Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Review: 208th Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours

Yesterday I saw my first art exhibition in nearly six months. The Mall Galleries reopened with the 208th Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours which should have been held in April. 

Wall in the East Gallery

I wrote previously about the prizewinners here Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours - 208th Annual Exhibition and Prizewinners - on 1st April which should have been the day of the Private View.

This post will include some of my photos from the exhibition but if you'd like to see the paintings online then go to:

The RI exhibition of 444 paintings is open until 12th September (11am - 5pm) - and until 7pm on Thursday the 3 & 10 September.

The changes when visiting the Mall Galleries


View of the West Gallery
- minus tables and chairs and plus tape on the floor for the one way system 


This time there are some changes - and I'm going to deal with those first before commenting on the exhibition

  • no Private View
  • one way system for viewing the exhibition
  • face masks required before you can enter the Gallery (all the staff are wearing face visors)
  • sanitiser around and about the Gallery
  • to visit you MUST book a timeslot - in advance
  • no rack for coats
  • no lockers
  • no cafe (bring your own bottled water) and no tables and chairs
  • no shop.
I also had to get on the Tube for the first time since March and that was surprisingly easy given there are very few passengers and everybody is wearing a mask.

I'd recommend people visit late morning / early afternoon as that seems to be the time when you're least likely to encounter lots of other people on public transport.  
  • I arrived for 11 and departed about 2.30pm. 
  • During that time there were quite a few people in the gallery but nowhere felt crowded and it was a very comfortable experience - apart from the lack of a cup of tea!  (I'd be happy with a hot water urn and a "bring my own sealed hot drink vessel and tea bag!").

About the 208th Exhibition


Overall my impressions of the exhibition were:
  • it looked MUCH better in the Gallery than it did online - art looks good with other art - on the wall!
  • It felt rather like going to the Summer Exhibition at the RA - where in the past Galleries have been crowded with paintings - which I like a lot
  • the end wall reminded me a lot of a lateral version of the much beloved Small Weston Room - jammed with small paintings - before the RAs started messing about and using it for other things. It both felt like "coming home" and presented a visual draw to the eye when viewed from a distance.

The end wall of the West Gallery
masquerading as the Small Weston Room!

  • There are many more small and medium sized works - rather than large works
  • Pricing looked a lot more sensible. I've yet to crunch any numbers but I saw very few "silly numbers" on the labels I looked at. This can only contribute to more sales in the long term as the paintings get a better fit with the pocketbooks of those who visit the exhibitions.
Overall it's an excellent exhibition and I recommend you pay a visit.

East Gallery


You start in what used to be called the Threadneedle Space but has now reverted to being called the East Gallery.

View of the East Gallery

I liked this group of quirky paintings by one of the new members of the RI - Claire Sparkes who won the The Anthony J Lester Art Critic Award with a very impressive painting
Claire Sparkes studied a Fine Art Degree at the Liverpool Sir John Moores University and a Masters Degree in Fine Art Painting at the University for Creative Arts in Canterbury. She has exhibited regularly in London, other UK cities, and abroad in both group and solo exhibitions. Claire was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 2019 and is also a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Artists. 
Mall Galleries

Paintings by Claire Sparkes RI

Then the one way system takes you along the corridor (minus coat rack and lockers) up the steps and into the North Gallery 

North Gallery

This is probably the most difficult gallery to negotiate - I think it needs a rethink. I'm not sure why they took out the second arch would have made it a very simple big loop round - and also more airy (windows also need to be opened - if possible) or much better ventilation.

View of the first wall in the North Gallery

Impressive "collection" paintings (as always)
by Lilias August RI

Lilias August's paintings are normally hung in the West Gallery - but I think they're better suited to the scale of the North Gallery somehow - which is much more like "domestic room height" - as they somehow felt more relateable.

The other side of the Gallery has some impressive watery scenes - including a big "feel good" painting by Bob Rudd RI ....

Paintings Bob Rudd RI (on the left) in the North Gallery
- plus arch has vanished on the right and has art hung instead. 

.....and three lovely paintings of waves and seascapes by Felicity Flutter which are providing ever popular. Two sold before the exhibition opened.

Three seascapes in watercolour
by Felicity Flutter

 

West Gallery


.....and then back into the big West Gallery - which looks rather odd until you realise it's minus the tables and chairs and lots of people discussing the exhibition and chatting with friends.

I think I missed this aspect the most. I hope the cafe comes back soon.

The West Gallery from the steps leading to the North Gallery

The mezzanine wall had been put to good use with a display of artwork by George Butler whose work In the centre) won The Winsor & Newton Award (£3,000).

Reportage sketches and paintings by George Butler

Below is a video of George Butler - after he's found out he'd won the top prize


In the West Gallery the dividers have been put in the centre which makes moving around the Gallery in a big loop very simple and very easy.

There was enough room to stand back from paintings and the dividers created an opportunity for some interesting groups of paintings by different artists

West gallery - looking back to the mezzanine and entrance

Paintings by Ian Sidaway (watercolour) on the left; and
Mark Elsmore RI (watercolour and goauche) - on the right

plus they allowed you to peek through and see the other paintings beyond

Below is Paul Banning RI RSMA looking at some marine paintings (who has a new website!). This is what members get up to in lockdown!  Plus I can now ponder his works - I've always wanted to buy one.... (PS Paul told me that the RSMA had some 1700 entries for what is another very popular exhibition which opens on 30th September) 


Here's some more of the work in the West Gallery.

Urban Landscapes

North wall in the West Gallery

Pointers for the future

It's good to see more small affordable works - however 
  • artists just now need to work on quality. 
  • They have had intense competition from the artists participating in the Artist Support Pledge #artistsupportpledge (work priced at £200 or less) 
  • which in turn has encouraged a lot more people to buy artwork. 
Maybe during the course of an exhibition, the Mall Galleries could have a wall of rotating affordable small works by people who enter an exhibition - with a lower rate of commission. This might encourage multiple visits by buyers as well as more sales.

It's even better to see more sensible pricing. I may do some number crunching in the near future. ;) Maybe after another visit to see how sales pick up. 

I'm thinking about going back again towards the end of the exhibition. It was very odd yesterday - my eyes weren't used to seeing so much art and much as I enjoyed it I think I'd like to take a second look. 

I think there are plans for the Mall Galleries to "get back to normal" for after Christmas. 
However, I don't think this pandemic is going away anytime soon and it's more than possible that we'll be in the middle of a second wave by then - plus the recession will have started to hit hard.

Hence planning for what's on offer / keeps people visiting and buying probably needs to be around what's likely to be a "new normal" for the next couple of years.  

(Some of you may recall that I wrote in the middle of March, near the beginning of the lockdown about how long this might last - see Covid-19 and Art #3: The timeline for cancellations and postponements? - when I got the timeline pretty well correct. Maybe it's time to write another one - about the way forward? I also wrote about Coronavirus & Art #2: Thoughts and recommendations on the implications of a pandemic - and much of that advice remains the same.  The recession has NOT yet been factored into the buying power for art.  Personally I'd focus on keeping pensioners happy - they like buying art and they're not about to lose their job or their house.

I think there are ways in the meantime where more of the ancillary aspects of the Gallery could be brought back - and I also think it's time to start thinking about what NEW activities might work well within the current context.

Of one thing I am absolutely 100% certain. 
  • All artists need to undertake personal development and become equipped to 
    • operate more effectively online and
    • become better at marketing their own work and the exhibitions they participate in. 
  • It's no longer good enough to leave it upto 
    • your art society - at a local, regional or national level
    • or even a Federation of Art Societies!

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