Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020)

This is a review of Heat 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2020 - which is currently being broadcast on Sky Arts in the UK. The second heat is tonight at 8pm.

I'm going to broadly follow the format I used to review the Landscape Artist of the Year series in the UK - but I'll be briefer.

In summary

  • it's not the UK series in either depth or treatment
  • it has some seriously overblown narrative and marketing. That might be the way people do things in Canada - but it's triggering a somewhat negative reception amongst more than a few LAOTY fans in the UK
  • as usual I will call it how I see it!

Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020)

Location of the Pods

One major difference from the UK series is the travel involved in relation to locations. Unlike the recent UK series which was limited in scope due to the pandemic, this series was filmed in Canada in Autumn of 2019 for broadcast in late Winter 2020.

The locations for each episode are ALL in Ontario. So why not call it Landscape Artist of the Year Ontario?

Given the spectacular landscapes in Canada this is extremely disappointing.  It's not even as if they've travelled to where some of the best landscapes can be found - and then filmed in that location......

There's very little by way of wild locations. The locations are as follows
  • HEAT 1: Ontario - Somerled Farm - a rural agricultural context. 
  • HEAT 2: Ontario - Cobourg Marina - an opportunity to paint boats not a landscape.....
  • HEAT 3: Ontario - Midland Town Dock - an industrial landscape
  • FINAL: Ontario - Lake Rosseau - a recreational area some 200km north of Toronto.
It appears that landscapes in this series can be anywhere - so long as they're near easy motoring distance from Toronto.

PS Guess what? Five of the six artists in the first episode are also from Ontario.....  I rest my LAOTYO case.

Location in Heat one - Somerled Farm

View of the pods with a very funnelled view on the manicured farm. 
The wildcards were set up next to the house - in the garden - middle right

I found the location to be absolutely awful. That is I'm sure the farm is lovely and the owners too - but this is not a suitable challenge for a landscape painting competition!

View from the pods

Bottom line:
  • It was boring verging on caricature
  • The pods were lined up with a very funnelled view of a very well kept barn and some close cropped grass 
  • Although agricultural it might well be described as extremely manicured. 
  • There were horses in a fenced paddock - but a large tree and the fence meant the artists could not see them properly - and of course horses are not really keen on posing for artists!
  • The wildcard artists painted in a garden! 
Two artists - Denise and Marissa - had the good sense to look the other way and paint something other than the barn.

I'm beginning to think that all location managers for this series need a serious education in composition in art - as some obviously have no idea whatsoever of what makes for a good location. (Bearing in mind this comes on the back of at least one absolutely awful location in the recent UK series).

The Artists in the Series

Apparently hundreds applied but only c. 60 artists were chosen for the heats - although that figure obviously includes the wildcard artists. This is because:

  • there are only four episodes - of which just three are heats AND
  • there are only six artists in the pods
  • which means only 18 artists in the three heats - and the rest must be wildcards!
Six of the country’s top artists have just four hours to complete a landscape masterpiece. Each week, it’s a new group of artists in a new location, all vying to make it to the final.
One has to take issue with the description of the series. Absolutely no way are these Canada's "top artists". I say that knowing quite a few Canadian artists who paint landscapes who are considerably better than these artists.

If that sort of marketing was used in the UK I'd be reporting the series to the regulator of advertising for false claims! Surely people don't let tv companies do this in Canada?

Essentially these are people who wanted to appear on a television show - probably to increase their own exposure and to market their art. That's a perfectly legitimate reason - but there is no need to over-egg the pudding by calling them all "top artists" when what you mean is 
  • they are in your view the top artists of those who applied 
  • based on their submissions 
  • plus video interviews (i.e. can they talk to a camera / do they seem interesting?)
They instructed us to “be ourselves” but also suggested that we be our most dramatic and interestingly temperamental selves, if possible.
Yet again, it's patently obvious that the selectors forgot to ask whether they'd ever painted plein air to a time limit before......  All I ask is that we see artists who understand how to paint a view in a limited amount of time when the weather might change and the light definitely will. 

In a variation from the UK series, two artists from each heat go through to the final.

The Artists in Heat 1

The artists in Heat 1 included five professional and one amateur artist as listed below. Links in the name of the artists are to their websites.

left to right: Laura, Tosh, Marissa, Phil, Denise and Megan
(it appears coloured hair helps your chances of getting selected!)

For the most part these are artists who exhibit in open studios, local art shows and art walks rather than in galleries. As usual there is some discrepancy in the use of the terms 'professional' and 'amateur'.

Five Professional Artists

Denise Antaya (Instagram) From Kingsville, Onatario.  Had a 31 year career in Advertising before deciding to pursue her life long passion for painting landscapes on a full time basis. My favourite. Her submission was a knockout. Quiet, understated but well composed and well painted. She understands composition very well and creates nice 'feel good' paintings of real landscapes. I'm sure she sells a lot. In fact I know she sells a lot - for respectable sums - because she's got lots of red dots on her website.

Denise Antaya with her submission

Tosh Jeffrey (Instagram | Twitter) Lives in Toronto. B.A. in Visual Arts from the University of Western Ontario in 2006.  He teaches high school (presumably art). Seems to be an artist who is trying very hard to make his career work but hasn't had a lot of exhibitions to date. Likes to paint urban landscapes - in black and fluorescent paints but it's not the sort of art which impresses me. 

Phil Irish (Instagram | Twitter) - Lives in Olora, Ontario. Masters of Fine Art from York University, Toronto (2012) and his Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and English Literature from the University of Guelph, Canada (1995). He's keen on climate change and environmental concerns and creates constructions and collages - which is what he did in the programme. I was unclear about the longevity of his artworks given the materials he was working with. He made it very clear he wanted to win for the money to fix his roof!  He also made a very accurate summary of the location of the pods
It's a bit cute, honestly

Marissa Sweet (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) From the Philippines and now based in Oshawa, Ontario. She's essentially self-taught and focuses on painting nature and the environment. She starts with a brush and moves on to use a palette knife. Elected Member Society of Canadian Artists' & Ontario Society of Artists. She does online workshops and interviews via Instagram. I like people who work hard at marketing their art.

Laura Zerebeski (Facebook | Instagram) - the only artist not from Ontario. She lives out on the west coast in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mostly self-taught. Became a full time painter in 2008. Describes herself as a full-time expressionist painter with a surrealist edge. She likes to paint urban landscapes (which made me wonder why she was in this heat) and was painting plein air for the first time. I found her caricatured drawing and very bright unrealistic colours in her work to be a bit Disneyfied - which I'm sure will appeal to some.  She wrote two blog posts. She writes well and I found both very interesting and extremely informative. I'm sure both will also be very helpful to others hoping to participate in the future. PS I like her writing more than her art and IMO Laura should also pursue a writing career!
landscape painting involves decidedly less adrenaline so they have to put a time limit on it and amp up the drama...... 
Eventually, I was short-short listed to the finals. I’m in! My silent response when they phoned to congratulate me was a sort of dawning horror. I told them I was speechless with indescribable YAY; inside, that YAY was more like a Stephen King monologue.
They told me to make sure I kept my purple hair (summer experiment/self-colouring mistake) because the network loved it. I suspect I am the Menopausal Rebel archetype, a token Western Canada white female representative.

One Amateur Artist

Megan Hazen (Instagram ) Based in Burlington, Ontario. A 2017 graduate of OCAD University in Toronto with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with distinction. She works in acrylic and has a love of colour. Has developed a somewhat odd technique of creating cutouts within her paintings where there is no content. Although I understood her concept behind why she does this when she described it - and her paintings catch my eye to start with - I'm less convinced this will have long term appeal. She obviously likes plants and animals and I wonder why she doesn't focus on these.

What I liked

Some of the submissions were good.  Others were interesting. 

Thank goodness for at least two artists who looked for something to paint other than the awful barn.

Plus another who blew up the barn with his collage. Not a fan of his work - but totally get the reason for doing it like that!

I felt a bit perverse watching the interesting dialogue between the two Judges.  

  • The woman - Joanne Tod (age 68), award-winning artist and educator - paints portraits(!) and betrayed her ignorance of landscape painting very early in the programme when she confessed she'd never heard of sky holes. What she is doing judging a landscape painting competition is beyond me!
  • The man - Marc Mayer (age 65) Former Director of the National Gallery of Canada - was obviously used to being asked to speak first - and I rather suspect he is not above saying the startlingly obvious should anybody say something really silly. Loved the way he switched into French when speaking to a Canadian wildcard who spoke French as his first language (but where were the subtitles for the rest of us?)
At one point I made a note "Mayer does not like woman judge".

Not a natural pairing - but the tension makes for interesting viewing!

I also liked watching Denise paint and her approach using a brown grisaille for her underpainting before getting going with her oils. Interesting also to watch somebody who paints back to front in terms of zones.

One of the best bits was when Ian Dejardin (who I met and talked with when he was Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery - nice man) did an overview of Canadian landscape painting - highlighting different styles and approaches across a wide range.  See my review of his Painting Canada exhibition at DPG Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven - Review (2012). 

The artists he featured were

What I didn't like

I really do NOT like television companies who 

  • try to make artists into exaggerated versions of themselves in order to create "interesting television".  
"I came to play and I play to win". Really? The people who watch programmes like these are much more interested in listening to their thoughts about how to develop and progress their artwork than how stressful they are finding the situation - or how pumped up they are in terms of meeting the challenge!!
  • put artists into stressful situations when they have absolutely no experience of painting plein air - and haven't got the right kit with them
  • take two artists who like painting urban landscapes and put them on a farm.
I'm also not a fan of production companies which can't find a flat piece of land on which to put the pods with a view which is not flat!

What surprised me

The artists with no formal art training produced the best submissions.
Or should I be surprised? Given what passes for art education these days......

Heat Winners

Judging the paintings

In a nutshell - from left to right
  • Marissa had difficulties finding her subject - and then painted too small for her style. I'd thought on the basis of her submission that she was more likely to be 'a winner'.
  • Phil created something interesting - which bore little relation to the view and raised questions about its longevity in terms of how it was made
  • Megan's painting underwhelmed and included a non-existent sunflower. She seemed to me to be out of her comfort zone and was painting what she knew rather than what she saw
  • Laura's painting - if less whacky - could have been interesting. She certainly knows how to lay paint down. 
  • Tosh invented a landscape by moving aspects of what was in front of him around - and went big. I really don't like his style or colours but I do think he tried hard and made something out of a difficult/boring subject.
  • Denise turned around and focused on the far horizon and created a nice calm painting. She knows how to paint and she received the best compliments of the day from Mark Meyer.
The Heat winners - going forward to the Final were 
  • Denise Antaya 
  • Todd Jeffrey
I'm looking forward to seeing what Episode 2 is like. More of the same - or something different?

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