Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review: 2019 Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists

The Natural Eye 2019 - this year's Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists opened to the public at the Mall Galleries last Thursday (10am - 5pm) and closes at 10pm on Sunday 3rd November.

As I indicated on my Facebook Page last week, if you mention that you follow "Making A Mark" at the front desk then you'll get admission of two people for free (normal admission is £4).

Sickle winged swifts by SWLA President Harriet Mead and some of the larger paintings
in the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists

As always it's an EXCELLENT exhibition which I very much recommend to those interested in wildlife art - with 371 artworks for sale - and a number of others which relate to projects the SWLA has been involved in.

It's a hugely colourful exhibition which is very nicely hung. Artworks are nicely grouped in terms of similar types of species. This in turn is influenced by artists who have focused on presenting a coherent body of work for the exhibition.

There is always something different - and surprising - which makes you marvel at how top notch wildlife artists come up with their ideas for how to represent a species.

I've been feeling unwell with a nasty cough/bug following my return flight from the USA after attending an art conference - and "too much air-conditioning"! So yesterday was the first time I felt up to going into town to see the exhibition.

This is going to be a review of the exhibition - and I'm going to follow up with another post about the exhibition metrics and sales next week as there's a very interesting story to tell - which I think both wildlife artists and other art societies will be interested in.

Below are more images of the artwork in the exhibition.

You can also view artwork from the exhibition in an album of my photos SWLA: The Natural Eye 2019 on my Facebook Page.

Main Gallery - paintings and sculpture

Main Gallery - paintings and sculpture

What's special about this exhibition

The Society of Wildlife Artists is a British organisation for artists who paint or draw wildlife. What makes its exhibitions distinctively different is that this is an organisation which
  • is not a fan of photorealistic drawings and paintings - based on photos - of wildlife
  • embraces all media for drawing, painting and prints
  • relishes in a diversity of styles displayed by its members 
  • does like birds - rather a lot!
However these are perennial truths which are self-evident from the artwork in their exhibitions....

What's different and special this year is.....

Documenting Endangered British Birds

I didn't even need to read the press release before I realised - very fast - that this exhibition focuses on documenting endangered British Birds. I think it was the fact that I started in the Threadneedle Space where every artwork bar two (a sculpture of rutting stags and another of an orangutan) was about birds!

View of the Threadneedle Space and a very impressive Emperor Penguin.

The press release explains that both Curlews and puffins have now been added to the RSPB's Red List of birds with populations in serious decline and in need of urgent action to save them from extinction. Members of the SWLA have made every effort to depict many of the 67 birds which are now on the Red List

More paintings, drawings, fine art prints and sculpture from the Threadneedle Space

As we all know wildlife exhibitions tend to be dominated by those interested in birds - because of their fanatical enthusiasms for spotting and preservation. They also like buying rather a lot of art which can't be bad. However often the bird art is mixed in with other species.

I loved the idea of a gallery just about bird art. Marvellous idea I thought! Why haven't they done this before? Surround birders with bird art - and they'll tell all their fellow birders - and some of them will buy artworks about birds they're especially devoted to.

It's also nice to see a wildlife exhibition which is largely UK focused - this creates a real connection between the visitor and the artwork and artist.  I personally found myself exclaiming over paintings of sparrows within seconds of walking into the exhibition! So ubiquitous when I was young and so rarely seen these days. Both the house sparrow and the tree sparrow are both species that have suffered significant declines in recent decades and now appear on the UK Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern. (click the link to download lists)

Astute small collections of similar sculptures

I was particularly impressed by the way collections of three sculptures displayed together created a major impression but each was priced separately offering on the one hand a way to start a collection and on the other creating an incentive to experienced collectors to nab the lot!

Here is one such collection of two Ray Trios plus a School of Five Rays by carver Bill Prickett ASWLA (note they all sold!) - and you can see another in the image at the top of this post.

Rays by Bill Prickett ASWLA

Lots of visitors and red spots

I visit annual exhibitions by FBA Societies on a regular basis - and at various times during an exhibition. Whereas it's frequently the case that annual exhibitions get peak visitors at the PV, on the first day, the first Friday and the first weekend, it's very gratifying to see that there were lots of visitors today - a Wednesday - a week after the exhibition opened.

Lots of mid week visitors after one week of the exhibition
As a result of such solid traffic of visitors coming to see the exhibition, there are also lots of red spots on the walls. 

I counted 68 sales of original works PLUS a significant number of sales of unframed fine art prints (i.e. proper prints - etchings, linocuts, woodcuts, serigraphs etc. - not digital reproductions).

Tree sparrows in Autumn Hedgerow by Darren Woodhead

That means an overall sales rate - after one week - of 18% of the artworks in the exhibition - and I'm confident that there will be more sales after today before the end of the exhibition. Two of these sales by field artist Darren Woodhead (pictured above) and medal welder/sculptor Harriet Mead (pictured below) - have a combined sales value of £17,445.

Indeed for the first time in a long time I can report something I do NOT often say about the artwork of an FBA President! Harriet - who has been President of the Society for the last 10 years - has sold her complete stock of seven works in one week!

Harriet Meads "Doe Hoe Roe" which sold for just short of £10k

More diverse content in the catalogue

The SWLA catalogues is always good and besides documenting the artwork on display and for sale, it also records
  • reports by bursary winners about their projects (which can also be read on their website)
Some of the images by artists awarded a John Busby Seabird Drawing Bursaries
  • reports on projects that the SWLA is involved in
  • obituaries for the members who have died in the last year - and sadly there are four this year - of which the most significant to current members is Greg Poole - who gets a wall for his work in the main Gallery (and he's getting sales of his prints as well!)
A Memorial Wall for Greg Poole (1960 - 2018)
  • explanations of process - including a detailed "how I did this" article - with lots of step by step images - explaining how Carry Ackroyd makes her serigraph fine art prints (see below for an example)

More impressive fine art prints

I don't know another FBA exhibition which contains as much fine art printwork as the SWLA's annual exhibition.

This year there seemed to be more than ever. I especially appreciated the concerted effort to get a significant proportion of the prints clustered together - and then to have clusters of work by artists within that.

Small fine art prints in the North Gallery
some of the fine art prints in the Main Gallery

Two experienced painter printmaker members of the SWLA
Top: Hand-coloured linocut by Andrew Haslen SWLA
Bottom: Serigraph by Carry Ackroyd SWLA

Awards and Prizes

Birdwatch / Swarovski Optik Nature Artist of the Year Award 
Ben Woodhams SWLA Tufted Ducks on icy water, January, Ronne

RSPB Love Nature
Nik Pollard SWLA Colony 5 - Gannets, Bass Rock

Larson-Juhl Award
Wynona Legg - Body of work (work shown: Three Shag chicks)

Birdscapes Gallery 'Conservation through Art' Award

Mascot Media 'Nature in Print' AwardJane Smith SWLA Under water Gannets





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