Thursday, October 08, 2020

Review: Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2020

I visited the Royal Society of Marine Artists 75th Annual Exhibition (2020) at the Mall Galleries on Monday - and this is a review of that show. The exhibition was well attended and there were a lot of red dots on the walls!

Two of the prizewinning paintings
(left) Hebridean Recollections by Richard Dack RSMA RWA won the Winsor & Newton Prize 
(right) Sea Flora V by Gareth Brown RSMA wot The Artist Magazine Award

The common theme is the sea and tidal waters although, within that remit, work is wide and varied. Subjects range from deep water shipping to coastal scenes, competitive sailing to quiet harbours, marine wildlife to still-life. 

First some details of the exhibition:

  • it continues until 5pm on Saturday 10th October across all three galleries of the Mall Galleries in London
  • there is no catalogue - just the virtual exhibition of digital images which you can find online (just scroll down) 
    • you can click any one of those images and 
    • see a larger image of the artwork together with details of it and 
    • what to do if you're interested in acquiring one of the artworks.
  • you can see photos of artwork by members on the RSMA website
  • you can see an album of photos I took with the aim of capturing all the works in the exhibition on my Facebook Page. 
    • See Royal Society of Marine Artists: Annual Exhibition 2020 which is public irrespective of whether or not you have a Facebook Account - although I guess it might be easier to view if you do. 
    • Anybody who has work selected for the exhibition should find their artwork in there somewhere - and where it is hung and in what company.
    • I have to say such an exercise is all the better for the very many messages I have had since from people who are unable to get to the exhibition this year - who are so very grateful for being able to see their work AND the exhibition! :) 
The images - wherever located - also provide:
  • inspiration for those who want to enter next year
  • confirmation (either way) for those not sure whether or not their work is good enough
  • information about standards for those seeking to be candidates for members
As I indicated last year and in my call for entries post - there are three good reasons to exhibit in this exhibition if you create artwork of anything marine-orientated
  • This is an exhibition which:
    • ALWAYS attracts a lot of people interested in buying marine artwork - and a LOT of sales.
    • ALWAYS has a LOT of decent prizes
  • In addition, in the past, prizes have been dominated by strong work by non-members - which is always good to see for those who submit work via the open entry.
This maybe explains why there were some 2.5k entries for this exhibition 

RSMA Annual Exhibition 2020: East Gallery

RSMA Annual Exhibition 2020: Panorama across the West Gallery
part of the North Gallery

This review 

  • notes the awards and prizes - with some images of those in the exhibition
  • identifies artists whose artwork caught my eye
  • comments on some themes which I jotted down while in the exhibition - which I walked around three times - once for the photos and the overall impression, two to take a closer look at those paintings which caught my eye first time around and third time to see if I'd missed anything and to check out my initial impressions. It's amazing the things which you "see" properly on the third 'go round'. 
I have to say I am completely lost without a catalogue - and while I totally understand why it's necessary to contain costs at the present time, I do wish that the Mall Galleries would get on with 
  • upgrading the virtual exhibition do that it's possible to find artwork easily i.e. where is the search function for the artist's name? (or more to the point - where is the search function period. I include the Google search function on all my websites - it's not difficult!)
  • putting a listing of works online as PDF file. It doesn't need to be printed and it doesn't need to be in colour - but NOT having a catalogue is a big deal for 
    • those who are selected, 
    • those who want to buy and 
    • those who review!
    • those who want to submit next year (re. media, pricing etc)
PS I'm going to keep repeating this with every review until something happens!

Awards and Prizes

There are two places online where you can see a summary of the paintings selected for awards.
  • The RSMA website has done an excellent job on its home page of highlighting all those who were singled out for an award.
  • The Mall Galleries website also 
    • highlights all those who have won an award
    • includes links to videos on YouTube and interviews on Soundcloud (although unlike YouTube you need to be logged in to the latter to hear the interviews)

Awards won by members

The Baltic Exchange Award: Mylor Yacht Harbour, Low Tide - John Walsom ARSMA ROI

For an outstanding work in the exhibition, selected by the Society’s President on behalf of Baltic Exchange. Value £2,000.

The Artist Magazine Award: Sea Flora V - Gareth Brown RSMA

This is an amazing painting and one which richly deserved an award. It's not every day that seaweed gets such treatment. Gareth will be interviewed for a feature in The Artist magazine. 

Winsor & Newton Oil Prize: Hebridean Recollections by Richard Dack RSMA RWA  
£250 worth of Winsor & Newton materials for a notable oil painting. (see image at the top of the post)

The Charles Pears Award: Reflections, Pin Mill by Srirangam Mohankumar

For an outstanding work, in any medium, by a non-member. Presented by the RSMA in memory of Charles Pears, founding member and first President. Value £500.

The Kenneth Denton Award: Sun on the Solent by James Bartholomew RSMA

RSMA New Generation Award - Gregory Smith (All work in the exhibition)

Murray's Commercial Fishing Award: First Prize
For work in any medium depicting commercial fishing. Value £500.

Awards won by non-members

The Classic Boat Award: A Breeze on the Blackwater by Kevin Clarkson

Topbond Marine Award: The Old Cranes at Bristol Docks John Maule-ffinch

RSMA Award for the Best Small Painting: Waiting by John Lines RSMA

Artwork I liked

I'm used to seeing work by Frances Bell - but not used to seeing her paint marine scenes. It's often the case that somebody who doesn't paint a subject all the time can bring a fresh perspective on a traditional topic. 

I liked the painting first - and saw the name second - and was not surprised. It's something to do with the composition and the modulation of colours and tones.

Oil 65 x 80 (79 x 94 cm framed)

I found Tony Williams ARSMA's paintings - which suggested ghosts from the past life in John Brown's Shipyard on Clydebank to be particularly evocative. Again partly that human connection -  when a child and travelling via Glasgow to see relatives in Helensburgh in the early 60s, my father always seemed to end up on the Dunbarton Road - and that meant ending up down near the docks and shipyards where we'd see all the big cranes.

Tony has won a number of awards and is artist of the month at the John Noott Galleries in Broadway next month.

Paintings by Tony Williams ARSMA


A well hung exhibition

I really do appreciate a well hung exhibition where the sum of those grouped together present me with a theme without me feeling I've been given a big signal. 

I particularly liked the empathy between the various scenes of commercial vessels in harbours. David Curtis ROI RSMA - as always - did not fail to impress.  He's the sort of artist where aspiring artists would be well advised to just stand and stare and work out why his paintings work.

Paintings by David Curtis

Lots of waves - which seem to sell well

You'd expect to see waves in an exhibition of marine art - but some artists focus on them more than others. 

There were paintings of angry seas which were grouped together. There were groups of paintings by one artist grouped together. The three paintings above are by Brian Collins - who sold every one of them (all are smaller works (but not "small") which were priced under £500. Brian took up painting after retiring early from a career in engineering.

I wa actually surprised NOT to see paintings by one artist who also paints waves all the time and sold the works she exhibited at the RI Exhibition. 

Paintings by Brian Collins

Sales favour artwork which is priced competitively

I've been making remarks for some time about the pricing of artwork and I saw nothing in this exhibition to change my views.

Except that some people seem to be listening to me - because I'm now beginning to see much more artwork priced to sell - AND selling.

I can only remind people that we are in a recession, that it may well get worse before it gets better and that some artists are doing extremely well online when they price their artwork reasonably.  It's very likely that those who become attuned to online pricing and buying art online will expect to see the same sort of prices on the walls of art galleries before too long.

People enliven a marine scene

Lots of marine art involves boats. Not a lot of it involves people - and yet people do enliven scenes and make it easier for some art collectors to connect with them.

There was a nice hand in the East gallery of a collection of paintings involving people engaged in activities by the sea, on the beach or in a harbour

Paintings with people

Interestingly one of them immediately connected with me - and if it hadn't been sold I might have been tempted. That's because I've sat crabbing on a few occasions on the harbour wall in Walberswick!  Collectors connect with paintings which stir memories of people and places.

Crabbers by the Lock Gates, Walberswick by Raymond Leach

One of the prizes was won by a commercial fishing scene - painted by an artist who seems to paint landscape which involves water and marine scenes rather than focusing on the marine to the exclusion of all else.

Murray's Commercial Fishing Award: Second Prize


Lobster (Bronze - edition of 10) by Jeffrey Ruis-Harries

As always, there is some extensive range of sculpture in this show with some very attractive and/or interesting pieces
  • there was expert use of bronze in the lobster by Jeffrey Ruiz Harries - who really needs to get himself a website!
  • I loved the soapstone seal by Carolyn Simpson who alo sadly seems to have no website or social media account. 
  • I loved Elaine Milford's cuttlefish in different colours.  Such a pity not to see this ceramic work on her website. 

Range of Media

Washed up (glass) by Lynn Purcell

There was an impressive range of media used to create artworks for the show.  These included:
  • Washed up (glass) by Lynn Purcell. Lynn has been experimenting with fusing glass since 2012 - and wrote to thank me for the photo as she has been unable to visit - so got three photos by return email!
  • "biro and oil" is a new mixed media combination for me - but it created a painting which caught my eye
  • the one thing that did surprise me was how few fine art prints were hung - although it was unclear whether that was a function of selection rather than submission.

Addendum: Lack of website or social media

When reviewing an exhibition I look for the websites of many of the artists who came to my attention - particularly if I don't know their work. 

I was really unimpressed by the number of artists who 
  • lacked a website or any social media from which to market their art and/or provide a way of people contacting them.
  • failed to update their websites on a very regular basis.
An annual exhibition is just that - once a year. 

For those hoping to sell their art all the year round, a website is essential, even more so now that retail in physical venues is under threat from time to time.  I don't think I've come across so many artists without websites for quite a while. 

Elderly Members

This is a topic I have raised many times in the past with various of the art societies that exhibit at the Mall Galleries.  It's related to the overall standard of the work in the exhibition.

Sadly I need to raise the issue this year because of what I noticed in the exhibition. Bear in mind I am very familiar with the work of very many artists (and have photos on file) and know how they painted in the past when I look at how they paint now.

Let me emphasise that I'm NOT naming names and I'm NOT including photos. 

It's often said that artists can go on making artwork forever. However, the sad fact is that very many artists do NOT go on making their best quality work forever. I've become quite expert at spotting 
  • those who now have cataracts (which I also suffered from prior to my brand new eyes) - and hence can no longer see colours and tones properly - and whose paintings can lack impact and seem murky
  • those who can no longer hold the tools they need to make their art - such that the paintings they create can begin to seem like a poor imitation of what they've made in the past.
I fully recognise that this is a VERY sensitive topic. Very often members continue to submit because they've always submitted and "don't want to let the side down" even when it's a struggle to continue to submit work. Sometimes they simply don't realise how much their artwork has changed.  

My solution has always been to suggest that EVERY art society should find a way to address the issue which is both respectful of members' past contributions and their current limitations - if for no other reason than preserving the overall calibre of the exhibition

I have in the past suggested the creation of a "Senior Member" membership category to which artists can be promoted if they are now past their best and not producing work commensurate with that being submitted via the open entry.  My version of this membership category involves:
  • a much reduced (nominal) membership subscription
  • a right to have one painting in every annual show
  • all other artwork submitted to be considered alongside the rest of the open entry
Of course this isn't an issue for those societies which have got to grips with the critical issue of maintaining the calibre of the show. Some art societies now insist that ALL artwork - from both members and non-members - must pass through the selection panel - and any which is "not up to snuff" does not get hung.  I personally prefer this solution - if it can be agreed by members - as it keeps ALL members on their toes every year and ensures that EVERY exhibition gets the best of their work and not the paintings which are not on exhibition elsewhere in the UK!  However I also think my alternative option is more generous and inclusive of those who have made significant contribution in the past.

I'll leave that as a thought to ponder on.

More about past RSMA Exhibitions and blog posts

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