the exhibitions.

Some of the better representational paintings with an emphasis on draughtsmanship in the show
For example, this is supposed to be an exhibition which is supposed to represent
the best of contemporary representational painting and drawing
and yet two other major changes I noticed are that:
  • There is no drawing in the exhibition. At least no drawings in the conventional sense. There are one or two paintings where the painter has drawn...  
  • Not all the artwork is representational. For me representational painting is supposed to be painting which relates to and represents a real object. As opposed to painting which represents a fantasy of objects which exist only within the artist's imagination. Yet a number of the paintings were quite clearly fantastical and/or included representations of real objects but that these had been distorted in a fantastical way
A prime example of the fantasy present in the exhibition is the artwork which won the First Prize - which is both real and not real. I think it was the innovation in painting which won it the first prize - it certainly wasn't innovation in the subject matter (see below to see what I mean).
For those two reasons it seemed to me that this exhibition has lost its way a little.  I certainly liked it less than others I've viewed in the past.

Maybe somebody forgot to advise the selection panel what the criteria for this exhibition actually is?

Ian Rowley, the Chairman of the Lynn Painter-Stainers Committee (and Clerk to the Painter-Stainers) in his introduction indicates that the competition has a wide remit
By design it has an open and unique remit that encourages and supports the submission of a wide, diverse and innovative range of the best of British contemporary representational painting and drawing.
Well the Chairman is wrong.

One of the benefits of having a very long history of viewing and writing about this exhibition is that I can reference the official quotations which I cited in past reviews

One such - in 2008 - was as follows
Created in 2005 with the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers and the Lynn Foundation with The Spectator as media sponsor. The purpose of the Prize is to encourage creative representational painting and promote the skill of draughtsmanship. (my underlining)

The skill of draughtsmanship seems to have well and truly bitten the dust! 
I wrote at the end of my catalogue WHERE ARE THE DRAWINGS? That for me is the biggest difference between those early exhibitions and more recent ones.  I gather I am far from alone in having noted this omission.

If drawings are not being submitted that is one thing.
If the drawings are not good enough, then that's another.
However if good quality draughtsmanship is not emerging because this ORIGINAL aspect of this competition is not getting enough of a profile than that is something that can and SHOULD be remedied. Or else the unique feature of this exhibition becomes lost.....

Creative representational painting also does not mean we leave reality behind and enter the realms of fantasy!  Creative within this context should, in my opinion, relate to HOW reality is painted - while remaining firmly rooted in reality and NOT fantasy!

a rather fantastical corner of the exhibition
Representational painters typically act as observers and try to reproduce what they see. Their painting style is where any innovation or creativity should lie - but the object (not concept!) they represent should still be clearly self-evident.

The Threadneedle Prize which also focuses on figurative and representational art has had similar wobbles in the past before returning to its original purpose.

In the past the Prize championed art that was produced despite the fact that drawing was no longer taught in art schools. Now it celebrates the very significant number of works submitted by younger artists - presumably including those who have received no tuition in draughtsmanship.

Left: Sofabed Sleepover - Nuru and Rose by Samantha Fellows
(who has had work in both the BP Portrait and RA Summer Exhibition)
Right: Islington Tunnel in Autum with the artist's family by Melissa Scott-Miller
(Winner of the Lynn Painter-Stainers prize 2008)
Frankly while the exhibition includes some very good works (e.g. see above) - and it was pleasing to see some perennial artists (including former winners - e.g. see above) - I personally would have edited some of the selected work out of the exhibition either because it veered outside of the scope of representational art or because it lacked good draughtsmanship.

Finally, I'm sure I used to see more red dots at this exhibition in the past.  I used to recognise lots of the names because they were leading artists - as one would hopefully expect to see associated with the the best of contemporary representational painting and drawing.

Now I'm not recognising most of the names - either from previous years of this exhibition or other prestigious competitions.

If I'm right - and most are new to prestigious art competitions, this would explain some of the seriously silly prices - and why so very few have sold. In fact if I extract the two artists with a serious track record (one a previous winner who has a very strong following) the net total and value of sales to date - after the exhibition has been open for a week is just four paintings with a sale value of £4,045!!

I did a sample check on some of the names I didn't recognise and some are still students, asking prices way in excess of those of serious artists who have been working for many years and come with a considerable track record. Which make some of the student pricing a complete nonsense - and is hardly likely to get their careers off to a good start! (By way of comparison the Young Artist winner who had a much more reasonable price on her work has sold it as well as winning the prize!)

I shall be writing more about the need for a wake-up call on pricing in a future post.

Smaller works on the wall below the mezzanine bookshop.
Bottom line - do I think this is an exhibition represented the best in representational painting in this country? No I very definitely did not.

Is it the best of the submission? Very possibly. However that probably says more about the thought, planning and effort that went into its publicity than anything else.....

I'm very curious as to why so many established painters whose work I have enjoyed in the past have stopped submitting.

Maybe they think it's drifted too far in the direction of "let's give the younger painter a chance".

Personally I've absolutely nothing against competitions targeted at younger artists - and I think they have  very important role to play in career development.

However do I think younger artists are creating the very best in contemporary representational painting and drawing? No I very definitely do not....


When coming to write this section I was rather non-plussed by the fact that the catalogue fails to mention
  • the number of prizes
  • the value of the prizes.
For this information I had to go the website! Except the website was still announcing the winners of the 2017 exhibition and hasn't been updated......  Plus there's no Facebook Page for the Prize.  There's low key - and then there's invisible! Part of the deal with artists when you run competitions is that you enhance their profile due to the publicity given to the competition.

Seems as if the publicity budget has been cut!
The Lynn Painter-Stainers First Prize:
Pablo Castañeda Santana won the £15,000 Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2018 with his acrylic painting titled 'ELS' which is described as reinforced acrylic paint sheet mounted on panel  (150cm x 120cm) £9,000. I'm guessing he won it for the technique he uses (see below).

To me it reminded me of Madame Ingres meets Giuseppe Arcimboldo - or more specifically a riff on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's Portrait of Princesse Albert de Broglie, née Joséphine-Eléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn.

It will come as no surprise to the regular readers of this blog that my preference for First Prize winners is always a completely original work of art with no derivative features. I'm not clapping this one. In my view it breaches the rules.
Only original, two-dimensional works in any painting or drawing media are eligible. (Rules)

Ingres Princess Albert de Broglie

Santana was born and educated in Spain but now lives in London. This is a video of him talking about how he became an artist and also demonstrating how he made created his painting - which is very unusual.  He paints using acrylic on glass and then peels it off.

He describes his process thus
My work challenges the boundaries within presentation and representation, by creating layers of acrylic paint in which the represented pictorial interpretations of the digital media can be physically contorted by bending the surface, highlighting the existing tension between the actual and the illusory space. That means to re-embody the ephemeral digitalized images through an unconventional use of paint that triggers a re-evaluation of the most common particularities of the discipline, such as the support and the texture. The process consists of painting an inverted image on glass and, once the film gets enough thickness, it is peeled off. (Central St Martin's 2017 website)

Second Prize: £4,000: The Song of Philomela by Kay Harwood

Born in Lancashire in 1978. Studied in London at the Slade School of Art, then at the Royal Academy Schools, graduating in 2004.

Young Artist Award: £4,000 (For an artist who is 25 years of age or under) Roof terrace by Chloe Ong

Chloe Ong grew up in Singapore. She came to study art in London and graduated with a First Class Honous Degree from the Slade School of Art last summer and is now pursuing a MFA at the Slade.

Brian Botting Prize: £5,000 (For an artist who is 30 years of age or under) Head of Thandi -by Charlie Schaffer for an outstanding representation of the human figure

He did his Foundation at Central St. Martins followed by a degree in Fine Art at Brighton University.

People’s Prize: £2,000: to be announced after the end of the exhibition

More about the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize (2008-2018)


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Katherine for your review, I went on the first day and found as you did little work that showed draughtsmanship, but a lot of fantastical work. Maybe that is the modern representational.
    Personally it did not inspire me get my paints out , or want to purchase .


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