Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - the Final

I highly recommend that those who have viewed the FINAL of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 watch it again and LISTEN. 

The Judgement Process for Landscape Artist of the Year
I've become convinced with this series that there are lots of people who look at the pictures only (social media has got a lot to answer for!) and don't pay a lot of attention to what is being said.

The reason I say this is two fold - because:
  • while writing my blog posts I end up watching the programme about three times - and I'm always amazed at what I miss watching first time round. 
  • I see people making comments and asking questions on Facebook and Twitter and and I just sit there and think "did they open their ears as well as their eyes?". I end up wondering whether people were watching the same programme that I was watching. 
For example.....
Q. Just watched the final. Why did someone win who can't paint the actual view in front of them?
A (me) because people who are literal tend to think artists are ONLY people who can paint in a literal way - but not everybody thinks in a literal way.....
Q. But the winners picture didn't look anything like the view she may as well have sat at home and painted, it looked more like a beach but there was no beach in sight
A (me) You have just made my point for me. Watch it again and listen VERY CAREFULLY to the comments made by the Judges.
Now it's not that I'm suggesting that Judges always get it right. Goodness knows I've disagreed with the outcome of art competitions often enough.

However this is one of the few occasions in an art competition where
  • Judges actually EXPLAIN why they make a decision and WHY they think what they think of paintings. 
  • Which means there's a LOT OF GOOD POINTS that those aspiring to be artists can learn from what in this programme.
I'm not saying you have to agree with everything they say - and I don't - but it's always worth a LISTEN!

The Final 


The Location: Greenwich Park




The spot at the top of Greenwich Park - right on the Meridian - is one I know well (I live just behind those towers you can see) and I've also sketched from there as well.

This was my version - Greenwich Park Panorama - of "the big one" done during the Olympics (click for the bit bigger version!) when the arena for the show jumping was covering Jen's 'cross' on the grass. This is literally everything you can see from the exact same spot as they were for the Final (and I've edited a lot out of the foreground!) - minus the Equestrian Arena!  You can see Jen's "nice tree" just right of centre.

MY VERSION of The panoramic view from the top of the hill in Greenwich Park
- complete with Equestrian Arena for the Olympics 2012
pen and ink and coloured pencils,
11" x 48" (3 double page spreads in A4 Moleskine Sketchboook)

The thing is if you're seeing it for the first time it is completely and utterly overwhelming. It takes a long time just to take it all in and work out what you're looking at.
"This view is awesome, daunting, challenging and basically quite frightening" Jen Gash
It's certainly not a landscape I would want to try and paint for a competition with a £10,000 prize - and complete in 4 hours.

It's emphatically one where you first need to answer 'What?' and 'Why?' as opposed to 'How?'

Greenwich - Nearly sitting on zero
- my quick sketch version of Allan's view
I think the Judges were being a bit too clever!
Or maybe they knew what would happen? i.e. that
  • Greg would get stuck in and try and paint the whole thing - because that was obviously the challenge
  • Allan would go and find a bit that interested him (I've done that one too!) 
  • Jen would try and feel her way into the landscape and find the part that she liked best - which probably wasn't going to include much in the way of buildings!
Incidentally I found it fascinating to hear on Sophie Ploeg's interview with Jen (see Interview with Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 Jen Gash) that Jen never ever includes the sky as she doesn't like painting sky. So now we have the explanation of the luminous white space from the semi-finals.  How come we only find out that she's attracted to the earth after the series has finished?

The Finalists


For me, going into the Final, I had the finalists mentally tagged with labels of what might happen:
I really liked all the finalists - for very different reasons as they're all very different painters.

In a way, at the end of the day it made it seem more likely that it might end up being less a choice about artist than an approach to seeing landscape and how to paint it to make you think.

Who did I want to win? 

What readers won't know is that is that I've been corresponding with Greg and Jen since their heats and my blog posts. I met Greg last Tuesday at the ROI Exhibition for the first time and am interviewing him on Friday and I'm having lunch with Jen tomorrow - prior to the afternoon 'closed' PV of the Exhibition (see my blog post Exhibition - Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018- so matters were slightly complicated by getting to know the two of them a little better! (Both lovely people I might add!)

(BTW I'm hoping to get more TIPS from them for anybody wanting to apply for next year.)

So who did I want to win?
  • Head said Greg, 
  • Heart & Gut said Jen and 
  • the rebellious inner child said Allan!
I wouldn't be disappointed whoever won - but I was looking forward to the paintings and their challenge paintings!

The Paintings


Each candidate ran true to form - but somehow in a more exaggerated way.

Perhaps because they were all commenting on being stressed by the Final (and the Challenge which had preceded it) and some were saying they were emotional wrecks by the end!

Greenwich Panorama by Greg Mason 
Greg really worked very hard - he very definitely wanted to win and he had a jolly good go on the day. I'll be interested to hear from him whether he thinks tackling the whole thing on the size of canvas he chose was a good decision.  I thought maybe it started to look a little over complicated and overworked. Maybe he would have edited more if he'd had more time to walk away and NOT look at it for a while.

The good points are:
  • his painting of the sky was really good, both in terms of colours and clouds.
  • he definitely caught the light of London on a cloudy day
  • there's a sense of recession
The problems are:
  • The size of the Queens House and the Royal Naval College are inconsistent. The Queens House should be a lot smaller relative to the College.
  • It looks as if the grey day and the colour of the River Thames (between the turrets) and the roof of the Maritime Museum are possibly causing some confusion re. levels and horizontals. There should be some more river apparent on the left hand side above the level of the Museum roof. 
  • the horizon line seems to start slide down and eventually disappears on the right hand side east of Canary Wharf - which looked odd to me.
  • I know Greg went down the hill to try and get a grip on the scene. It looks very much to me like he's maybe painted mixed perspectives within the same painting 
    • from the photos he took further down the hill; and 
    • the view he could see from the pod at the top . 
    • (Incidentally I can only make these points because I know the view well - and have got stuck on precisely the same issues in the past!)
Tai was a bit upset by the white house being "smack in the middle" "it just seems a bit obvious"
    Putting ANYTHING in the middle is also potentially awkward - unless you have a counterbalance - which the collonaded avenues either side of the Queens House provided, up to a point. However, I think the large central white object might have been less of an issue if Greg had got the relative sizes right and stuck to making ALL the view from the top where the Queens House actually becomes much smaller relative to the Canary Wharf Towers and the College Turrets - and therefore less of a "look at me" object. As it is, it's far too big to play "The White House at Chelsea" role in the painting.

    The comment I heard which made most sense to me was that Tai saying was "it's very literal" which I took to mean there was "no added extra". On the other hand, as Kathleen pointed out
    "All credit to him, he painted the view that was actually in front of him, God forbid that somebody should actually do that"
    Nevertheless these three are well known for not being huge fans of the "literal" and do like some mental stimulation....

    Greenwich Observatory by Allan Martin
    I think Allan produced a competent painting - but it wasn't very exciting or visually stimulating, although a sound composition. Some might 'safe'!

    I'd never had the sense Allan really wanted to win the competition but I think it's safe to say he definitely didn't want to let himself down.

    Again, for me, putting the centre of interest around the middle line loses the added value of the space above or below if it's larger one side compared to the other. I really don't mind which but I'd have liked to have seen it be a little less "even" - with either more sky/less grass or more grass/less sky.  There again I'm a fan of "thirds"!

    Greenwich Park by Jen Gash
    Jen had become more competitive as the competition proceeded - but seemed to be emotionally exhausted by the challenge/process of the Final - and sometimes uncertain what to do for the best.  I think her own explanation of what the final was like for her (in the video below) in terms of the stresses during the 4.5 hours explains a lot including why she disappeared for half an hour - for a walk - in the middle! Presumably so as to try and get herself some headspace in which to make some decisions.

    Interestingly she wisely decided to edit from the off and chose a feature that I've always liked a lot - the way the paths cross on the flatter part of the park towards the bottom of the hill. She also included the big trees either side which looked like trees although not painted in any sort of conventional way.

    I don't think her paintings read very well in terms of the glazing on television and I can well understand why some might think it not too wonderful - but that's OK - it's looking at them up close and in person that really counts. I'm looking forward to seeing it 'for real' tomorrow!

    The Challenge Landscapes


    The Challenge was to produce a landscape within two weeks. Jen has reproduced the challenge on her blog post about doing it.
    “Because they want to see how you work outside of a four-hour timed challenge the judges have invited you to paint the view of Brighton Palace Pier as part of your Final challenge. You have been requested to visit this place in the evening time because as day turns to night this landscape undergoes dramatic changes in light and the judges would like you to make use of this unique opportunity. Additionally, they have organised for you to meet an expert who will give you an insight into the history of this landscape to aid you with your work. You have two weeks to complete the artwork, beginning the day after you arrive home from this challenge.”
    (Before anybody shouts 'grammar' - I know! You never ever start a sentence with 'because'. However, this is a direct quote from Competition Instructions Letter. Take it up with Sky!)

    I noted that none had a location near their home so no sneaking back for another go after their first visit without a lot of effort and wasted painting time!

    To be honest when I heard about what the challenge was, then saw the locations and finally saw the Challenge Landscapes produced by the finalists I finally "got it"!

    The challenge for the Judges was to see what happened if they gave them each a challenge which:
    • related to their interests and/or quirks and 
    • would make them think very hard about how to meet it and 
    • show what each artist was really about.
    Thus the challenge became whether the "challenge" would reveal who each artist really was, and maybe (I think) who was the best artist for the commission.

    Let's face it, they are all good artists so any one of them could have done it - but who might have the most empathy with the demands of the commission?

    The Challenge Paintings and the Final Paintings
    (left to right: Greg Mason, Jen Gash and Allan Mason)
    The Commissions were all good for different reasons. Each of the artists had been stretched. It was also really interesting to see them next to the painting painted in the final. For me  they confirmed that:
    • Greg likes buildings and structures and is very good at colour and paints great skies whether they are cloudy or clear 
    • Allan can handle colour but really likes to have an emphatic dark element in his paintings 
    • Jen really needs her headspace working to be able to work on her painting - and not so many other people/family/cameramen nearby - but can work to a deadline even when fizzing with ideas and extra canvases!
    Lincoln Cathedral by Greg Mason
    This is an accomplished diptych and an interesting take on colour at night but it somehow feels a bit too "real" to me.

    Mind you I'm a huge fan of Monet's paintings of the facade of Rouen Cathedral at different times of day (I even stayed in the hotel next door so I could take a look late at night and first thing in the morning). 

    Lighthouse by Allan Martin
    This was a big surprise when it came up - I wasn't expecting this viewpoint - but I guess it's much the best view to tell the story of the coastal erosion and the mission to save the lighthouse.  Nice sunset colours - and a great way to kill that blinding red and white stripe!

    Brighton Pier  by Jen Gash
    I have to say the one that grabbed my attention was this last one. Such an unusual composition and one which gave prominence to the less well noticed darker underside of Brighton which is integrated and linked to the blingy top side.  This one made the most of a little bit of bright light and an awful lot of rusted metal and provided a great metaphor.

    As soon as I saw it I knew Jen was back in the contest!

    It's my belief that it's this one, rather than the painting on the day, that decided the outcome.

    The Decision


    The Judges went back over ALL the paintings produced by the contestants during the ENTIRE COMPETITION in reaching their decision.  I think maybe quite a few people missed that bit and thought the paintings produced  at Greenwich as being the only one that mattered.

    Thus the decision was NOT just about who painted the best painting at Greenwich, nor who painted the best pair of paintings - although it was certainly very interesting to see them next to one another.

    Paintings by Greg Mason
    Tai commented "he's showing us what he can do" as indeed Greg had been doing in all of his paintings. He had demonstrated both range and skill across the entire competition.

    Paintings by Allan Martin
    Tai thought he had a very beautiful language in painting nature. Kate Bryan commented on how his paintings were "enigmatic and filmic"

    Paintings by Jen Gash
    Kathleen referenced her ability to paint mood and that her paintings have a quality of timelessness about them and have a lot of emotional power. The message seems to be "less is more", her paintings are reduced - but not in terms of energy, time and place.
    It speaks volumes in the absence of things . Kate Bryan
    ....and so to the decision....

    and the winner of Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 is....

    Jen Gash won Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - and we had yet another amazing reaction face! I think it was the "other worldliness" of Jen's paintings which got her the prize - and her challenge painting well and truly put her back in the running.

    My heart and gut won out and I was really pleased - but sad for the others who were very worthy finalists.

    So this is what Jen had to say about winning the final - and congratulations for having the good sense to say what she wants to say the way she wants to say it! Lots of factors conspired to make it a MAJOR challenge for her on the day.



    You can also READ the Cass Arts Exclusive Interview with the winner of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018

    Plus this is Greg.



    I couldn't find anything by Allan - seems to go with his general reserve!

    Then we find out from her blog post Brighton – final of Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 that she had another one packed up and ready to go and that she only changed her mind at the last minute because her gut told her to!!!

    As Tai put it - her ability to show people another way of looking at the landscape is valuable.

    I'd say Jen's gut was pretty valuable too!

    The next episode about the Commission to paint a forgotten battle field for the Imperial War Museum is also available. I'll do another blog post about that after I've had lunch with Jen tomorrow and seen the exhibition!

    For all aspiring landscape artists


    Try seeing what you make of this timelapse film of the view the finalists were painting!

    You can find past blog posts reviewing previous Heats in this series + TIPS below the video.




    More about Landscape Artist of the Year on MAM

    2018

    Previous years

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