Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: Society of Wildlife Artists 55th Annual Exhibition

The Natural Eye 2018 - Feature wall of the Annual Exhibition of Society of Wildlife Artists
I hate it when I've downloaded my thoughts about an exhibition onto paper - and then start to write the review and can't find the notes!  Written in the exhibition they're fresh and spontaneous. Trying to resurrect the thoughts after I've written them down does not always work...


However I have now found my notes of my visit to the SWLA Exhibition last Friday - in my shopping bag in among the receipts and the evening paper from last Friday!  So that's the end of notes on paper and next time my formal red Exhibition Notes Moleskine is back in action as the repository of all my thoughts on an exhibition!

So what did I think?

View of the SWLA Exhibition in the Threadneedle gallery 
featuring Old Man of the Woods, Bronze by Nick Bibby

Well first of all, the 2018 annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries is emphatically not an exhibition of photorealistic artwork.

That's not to say detail is not observed or that technique is confined to the gestural as opposed to the precise.

Instead the emphasis is very much on seeing, observing over time and portraying the vitality of the wildlife in their natural habitat.

There is LOTS of emphasis on movement - particularly of sea birds. Indeed there are lots of very vigorous paintings in the Threadneedle space.

Paintings created from studies of birds at visits to Bass Rock and St Abb's Head
Threadneedle Space

There's also a lot of emphasis on colour - although the works in the Threadneedle Space tended more towards the blue/grey cold end of the colour spectrum (see above) with warmer tones prevailing in the main gallery.  I like the fact that there is both complete truth about colour from some artists while others like to push the boundaries and make their art "pop" off the wall!

View of the Main Gallery
This year I particularly enjoyed the two very colourful collages produced by Carry Ackroyd - (Fox on the Prowl and Swans on the River) - on the end wall of the main gallery. (see top image)

Smaller prints in the North Gallery
There is a huge emphasis on wildlife found in the UK and Europe rather than "wildlife if Africa and Asia". the latter while present does not take over the show - with big cats and elephants everywhere.

Indeed where the wildlife from other countries is included this year I found it somewhat unusual. Hence the major exhibition of the Urban Black Kites of Delhi - which was very impressive.

Drawing and Painting from Observation Projects

Urban Black Kites of Delhi by Chris Wallbank
One of things I very enjoy about this exhibition every year is that it always includes "projects" which often include lots of drawings made plein air while observing wildlife.

This year Chris Wallbank SWLA's "The Urban Black Kites of Delhi" was one example (in addition to the bursary exhibits). He's been given a significant space to show their behaviour, the places they visit and the habitats they live in. His residency in North India was organised by the Royal Drawing School and the Institute of Fine Arts in Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh. The Black Kite is a relatively large raptor with a wing-span of over 4 feet and is a scavenger.  You can also read more about his project on his drawing blog

I also liked his drawing of the Macaques of Modnigar. I well remember talking to Chris about his wonderful drawing of a Loomery which was exhibited in 2015

Macaques of Modnigar by Chris Wallbank SWLA
charcoal drawing with some distorted perspective


What makes this exhibition distinctively different from some of the other art societies which exhibit at the Mall Galleries is the very high quality of the prints and sculpture.

Prints and Sculpture in the Main Gallery

In terms of media there is:
  • a large and extensive range fine art prints in every printmaking process known to man or woman!  Indeed I often think that if assembled all in one room of the larger spaces, the printmakers' works would number more than some exhibitions designated as official exhibitions of works by printmakers!
  • Furthermore there is LOTS of excellent sculptures of wildlife at home on earth, in the air and in the water - and some excellent innovation as well as traditional approaches to making sculpture.
President Harriet Mead's always innovative renditions of wildlife in scrap metal 
- which this year includes a magnificent Lead Rake Pike
(that's what it's made of not its technical name!) 

Below are three pieces which were selected from the Open Entry.

Pangolin 'Inquisitive' by Anine Cockwell-De Jong
Brown alabaster £1,600
You can see a video of part of the process of how the Pangolin was made on Facebook. (I think if there was one thing which I think might improve this exhibition it would be tablets or screens within the galleries showing videos of how the artwork was made.)

Western Lowland Gorilla by Iain Nutting
Welded Steel £2,500
Iain Nutting is a Former assistant to Turner Prize winning sculptor Antony Gormley.

Egyptian Vulture: Akbuba 'The White Father" by Sandie M Sutton
Household plastics and street junk £1,300
A bit of a tricky shot - how to avoid the glare of the lights on the top of the sketchbook showcase!

  • Every painting media seems to be the galleries somewhere and there's also a strong tendency to use mixed media with some freedom.

and finally.....

There's LOTS of very affordable art. This is an exhibition where the artists know their market well and do not tend to charge what I sometimes refer to as 'pretentious prices' (aka "paintings which don't sell").  As a reesult I saw quite a few red spots - and know that this is an exhibition where a number of members and artists from the open entry regularly do well in terms of sales.

Small paintings of birds by Daniel Cole SWLA
£400 each
In part this is because there are lots of fine art prints, but it's not just prints which are priced under £500. It's also very good to see that the exhibition is mixed across all three galleries, the work from the open sites alongside the work by SWLA members. In some cases the work by members is also spread out rather than all grouped together I lost count of the number of times I kept coming across the wonderful work of Federico Gemma SWLA! It's always eye-catching! 

Spoonbills, Orbetello Lagoon, Tuscany by Federico Gemma
Watercolour (sold)

This is his blog post about the day of the Private View - Society of Wildlife Artists Exhibition - The Natural Eye 2018 which contains more images of the exhibition.

Reference: The Natural Eye 2018

Society of Wildlife Artists The Natural Eye 2018 - The Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists
Date: 25 October 2018 to 4 November 2018
Hours: 10am to 5pm (closes at 1pm on final day)

If you mention "Making A Mark" at the front desk you can get in for free.

Entrance to the Natural Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries 

Previous Exhibitions

2016 - Review - Society of Wildlife Artists 53rd Annual Exhibition
2015 - Review: Society of Wildlife Artist's 52nd Annual Exhibition (2015)
2014 - Video: 2014 Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists
2013 - Review: 50th Annual Exhibition - Society of Wildlife Artists
2013 - If you want a lot of people at the Private View......
2013 - Society of Wildlife Artists - a new book and a bursary
2012 - Review: 49th Annual Exhibition - Society of Wildlife Artists
2011 - Review: Society of Wildlife Artists - Annual Exhibition
2009 - Society of Wildlife Artists - Annual Exhibition 2009
2008 - 45th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists
2007 - Society of Wildlife Artists at the new Mall Galleries

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