Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: Semi-Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Felixstowe Docks

This year Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 avoided the chocolate box temptation for the semi finals (as per the huge Lavender Field in Kent in 2017).

Instead they went for the massive steel structural challenge (no grass / no trees / no chocs) of the UK's busiest container port at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk.

Paint that - do well and you get to the final!
Apparently the Judges were looking for industrial and gritty - however the weather refused to participate and gave them bright blue skies, blistering heat and lots of wind - which took a bit of an edge off the location for the "edge" loving Judges.

The Location

Felixstowe Port - with the pods on a shingle 

It's clear from Jen Gash's blog post (see the "So what was it actually like?" section - which lists blog posts by participants) that the semi-finalists are not told before the semi-final precisely where it is.
I had scoured places all within 30 mins or so of Ipswich and hadn’t come to any great conclusions, but as the day came nearer, I started to wonder if they had chosen Felixstowe port. Jen Gash
The heat took place on 24th July 2018 and the pods were located on that bump of shingle on the Landguard Peninsula near the Landguard Fort (which Allan painted) next to Harwich Harbour at the mouth of the River Orwell - where the big container ships arrive to dock at the Port of Felixstowe. 

The latter did not have any time for art competitions and a massive container ship arrived during the course of the programme
The great big ship came along and parked itself right in the middle of the painting! Carl Knibb
If you want to have a go at the view for yourself the Landguard website provides excellent directions of how to get there!  Looks like a long trek with gear from the car park!

The Artists

The artists are by now all well known to those of us who watch either Sky or via the Now TV app (see this post for how). (You can find links to my review of each episode at the end of this blog post)

So they were as follows:
You can find interviews with each of the Heat Winners at the Cass Arts Blog. Cass Arts provides the art materials for pod artists at the Heats.

The Challenge

The first challenge was the heat.

The previous day, Harwich has apparently been the hottest place in the UK! Never ever go out without your sunscreen - even if your last Heat was one of the wettest ever!

These are the Pods - on the hottest day of the year (nearly!)
The next challenge was the view.

What I find fascinating is that "somebody" with the company which makes this programme keeps coming up with venues and views that give Tai Shan Schierenberg - the only painter among the three judges - the screaming abdabs. He openly admits that he simply can't paint some of the views.

Which leaves me wondering why that view is being offered to artists who one would like to see do well - rather than be humiliated.

For some artists, the view from the pod was a long way away.
The third challenge was the wind

It looked as if it was blowing like a gale at one point. It had occurred to me that the people choosing the venues this year were not aware that certain locations - just simply by the virtue of where they are - tend to attract strong wind.

While it's a given that anybody putting themselves forward to paint in an art competition like this must be able to paint plein air, it does occur to me that the team constructing the programmes could maybe do with advice from a meteorologist and/or somebody who knows something about the prevailing weather conditions at certain places in the country.  Bottom line - is it really essential to create so many additional pressures as well as the pressure of trying not to embarrass yourself by painting in an important semi-final, in front of cameras to be viewed by millions!

The fourth challenge are the camera crew, judges and presenters.

You don't get four hours painting time - you get four hours less the interruptions for close-ups, interviews, people coming up and wanting to chat, needing to take time out because it's not going well etc etc.
"the more I look at it the worse it gets"
Paul below - seems to be one of the steady ones who just keeps going whatever the weather and the context....

Paul Alcock in his pod at Felixstowe (courtesy of Paul Alcock)
The fifth challenge were the ships

One gets the impression that nobody had thought about the fact that this is a working port and hence the most ginormous container ship might come steaming into port and then back up and park - and obscure the ship which people had been painting.

You could not make it up!

However Greg had the right approach
Felixstowe Docks are one of the largest working ports in Europe - containers constantly moving, ships arriving and departing - nothing about the day was going to be static, so I had to lock down a clear composition from the off.
I remember saying to the camera team on my pod that I was about to start and that it would be fast - I don't think they were quite ready for just how quickly things were going to happen.
The sixth challenge is the fact this is the semi-finals

You know that everybody else is good and they could be doing really good paintings to the left and right of your painting.

Jen's approach last time was to ignore what everybody else was doing. This time around she changed tack....
If you read my last blog you will have seen that the degree of competitiveness that had surfaced in me as I prepared for the heat had come as quite a surprise. I don’t consider myself competitive or that driven, but as I considered the semi-final, competitiveness surged up and I prepared with fervour. I even looked up the shipping timetable to see if there were container ships due in during the day which might change our view…more about that later.

So what was it actually like?

I love the fact that artists are getting much smarter about the scope to raise their profiles online through competitions such as this one.

Writing about your participation should be part of the whole experience!
What's great is we have two blog posts written by two of the finalists which explains their process


I could be wrong - but I did think this time that the easels were intentionally lined up in a specific way - in the sense that the ones they liked the best were towards the middle.

The semi-final paintings lined up for review and assessment
The Artists lined up to hear the results
Comments passed during the assessment included the following from the Judges - and my own thoughts (indented): The order below is according to easels and not artists.
  • Brian - they liked the fact he had picked out the architectural detail, however Tai felt it was similar to his Loch Fyne work and that he expected to see a "step up". 
    • Hence we can conclude your work need to be at least as good as your Heat win AND you need to demonstrate progress. (Judges do like " journey"!). However I really felt for Bryan when he tried using a new piece of watercolour paper for the semi-final and had a minor disaster. I'm sure that must have had an impact on plans to move up a gear! I 'm not sure he got enough credit for the fact that yet again he was the only person to produce a panoramic landscape. However I do understand the concerns about the need to move beyond the illustrative.
  • Lucy - Tai thought that she was wise to try and reduce a very busy port to its basic elements - but that you had to then get them right - and he felt that the structures she created were simply not good enough. 
    • I very much agreed the work was not strong. To be honest, I still don't understand why the Judges made her a joint winner of the Studley Royal Water Garden Heat when she hadn't even painted a landscape. Also given the artists didn't know where they were going beforehand, I was left left wondering how come she had made so many drawings of the structures before she got there.
  • Greg - Joan made an astute comment that on the face of it the painting was quite conventional and that the Judges on the whole liked the unconventional. Kathleen liked the way he'd cropped the scene so you were straight into the main business. She also liked the dynamism in the cranes. She felt it had a good sense of the movement and was neither static nor flat (That's a clue that they don't like static and flat!) Kate really liked the muted colours of the cubes which were the containers.
    • I thought it looked like a finalist's painting from very early on.
This artist seems to have more in his quiver Tai Shan Schierenberg
  • Jen - Kathleen (again) liked the fact the painting was distinctively Jen, the chalky colours and the mood created by the painting. Tai liked the glowing light to the right and the juxtaposition and inventive use of colour.
    • I was greatly amused by Jen's extreme good humour throughout which felt infectious. She was really enjoying herself - although I did wonder once or twice if it was verging on hysteria while she tried to work out what to do next! What I like about her work is that you can see her striving to improve her painting, not giving up and trying things out until she finds what works. I like her conclusion that the time constraint really helped her to get on and finish a painting that she might have faffed about on for weeks otherwise. I think that's a really good learning point for a lot of painters!
"I think it's a very beautiful painting" Tai Shan Schierenberg
  • Carl - Kate felt it was a painting which grows on you and loved the blues (although Carl spent a lot of time trying to get rid of the blue!) .Tai thought it was a romanticised view of the subject but a good piece of painting.
    • I think he was in with a shout of being picked by that "romanticised" notion ofTai's probably killed that.  Maybe Carl should have been killing the pinks and purples rather than the blues?
  • Allan - Tai really liked the minimalist approach, the "sheer silvery light" within the painting and the sense of history. Kate found the late addition of the cranes provided the weighting that the composition needed. 
    • I think Allan is one of those artists who pretty much knows the path he's taking even if it might be intuitive rather than precisely planned. He doesn't show his hand until very late in the day and can make late changes and make a painting move rapidly up through the gears right at the end of the painting time.  He keeps reminding me of Turner's red buoy in Helvoetsluys (1832) and the consternation this caused to Constable. I imagine he could be a good poker player!  I'm also loving his perversity - they gave him a castle and he painted the watch tower; they gave him cranes - and he painted an old fort. You just know he's not going to paint the obvious next time.
  • Lisa - Kathleen liked the joyfulness but then wondered whether you can ever have so much pink - but Tai was really enthusiastic about the pink and the energy it lent the painting and he also loved the observational content (i.e. she was the only person to include the people who were around and about). 
    • I noted that her work was far bigger than anyone else's and the time constraints seemed to be a big challenge for her personally. I was left wondering if she might have got a better result by bringing one bigger canvas to start with.
  • Paul - Paul's painting gave a good sense of scale and worked really well from a distance but up close the sea looked really 'flat' (by which I took this to mean if you're being figurative, don't let an important area let the painting down.
    • I think Paul delivered a good workmanlike painting - and worked hard at it but I don't think he wanted it as much as some of the others. 
I'm always listening OUT for preconceptions of who the Judges think will win the Final. What conclusions did you draw (answers on my Facebook Page!)

Semi Finals Winners - The Finalists

Jen does a great reaction face - again!

The Finalists are - in the order they were called:
  • Greg Mason
  • Jen Gash - I love the face when she's told she's through!
  • Allan Martin
They will be appearing on our screen's in a week's time at The Final of the Landscape Artist of the Year, at the top of the hill,  on the Meridian Line, in Greenwich Park.
hearing I was in the top three and going into the final, was just the best. I bounced round the beach for ages and only stopped when my crunching was disrupting filming!  Jen Gash

Three very happy Finalists
These are their paintings - in the order they were called

Painting by Greg Mason

For me this was an out and out dead cert for Greg to make the Final from fairly early on. It was big, bold in its crop and it was very obvious Greg Mason was "going for it"!

This is how he painted it.
The cranes, although complex at first glance, gave me a way of finding and capturing paths of energy to create a strong, vibrant composition. I always try to make a painting that will hold the viewer in it – rather than letting them go – so the challenge here was to begin with key elements and establish them up front using big bold strokes.

Painting by Jen Gash

Painting of the Landguard Fort and, at the last minute, the cranes by Allan Martin

I have to confess, I've known Greg and Jen were through for two weeks - and last week confirmed for me that the third person was Allan. That's because
  • a member of the public had taken photos of the pods at the Final and posted them to Facebook - and although the views were of the back or side it was fairly clear who was who. 
  • However another had posted a video - and when I found that (while writing the review of Episode 5) I was absolutely cast iron certain of that Greg and Jen were in the Final - and maybe Brian - but realised when we got to Inveraray that it was Allan.
So I've sent the link to the latter to them but won't post it for now given you really want to wait and see what they paint!

There again Kathleen Soriano rather gave at least one finalist away in her Instagram post on 4th September! (Shades of Pru Leith!).

The paintings by those going through to the Final
I thought it was an interesting choice.  To me it looked as if they'd tried to have three artists who were completely different.  However, there was a line from Kathleen during the discussion about who it should be that summed it up for me.
"I think they're slightly braver and bolder"
When you think about it:
  • Greg got in close and painted all the shapes and forms of the critical area - and did that well so that your eye was drawn into the painting.
  • Jen went in even closer, changed colours, moved things around, produced wonderful colours and light and generally went for a painting which worked rather than a faithful reproduction
  • Allan didn't paint the cranes and instead did what interested him. He also pulled out of his hat the thing the painting needed to work in the final half hour!

Next time is the Final

On the 6th September, the crew and artists were in Greenwich Park - with the amazing panoramic view of London from the top of what used to King Henry VIII's old hunting grounds.

The Final airs next Tuesday evening and I'll be writing about it on Wednesday - and showing you the video filmed in Greenwich Park by somebody who was not part of the film crew!

More about Landscape Artist of the Year on MAM


Previous years

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