Monday, April 12, 2021

Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020)

This is my VERY late review of of the final (third) heat of Landscape Artist of the Year 2020 (Canada). Not quite sure what happened last week. Suffice to say, my planned posts went out of whack! See also

Artists in Episode 3 waiting to hear who's going to the Final

Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020) 

This originally aired in Canada on March 1 2020. 

Location of the pods: HEAT 3 - Midland Town Dock

This was an industrial landscape.
A grain elevator and silos at Midland Town Dock - albeit the silos were decorated with a mural.
Known to the Huron/Ouendat people as “Ouendaronk”, to the French as “La Mer Douce,” and to the British as Georgian Bay, the waters of the so -called “Sixth Great Lake” have had a profound effect upon those who inhabited its shores. Welcome to the Midland Town Docks
Georgian Bay on Lake Huron is significant within the context of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven - Thomson was brought up on its shore and a number of the Group of Seven painted its landscapes - and lakescapes. 

The pods at Midland Town Dock.

Interestingly the pods are set up differently to the UK. The roof is slanted and normally runs side to side, whereas in Canada it runs front to back - making getting in an out rather more difficult for some!

I'm afraid I can't look at grain silos now without remembering that utterly dreadful explosion in Beirut - which happened in August 2020 - before this was broadcast in October 2020.

Mural about the heritage of the location - with a Huron man and a Jesuit priest
This mural measures 80 ft high and 250 ft wide and is the largest outdoor historical mural in North America. It displays Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons as it would look like in the 1640's
However grain silos painted in a mural (painted by Fred Lenz) which explain the history of the location make them much more interesting. So much so that virtually all the artists avoided painting the silos and mural! Only one had a go.  

Tip for the programme makers - just because it makes the visuals very interesting doesn't mean artists will paint it - IF YOU ONLY GIVE THEN 4 HOURS!! It's quite difficult enough painting places without painting paintings of places done by somebody else!

The weather

Predictably enough - the weather changed during the course of the programme. Starting off dull with lots of cloud and then better weather came later - and generated skies which started changing a LOT!

The artists in Episode 3

There was a bit more variation in the places that the artists lived in Canada in this heat. Only two lived in Ontario (both in Toronto) - whereas there were four other artists from two from British Columbia, one from Alberta and one from Nova Scotia.

There's no question, in my opinion, that this episode had more competent artists participating than the previous two episodes.

Links to their websites are embedded in their names. Links to their social media come after the name.

Professional Artists

Five professional artists took part -
listed below
  • Kylee Turunen (Facebook | Instagram) - an emerging Canadian artist, born in London Ontario to a landscape painter father. Now lives in Port Alberni, British Columbia. She completed the Fine Art program at Toronto's Centennial College in 2009 and is currently represented by a number of galleries around Vancouver Island. This is an interview with her. She has one of those "difficult to read" websites because everything is in capitals - which means you give up reading pretty quickly - which is a shame as she creates nice paintings. I'm not entirely clear about what differentiates her landscapes from her abstract landscapes as some look pretty similar to me. She normally works just from photos which means painting to a time limit plein air was a very new experience for her.
  • Nadine Prada (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Lives in Toronto, ON after spending her childhood in the Caribbean. Educated at Ontario College of Art and Toronto School of Art. Used to have a career in advertising until she experienced a 8.8 earthquake. Now works as a professional contemporary artist and facilitator.
This is a story about “careful what you wish for”. I used to watch the original British show, Landscape Artist of the Year, and think to myself, “I’d really love to do that one day.” So when the call came out to audition for the Canadian premiere, I didn’t think too hard and just sent in my submission. (No time to talk myself out of it.) Cut to the day we actually had to show up and produce a painting in 4 hours (WAAAAAAAYYYYY outside my comfort zone since I work in lots of layers - and in front of an entire film crew, complete with judges, no less). It’s seriously one of the most exhilarating, rewarding experiences I’ve had in my art career and now I get to share it with all of you. I hope you get a chance to watch, and then tell me what you thought of the show. Nadina Prada | The Prada Gallery, Facebook 23 October 2020
  • Jeff Wilson (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - a very different background story. Grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland & trained as a structural geologist. He then worked in mineral exploration around the world before settling in Vancouver in 2004. He took took art classes at Emily Carr University, and his a hobby transitioned into a full-time art practice in 2013. His paintings have been exhibited widely in public galleries in BC, Alberta and WA State. He's represented by a number of galleries, has work in various public and private collections and has won awards for his art.
Kylee, Nadine and Jeff

  • Ron Kuwahara (LinkedIn) Halifax, NS Had a 40 year professional career as a physicist - working for Defence Research and Development Canada Atlantic. Turned to painting in retirement. In 2011, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art, with a Major in Painting after studying at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. For me, he's doing better than a lot of younger paintings who've never done anything else. I like the fact he's not afraid of going big and abstracting his landscapes.
  • Elzbieta Krawecka (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - born and raised in Krakow, Poland. -Now lives in Toronto, ON (via Kuwait).  Moved to Canada to attend the Ontario College of Art and Design - and developed a love for the Canadian landscape. Her landscape paintings depict large areas of open spaces such as skies or water, defined by pattern formations. She's exhibited her art in numerous group and solo exhibitions. I appreciate a lot of artists who appear on television (not all by a long shot) but only rarely want to own one of their paintings. Take a look at the gallery on her website - and work your way back to 2001. You'll find you jaw dropping as I mine did at her amazing paintings of skies. I'd like one of her paintings.
Mackenzie, Ron and Elzbieta

Amateur Artist

There was just one amateur artist.
  • Mackenzie Brown (Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn ) A very interesting individual. She is First Nations Cree from the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, though she currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She has a degree in Child and Youth Care and creates contemporary Indigenous art, teaches Cree cultural lessons throughout Alberta, works as a Project Manager at Indigenous Tourism Alberta and facilitates discussions throughout all levels of government and academia.  She paints in acrylic and includes beadwork in her paintings and focuses on the land and uses materials from the natural world to honour her ancestry. 
My name is Kamamak, or Mackenzie in English. As a young girl I was taught about balance. The balance between traditional and contemporary. This is how I live my life – with a moccasin in both worlds.

Wildcard Artists

Yet again, a lot of the wildcards were impressive. I keep wondering if they are all people who create fabulous paintings but are unable to talk to camera....

The Wildcard Artists were painting from a jetty nearby 
(Pods are in the top left background)

The wildcards had a more interesting, less architectural view

What I liked about This Episode

It was good to see a member of one of the indigenous nations of Canada taking part - particularly as the relationship between artist and land is rather different to other artists of European heritage. I hope it wasn't only prompted by the mural on the grain silos.

The submissions were impressive ad there was a good and interesting commentary on them by the Judges.  It's a pity we never get to see them all next to one another and hence compare them one to another. Instead we tend to see them one at a time. The Judges comments indicate that their selection from digital images means that:
  • the quality of brushwork is not always obvious
  • there's a significant gap between how some look on screen and how they look in reality. 
I continue to very much appreciate the short educational "show and tell" sessions by Ian Dejardin, the Executive Director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. In this episode he looked back at how Canadians have painted industrial landscapes in the past. The paintings of industrial landscapes - logging factories, mines etc - were fascinating. The paintings were excellent. BUT I don't think any of them were accomplished in four hours in a pod - even if nobody was watching!

The paintings this time were:
Franklin Carmichael - A Northern Silver Mine

I continue to enjoy watching how the relationship between the two Judges has evolved over the three episodes. I'm always watching out for the totally giveaway comment - left in by the editing process!

I felt this episode had more genuine content and comment about artistic process - from composition, through the trials of painting plein air to meeting the challenge of the changing weather. Perhaps because the overall calibre of artist was better?
narrowing it all down is the hardest thing to do
Mackenzie Brown
For example, Elzbieta recognised that 
  • she would have to change her process to complete a painting in four hours and promptly did so - and finished with time to spare!
  • it's sensible to work on a wood panel if working plein air as it's heavier (particularly if big ) and much less likely than a canvas to blow over.
I loved the way she clearly used the angles of her brush strokes to suggest form - and I've already been sending people to look at her paintings to see why brushwork matters!

Close-up of a section of Elzbieta's painting
- demonstrating how angle and direction of brush strokes conveys form

What I did NOT like about this episode

It more and more seems to me that the programme wants to celebrate the Group of Seven. (Or ride on the back of an art group known all over the world?) - but without taking the trouble to actually get into the landscapes which they were renowned for painting.

Instead the programme makers seem to keep insisting on giving them artificial / constructed things to paint - a barn on a farm; leisure boats in a marina and grain silos in a dock.  It's not that any of these are not legitimate subjects for a landscape painting so much as the trying to tie it into Group of Seven or other renowned Canadian landscape painters at every opportunity.

There's ABSOLUTELY no attempt to 
  • convey the majesty and size of the magnificent Canadian landscape and TREES!! Except via the art history lessons!
  • get appropriate sites to get a perspective which is more interesting. 
I am completely fed up of flat pod locations in front of flat expansesI can't remember a single hill in the entire series to date - never mind a mountain!

I can only think that locations are limited by how much they have to trek with the pods? 

I can only think that the location manager for the programme makers has absolutely no concept whatsoever for how painting plein air works.  Perhaps they could get a new location manager before the next series?

Moving on from that - the massive scale of this industrial landscape was totally daunting for even accomplished painters with no time limit and no cameras watching.  However it was interesting that the two men - with previous careers as scientists before they took up art - were both happy painting the industrial buildings. Maybe they felt more on "home turf"?

I'd suggest to the programme makers that if they want to avoid disappointing international audiences in future, they find a way to make the programme:
  • cover every state in Canada
  • embrace more landscapes of the natural variety
  • find a more effective way of telling the story of the history of Canada via landscape painting

What surprised me

I came across this quote in an article discussing the Canadian emphasis on wilderness paintings - which raises important issues not tackled by this programme at all.
Recently, Jackson and the Group of Seven have been criticized for painting Canada as a sublime ‘terra nullius’ (a land belonging to no one), “a pristine, edenic expanse” (Bordo, 1997, p. 25)—notions that played a vital part in molding the now ubiquitous idea of a Canadian “wild” (see Jasen, 1995; Bordo, 1997; Jessup, 1998 & 2002). By emptying Canada of (Indigenous) people, this wilderness ideal justified colonial expansion—after all, an unpeopled land cannot object to imperial domination; a wild land must be tamed. Structuring an imagined divide between nature and culture, primitive and civilized, north and south, a colonial wilderness ideology contributed to the dispossession of Indigenous people from all corners of the territory we now call Canada (see Jessup, 1998; O’Brian and White (eds.), 2007.) 
Picturing uranium, producing art: A.Y. Jackson’s Port Radium collection | Active History
Pause for thought.....

Heat Winners

Two artists are chosen from each episode to progress to the Final. 
In addition one wildcard winner is chosen - and then one of the wildcard winners (from the Heats) goes to the Final.

Wildcard Winner

The Wildcard Winner was Nelson Cheng - with a quite remarkable painting. Mark Mayer was practically salivating over it - and indeed I thought he was a very worthy winner.

I knew the painting reminded me of something - but could not remember what. I found a hint during my research for this review. I think he is echoing early A Y Jackson war paintings in both style and odd use of colours. 

Nelson Cheng with his wildcard painting

Nelson Cheng is a Canadian artist based in Toronto. He holds a Bachelor of Honors from York University/Sheridan Institute and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Toronto. He gave up his career in architecture to become a professional painter.

Pod Artists

The two pod artists selected to go to the Final are Elzbieta Krawecka and Mackenzie Brown.

Painting by Elzbieta Krawecka

Painting by Mackenzie Brown

I was happy with this. 
  • Elzbieta was for me a shoe in as soon as I saw her submission.  Her painting of skies is spectacular. 
  • I thought Mackenzie's artwork merited inclusion for the simple fact it was innovative, different from the others and had a "look at me" quality to her abstracted work.
I'd recommend watching twice to see - once you know who won - how the edit is constructed so that winners always get a decent amount of time to talk. Which rather highlights how important talking to camera is when making a television programme....

For he record I made a note of comments on all the artists and will highlight a few here. I agreed with virtually everything the Judges said.
  • Kylee - excluded the industrial and went with the trees on the far side of the water. Her landscape was fine - her water was not. 
"She kind of phoned the water in"
  • Nadine - used a colour palette she liked and colours straight from the tube - and consequently her painting did not speak of the place. Often a problem for artists who are wedded to a palette of colours they like working with
  • Jeff - produced a faithful representation and knew what he was doing (and I agree!) - however he didn't stop to think at the beginning about the crop he used and the top line was wrong in compositional terms (too tight)
  • Mackenzie - completely unexpected; not interested in verisimilitude; turned the silos on their side - but somehow it works
  • Ron - good drawing, nailed the tower and kept it abstract but the colour palette was muted and marked parallel strokes were not parallel. For me, his painting had not progressed enough - it came across more as a work in progress. One wonder what might have happened if he'd practiced painting to 4 hour limits.
  • Elzbieta - incorporated all the weather experienced during the day. Adept at using multidirectional brush strokes effectively - and kept her water flat and brushstrokes in one direction
Tomorrow I'll write the review of the Final.

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