Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Last night I watched the Semi-Finals of Series 6 of Landscape Artist of the Year (2021) filmed last summer on Sunday 16th August 2020

Semi Finalists in the Pods at the Olympic Park - on a grey day

The Location

The venue was the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford in East London

Pods on the Bridge looking down the River Lee
to the former Olympic Stadium and the Orbit Sculpture

The seven pods were located on the Knights Bridge inside the Park to the east of the Velodrome - looking south down the River Lee - towards the Olympic Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the distance.

The Weather

The weather was extremely odd
- although interestingly it was probably more like the location for the commission i.e. South Snowdonia in Wales than any of the other days when filming has taken place.
  • The buildings kept coming and going in the mist/haze  
  • the lack of sunlight eliminated all light and shade
  • the grey sky tends to drain the landscape of colour - everything becomes very muted
So an interesting insight into how they coped with a sky with no blue, lots of mist and haze and a sudden thunder storm and rain which drenches!


The Artists

I've already provided profiles for the artists in each of my previous reviews of the heats.  Hence, I've decided to 

  • include a pic of each of them with their submission painting- and
  • provide a link to the heat so you can read about them there - which avoids repeating everything

Professional Artists

They are 

Dougie Adams
Clare Lord
Ophelia Redpath

Amateur Artists

The three amateur artists are

Shelagh Casebourne

Ben MacGregor

Kalpna Saksena

Wildcard Artist

Finally one of the Wildcard Artists who won their Heat was selected by the Judges to be the seventh participant in the Semi Finals. I thought it might be one of two people - and it was!
Louise Gillard

Themes and Learning Points

I identified the themes from the programme after watching it through last night. 

What the Judges want to see

ALWAYS IMPORTANT! The clues are there if you listen carefully
"We want to see a bit of range. We want to see them being brave. Ultimately we want to see a painting which gives a distinctive sense of who they are as artists" Kathleen Soriano
Interestingly no reference to whether it's a good painting of the subject! I've no idea whether Kathleen's comment is all she said or she was a victim of the Editor.

What they also want to see in the Final are three people with different approaches to painting landscapes. That's because it makes it more interesting. Which means if you have two people with a similar approach, it's the one who has the better painting who is going to be selected. 

The Judges thought that:
  • there was a diversity of style and approach (which is what they are ALWAYS aiming for in the semi-final)
  • some strove too much - while others showed what they could do
  • a lot of paintings changed during the course of the day. Some started out slowly and produced ugly ducklings in the morning - but some of these came through at the end of the day

Who is most likely to do well?

Who is most likely to do well:
  • mature artists with lots of experience? 
  • or relatively new artists with interest ideas and innovative approaches?
In my view those most likely to do well put very simply are 
  • those who have a well developed method for painting i.e. they know what they're doing and they've done it lots of time before
  • those well used to painting plein air - and coping with all sorts of weather and variation of weather and light during the time you are painting
  • artists who focus on composition and how best to represent the view
  • those who produce the best paintings. It's not about style - it's about quality.

Consistency versus Experimentation

The critical question for me is whether the semi-final is the right to experiment. 

I'm not quite sure why Kalpna decided the semi-final was the right time to try an experiment of a reductive approach to her painting - acrylic first, then oil, the draw through the oil and then remove it with turpentine. There was one shot where I went "whooah!!" as the whole of the orbit was covered in a turpsy greyish white wash....

Ben's innovative and conceptual approach to the landscape started off being very interesting and ended up being very claustrophobic as it included too much - without enough space and room to breathe.

For one artist (Dougie) it was the first time he had painted architecture.  He very sensibly kept it way in the background - and I thought he did remarkably well for a first time.  However I don't think I'd enter a competition like this if I had never painted a building though!

Coping with changing light and challenging weather

What was interesting about this semi-final was the extent to which the change in light and weather played a part. I saw 
  • an extremely promising painting become ordinary - because the artist changed all the tones for the change in weather in the last hour - and lost the light - and light touch - that was there earlier
  • an underdeveloped painting suddenly took off - because the haze of the rain seemed to help with abstraction and suggestion of buildings in the background
  • one artist found the rain very distracting - despite being in the dry
  • colours changed in some parts but not other parts of paintings
  • one artist saw colours as being a lot more bright than they were in reality - but knew this was the way her eyes see them
Those who were very sensible
  • left the final treatment of the sky, river and reflections until late in the day - on the basis they would keep on changing and painting them in too early would just serve to confuse
There was also a bit of an issue about reflections..... as in presence and absence.....

Semi final paintings

Saying what you're painting

I know an artist who is a great believer in titling your painting before you start so you know what it is you're painting. It helps keep the artist focused.

I thought of that when I heard Shelagh refer to her view as 
a symphony of greys and sludgy greens

The sky and the water are the stars of the show 
It was very clear what she saw and what she wanted to paint - and the only question was whether she would achieve this. (She did!)

The Judgement and the Finalists

The artists line up to hear the result

Judging the semi-final paintings

I watched the programme again this morning to identify the main points being made by the Judges from their perspective.

Listening to the Judges it was clear to me that three of the seven (Dougie, Ben and Kalpna) were not in serious contention for a place in the Finals (for entirely different reasons). For the record I agreed with the Judges.

But which three of the remaining four would beselected for the Final ?

Shortlisted for the Final

Like last year, it's another all women Final! Which for some reason didn't get a mention - but I noticed!

I got two of them right . I never ever had any doubt - once I saw their final paintings - that both Ophelia and Shelagh would be selected for the Final - and I think the Judges thought the same.
  • I loved the beautiful balance of colours and tones in Ophelia's painting - and I think the 'magical realism' term is right for her. We know it's not 'real' but it's very beautiful to look at - and the leaping dog provides a quite cheeky 'grounding' of the painting. I'm convinced the Judges love her work and if she wins I won't be in the least bit surprised.  She's just such a mature painter.
  • Shelagh's painting came storming - very quietly and with tremendous subtlety - to the finish line.  She became the painterly equivalent of the silent assassin! Emphatically a symphony in greys and sludgy greens! PS It looks much better on screen than in a photo. One of those paintings which you really need to see for real.
The issue then was whether it should be Clare or Louise and I think in the end 
  • Clare's painting provided a nice counterpoint to the other two. Plus she had been brave and gone big - even if she had a painting of two halves IMO (draw a horizontal line across the middle and you'll see what I mean).
  • Louise's painting - which was absolutely gorgeous for much of the day and I was sure would be selected - suddenly lost its way towards the end and ended up with too much looking too much the same (in contrast to her very capable heat painting). 

The artists in the 2021 Final of Landscape Artist of the Year are:
  • Ophelia Redpath
  • Clare Lord and 
  • Shelagh Casebourne
I think it's safe to say Clare Lord was not expecting to be in the Final and was ecstatic when her name was called!

Clare Lord very excited about being in the Final

The Finalists paintings in the Semi Final

This is what the Judges had to say about the Finalists
They showed experience and maturity by sticking to their style but left us wanting to see what they will do in the future - and all covered an element of art that we want to see in the future
Below are the individual semi-final paintings of the Finalists - with summaries of the Judges comments

Painting by Ophelia Redpath

Ophelia provided
  • a gloomy painting with a stunning (abstracted) red building
  • she went with simple shapes, tone and colour and not too much detail
"she finds an a very interesting equivalent for what is in front of her without out it becoming graphic, or stylised or flat" Kate Bryan

  • thought to have a very idiosyncratic style - going towards magical realism
  • Kathleen thinks she constructs narratives through her use of tonalities (not quite sure what she means - but I think she means that her painting has depth and tells a story)
  • Tai does not like the dog (see at least three of my reviews in which I discuss Tai's various phobias!!) - and thinks it pushes it from atmospheric to illustrative
  • Kate was very surprised when the dog appeared - but now cannot imagine the painting without the dog!
Ophelia has very much grown on me during the series. I think she's a very mature, very capable painter with a unique sense of vision.

Painting by Clare Lord

Claire painted:
  • a big and bold painting - with some beautiful passages of paint
the painterliness in the bottom half is undermined by the architectural detail
  • Tai loved her translucence in the morning and worried about her spoiling it
  • they were concerned partway whether she'd gone a bit too big to be able to achieve resolution
  • Kathleen likes the colour combination and the fact she went bg and took risks
I have a very real problem with the way the painting has two very distinct halves - and the level of detail in the distance compared to the foreground. I also wish she'd kept it much more translucent. I liked it a lot early on.

Painting by Shelagh Casebourne

Shelagh managed to
  • show us her range
  • develop a traditional composition which creates a journey through the picture plane and has a sense of atmosphere
  • develop a very successful treatment of the architecture - very soft and unfussy
  • teased out all the detail in the last hour
  • produce a very subtle pre-Impressionist French landscape according to Tai (he means "like Courbet")
Shelagh keeps surprising in terms of the way she finishes her paintings. It's a nice surprise!

Next week - The Final + Individual Commission Paintings

Next week it's the Final of Landscape Artist of the Year (series 6 | Episode 8) - at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London - which has a splendid view of the Millennium Dome and up and down River Thames - and a creative community of over 500 people who are mainly housed in old containers which have been converted and stacked to create studios - and absolutely no vegetation!

I'm still at a complete loss as to WHY so many of the sites are so very architecture dominated when the £10,000 Commission relates to a LAND gift at Dinas Oleu in South Snowdonia. 

Surely there should be some relationship between locations and the commission? (Even in a pandemic year)

Presumably this is going to be achieved via the locations given to them for the individual commissions?  Let's not forget the importance of the Commissions - which very often influence the final outcome of the series

the first land gift to the National Trust in Wales

Below are a couple of my photos of (1) the wharf and (2) the view from an urban sketching visit to Trinity Buoy Wharf on a not very nice day in November 2014

The lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf

Millennium Dome from Trinity Buoy Wharf


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Past Blog Posts

Below you can find
  • the link to my reviews in the current and previous series
  • THEMES for each of my reviews are highlighted under the link for each review of the episode
  • links to blog posts written by the participants - always very helpful!

2021: SERIES 6


  • Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 at Chartwell + themes
    • Artist profiles
    • Composition and completion
    • Simplification and what to leave in and what to leave out
    • The importance of shadows
    • Highly Coloured Grounds
  • PLUS participant blog posts
    • Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 | Stuart Jarvis
    • Preliminary drawings of the day. | Stuart Jarvis



    • Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year at West Wycombe House
      • Working in different media - silkscreen printing and marker pens
      • Give the artists a proper chance to do well (one for the production team!)
      • How to use a frame to find a picture
      • Coping with the weather
      • What the artist likes to paint - and what happens if you avoid aspects you don't like
      • The darkest darks and the lightest lights

    2019: SERIES 5




    • Review: Semi-Final of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Cromarty Firth


    2018: SERIES 4

    HEAT 1

    HEAT 2

    HEAT 3

    HEAT 4

    HEAT 5

    HEAT 6 


    the heat; the view; the wind;PLUS




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