Saturday, September 28, 2019

Review: Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition 2019

This week has seen the 158th Annual Exhibition of the The Society of Women Artists' at the Mall Galleries. It's
  • an international exhibition with artwork being produced by women artists from the UK and abroad
  • comprises 459 artworks - paintings and drawings in all media, fine art prints and ceramics, sculpture & other 3D works - and continues until 1pm on 29th September 2018.
A view of the exhibition.
It seems to be a well attended show - it was certainly busy with visitors when I was there yesterday afternoon. I always judge a show by how difficult it is to find a seat to have a cup of tea - it's an infallible marker of how popular a show is!

First - an apology. This review should have been published earlier. However I've been fighting a bug for most of the week (or possibly my reaction to a recent flu jab). Coupled with having to hand hold my partner through the demise of his phone.  He doesn't do techie stuff so I am the tech. translator / shopping companion and adviser / options appraisal assessor / counsellor / setter upper / trainer etc. while we got that sorted!  Anyway, late it most certainly is - but it's now done!

Feel free to comment on Facebook about any typos or omissions as I've been very slow writing this as still feeling "under par"

View of the Main Gallery yesterday from the steps
Below you can:
  • view photos of the 2019 exhibition
  • read about what I thought about this exhibition
  • take a look at the artwork which won prizes - which are not insignificant - and find out who made it.
I also uploaded a folder of my photographs of the exhibition titled Society of Women Artists: 2019 Annual Exhibition of the exhibition to Facebook last night - which are accessible to all - as I realised the bug was back and this post was not going to be published quickly.

On the SWA website you can also find

Conclusions about the exhibition

This is an exhibition which continues to improve includes examples of types of artwork I've never seen before. Indeed this exhibition has a wider variety of media than any other exhibition which shows at the Mall Galleries.

I gather this year the SWA has gone for a 50:50 ratio for members:non-members artwork - which is brave. However to me it seems to have paid off in spades.

That's because
  • I'm seeing a lot of names of artists who are new to me. (Indeed I'm wondering why they're not applying to other exhibitions at the Mall Galleries!)
  • I'm seeing an apparent influx of Scottish artists.
  • There's a much higher proportion of artwork which displays more originality, imagination and innovation than in most other shows in the Galleries - including the art competition
  • there's a lot of new and impressive artwork
  • the 3D works are, as ever, for the most part exceptional.
This is emphatically an exhibition which is NOT going for the "same old same old".  Even where work is representational and/or figurative it often has an interesting twist in terms of either underlying concepts and themes or the approach taken in terms of use of media media.

A lot looks very contemporary - much more so than some of the other annual exhibitions of art societies in the Mall Galleries

It's also an exhibition which is extremely well hung. Again and again I found no difficulty in finding sways of photographing the exhibition where the way the artwork was hung on the walls complemented each other.

I loved the colour palette of this part of the hang - with diverse but complementary works
I loved this display which met your eye as you looked through to the far North Gallery
At one point I had a fleeting sense of this was like NEAC at its best - but better.  However I did however note there was a certain level of uneveness in the exhibition.

Main Gallery - showing all three large 3D works
The strongest work is unsurprisingly in the Main Gallery - irrespective of whether it was by members or not. The Threadneedle Space had more artwork which was grouped by artist

View of works in the Threadneedle Space

The North Gallery contained more artwork by the more traditional among the SWA members and also some which was weaker than the rest.  It didn;t hang together quite as well as the rest of the exhibition - giving a bit of a sense of "everything else". However that said there were parts which worked extremely well. It also contained more of the portraits and figurative works.

View of part of the North Gallery - includes two prizewinners

I think the message for some members is that EVERYBODY needs to raise their game because this is becoming a VERY competitive exhibition.

NOTE: Nothing to do with SWA but a point worth making. 
I am NOT A FAN of the new arrangement in the North Gallery where the windows have been boarded over to provide more hanging space. This now involves:
  • much less natural light and natural ventilation 
  • what seems much more intense use of artificial light to make up the loss of natural light
  • much more use of the fans to keep the temperature to something like normal.
Like I said I am not a fan - and if this is an experiment it's a FAIL from my perspective.

2019 Award Winners

What follows are the prizes awarded at the exhibition. Across all reviews I now group these into categories depending on the sponsors - starting with the prizes with a cash value - and starting with the most valuable award.

The SWA are to be congratulated for generating such a wide range of sponsors and some valuable awards.

I've excerpted some descriptions of some of the artists from their own websites. You can find out more about each artist by clicking the link in their name.

Cash Prizes

The SWA Special Fine Art Award (£2,000) - Bridget Dumper - Family Tree

The SWA had a much better photo of this artwork than me - which also has the advantage of having the artist who made it in the photograph providing a bit of scale!

I think somebody may have moved this piece since the preview since it wasn't as well lit when I saw it.  Which was a pity.

Family Tree by Bridget Dumper
Galvanised wire

Karen Walker Prize (£1,000) for a Young Artist - Anastasia Shimshilashvili - The Magic light

I keep seeing work by Anastasia Shimshilashvili in various locations - including this year;s Sky Portrait Artist of the Year. She's Russian and lives in Russia but exhibits a lot in the UK.  She produces classically painted portraits which often have a twist
Following graduation, I have focused a substantial amount of my time on teaching fine art to eager students, running a YouTube Art Channel, and recently publishing a 'self-teach' art book based on my teaching methods in Russia.
Magic Light by Anastasia Shimshilashvili
oil on canvas

Derwent Special Fine Art Award (£1,000) - Arina Gordienko for her body of work

Russian-born, now based in the UK, Arina Gordienko is an internationally acclaimed artist often known as ‘ARINA’. She awarded with the ‘Associate Living Master’ Status by prestigious Art Renewal Center (ARC) in USA and is recognized with more than 40 international awards in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia.
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Sennelier Fine Art Award (£500) - June Carey RSW RGI PAI - The Night Pool

June Carey began her Art Education in the 1960s at Glasgow School of Art. She has won many awards and had ten solo exhibitions to date and has been invited to show her work in more than fifty prestigious group exhibitions at home and abroad. She has been elected to serve on the councils for most of the major Scottish Societies since 1989.

The Night Pool by June Carey RSW RGI PAI
acrylic on panel

SWA Fine Art Award (£500) - Sally Friend ASWA - Sugar Rush One 

Sally Friend was elected to Associate Membership of the SWA in 2016. She ia a graphic Design graduate from Brighton College of Art, who works full-time as a painter and printmaker working from her Thames-side studio in West London.

Sugar Rush One by Sally Friend
Etching (Edition of 20)

The Great Art Award (£500) - Wendy Elia - Made in Britain

This is a large painting which dominates the end wall of the Main Gallery. I loved the line of smaller portraits along the top of the mirror - presumably of relatives of the girls in the portrait.
Wendy Elia works in series which explore the social and broader contexts of our times. In her portrait work she confronts our voyeurism and asks questions about the female gaze and painting’s relationship to authenticity and illusion. Elia moves from the personal to the political not only in the range of content and form in the various series, but also within individual paintings: using a range of pictorial symbols and signifiers to extend the meaning/narrative of the works.
Wendy is also a newly appointed academician of the Royal West of England Academy.

Made in Britain by Wendy Elia

The Premium Art Brand Award (£500) to a Young Artist - Katharine Le Hardy - Green Doors

Avoiding picture postcard moments where possible, Katharine is drawn to structures, often abandoned and decaying, depicting how they inhabit the landscape around them. Working from memory and photographic references, the process of applying layers of paint, scraping back, obliteration, allows the painting to take its own fluid course giving it a life of its own.
Green doors by Katharine Le Hardy
oil on panel

The Cavendish Venue Sculpture Award (£300) - Liz Watts - for her collection of Ceramic pots

An example of an artist who starts as one thing and then becomes another. She trained as a Veterinary surgeon at The RDVS, Edinburgh and worked in large and small animal practice for 10 years. Then she became a sculptor and ceramicist producing work in ceramic, primarily porcelain, along with bronze and papier-mâchè.

Ceramic pot by Liz Watts

Product Prizes

St Cuthbert’s Paper Mill Award - Karen Stamper for her body of work

Love her website. I wish more artists took this simple and accessible approach
I draw, collage and paint. My work celebrates the worn surfaces and structures of the urban shoreline: boats, harbours, decorative motifs and lettering. I want to capture the memory of a place and the sense of human presence, echoing the passing of time, increasingly there is a strong abstract element but still with recognisable elements.
work by Karen Stamper

The Rosemary and Co Award (£100 Brushes) for works on canvas or paper - Bernadette Doolan - When everything was simple

Do take a look at her website - it's very moving. Particularly the page about her 196 installation

This is her Facebook Page
I am thrilled to not only have work selected for the @swainfo Society Women Artists, annual exhibition. I just got word to say I have been awarded the Rosemary & Co Award.Yippee, I'm so raging I can't be there tomorrow for the opening. Anyone gotta jet plane?
When everything was simple by Bernadette Doolan

Publication Awards

The Artist Editor’s Choice Award - Kate Newington - Two Brothers

I thought this was an excellent portrait from a distance and was amazed to see it was collage when I got closer.
The materials I use are very much “found” or “lighted upon” in the spirit of Kurt Schwitters and the Surrealists. If there is any kind of philosophy behind what I do, it is the appeal of the idea that a still life or a landscape or something as formal and prescribed as a portrait, can be rendered with random pieces of printed paper – that a chaos of re-cycled scraps can be ordered to either represent something specific, or used more metaphorically, to evoke scenes, moods or ideas.

Recognition (Non-Cash) Prizes

President And Vice Presidents Award - Sheila Goodman for her body of work

I'm a big fan of Sheila Goodman's pastel works
My subject matter is nearby - the landscape of the New Forest, the coast and inland waterways. Trees and water are a constant inspiration.

HRH Princess Michael Of Kent Watercolour Award - Sue Jelley - Ex Prisoner 337_88

Sue is a member of the Societee de Pastelistes de France and a past President of the Society of Women Artists.

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The Barbara Tate Memorial Award (Silver Ingot) - Helen Sinclair - for her body of work

Helen Sinclair's bronze sculptures dominated the Main Gallery
I have been making sculpture for over twenty years and the process is still a delight to me. With every piece I make, I find the working process both comfortingly familiar and refreshingly surprising......
Her customers include Lord Melvyn Bragg, Sir Robert Clark, chef Gary Rhodes, singer Bonnie Tyler, actress Sheila Hancock, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, poet Roger McGough and Keith Chapman (creator of Bob the Builder!).
On Tears and Pain
Helen Sinclair
The winner of The People's choice award is going to be announced on Sunday 29 September at the close of this year's SWA exhibition at The Mall Galleries.

More about SWA Annual Exhibitions

See my blog posts below for more about past exhibitions

    About the Society of Women Artists

    The Society of Women Artists was founded in 1855 (as the Society of Female Artists). It held its first exhibition in 1857 at The Gallery, 315 Oxford Street, where 358 works were displayed by 149 female artists (Archives Hub). In 1873 the group adopted as its name the Society of Lady Artists, this was subsequently changed to the Society of Women Artists in 1899. It has had a number of famous women artists as members over the years, notably Dame Laura Knight 1877-1970 (the first woman elected to full membership of the RA) - who was President from 1932-1968 when she became its Patron, the French artist Rosa Bonheur 1822-1890 - whose work was more popular in England than France, Lady Elizabeth Butler 1846-1933 - who specialized in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles, including the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo and whose work was admired by Ruskin and the illustrator Mabel Lucy Atwell 1879-1964.

    Princess Michael of Kent became its Patron in 1980 - but the Society has enjoyed royal patronage in previous years eg In 1865 the Society was reorganised under the patronage of the Duchess of Cambridge.

    After the Second World War exhibitions were held at the Guildhall (1947), the Royal Institute Galleries (1948 - 1969), the Chenil Galleries (1970) and the Mall Galleries (1971 - 1986). From 1987 exhibitions were held at the Westminster Gallery, Westminster Central Hall, an exhibition space founded by the Society of Women Artists - until it returned to the Mall Galleries.

    The Victoria and Albert Museum's Archive of Art and Design has custody of the archives, which give great insight into the fortunes and struggles of the Society and will be preserved for future generations. The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855 to 1996, is a four-volume dictionary of all the exhibitors collated from old catalogues. Only the Royal Academy and the Scottish Royal Academy produce such records.