Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review (Part 2): FINAL of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020)

In my last post - Review (Part 1): FINAL of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020) - I introduced the finalists and showed you their submission paintings - because of the absence of any commission paintings in the Canadian version of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020).

In this second part of my review, I'm going to comment on:

  • what happened during the Final
  • the individual artworks produced during the Final
  • the winning artwork
The line-up for the final of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada (2020)

What happened during the Final

The Judges

The Judges for deciding which artists wins this competition and receives the associated prizes ($10,000 cash prize - plus the opportunity to have their artwork on view at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, home to the art of Canada) were expanded by one - to include Ian Dejardin, who is an art historian and the Chief Executive of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Ontario.

The weather 

The weather was typically of the kind experienced by plein air painters at certain latitudes i.e. everything on one day. They had sun, then a thunderstorm and lots of rain followed by lots of wind. Truly a test for the artists in terms of knowing how their media would respond and in terms of dealing with lots of changes in light - over and above that associated with the movement of the sun.
For me it's the type of weather which sorts out experienced plein air painters from the rest.
The thing was almost all the painters were studio painters - who work from sketches and photos!

The Paintings in the Final

I always think there's an element of "pot luck" about the Final in terms of:
  • the weather
  • how you're feeling on the day
  • the view from your pod
any one of which could either undermine you or enable you to do your best.

Consequently, comments are "relative" i.e to that experience by that artist on that day in that location. They can't be extrapolated to other contexts.

I'm going to order the artists in terms of the order they were in the pods - from left to right (or top to bottom of the slope) - see image at the top of the post

The Final Paintings

Below each image is the same size - but the paintings were not. This image gives you a much better sense of who painted big and who did not.

The Final Paintings lined up in the same order as the pods

Some preliminary observations

  • big tends to be better than small in a Final BUT the painting has to be spot on!
  • paintings which have a "look at me" quality are more likely to be noticed
  • quiet artworks can be overlooked
  • quality is important
  • originality is important
In truth it's much the same as being selected for an art competition.
Interestingly Mark Mayer said
I don't judge a painting until it's installed 

Denise Antaya

Denise was not happy with her painting. It was not great but not awful in her opinion. Not one of her best.

Judges comments

They commented on how she had worked hard on the distance - but that the foreground was out of focus

My thoughts

  • I think Denise is a very good judge of her own paintings. 
  • She has an undoubted talent for producing small, quiet paintings which don't shout at you - but the quality draws you in - IF she gets the composition and content right. 
  • Plus I suspect the amount of time she has to paint them counts for a lot.
  • This one does not have enough tonal contrast - it's too much in the middle of the tonal range (i.e. not enough lights and darks) plus the colouration is off. To me it looks like a painting which is about halfway there....
I think she's an artist who could have done well if there had been a commission as well.

Final Painting by Denise Antaya

Andrew Cheddie Sookrah

Judges comments

They commented on 
  • Andrew being an astounding colourist - which veered into "so many colours" and not in a positive way IMO.
  • the introduction of an enormous dead deer lying on the ground (see the head in between the trees) - which was invisible to some - but one seen could not be unseen and proved somewhat distracting.
A very telling comment came from Ian Dejardin - which I took to mean he thought it overworked.
"He might have benefited from 3.5 hours less"

My thoughts

  • Andrew is certainly a VERY fast painter and can cover a lot of surface very quickly. He also draws very well with this brush
  • However (on the basis of two paintings - and a view of work on his website) it seems to me that he paints with a colour palette he likes and turns the hue dial to VIBRANT! 
  • As a result his painting did not "look like the place" - and indeed looked like it might be in the middle of an electrical storm. The colours were much too exaggerated for my liking. 
I'd have loved to see what he would have made it if given three more muted colours and told to get on with it!

Final painting by Andrew Cheddie Sookrah

Mackenzie Brown

Judges comments

They commented that 
  • her aim was maybe to translate her spirit of place into a painting
  • the tree seemed very electric - as if struck by lightning
  • the sky was not one seen at all on the day.

My thoughts

  • This was one of the paintings produced in the Final where the artist's aesthetic overtook the image in front of them - and around them. 
  • It was in effect a studio painting - where most of the time was spent looking at the canvas and very little spent observing the landscape. 
Final mixed media artwork By Mackenzie Brown

Elzbieta Krawecka

Judges comments

They said of Elzbieta and her painting
  • she's very proficient in her use of a brush and brush strokes
  • her placement of the trees was good
  • her sky and sense of distance was good
  • but her painting of the trees was not

My thoughts

  • I was disappointed. I think she was too.  I had her down as the obvious winner. I noticed that the camera / edit did not follow her much towards the end of the painting - which for me spoke volumes.
  • Her sky was good, the gradations in light were excellent. her water was good as was the painting of the promontory - but her trees let the painting down.
  • If she'd practiced painting trees in advance, I think she would have won. As it was their treatment was out of kilter with the sophistication in the rest of the painting.
Final painting by Elzbieta Krawecka

Tosh Jeffrey

Judges comments

They said 
  • it looked like a toxic landscape - given he's used toxic colours relative to his environment.
  • One commented that it looked like The Group of 7 meets "hip hop"
  • it reflected his graffiti background (except I'm not sure he is a graffiti artist!)

My thoughts

  • He had a really bad time - starting at a very wet support for two hours waiting for the paint to dry - as the sun disappeared and the thunderstorm and rain started
  • His painting was in effect a lesson in why people who only paint in studios can get caught out very badly when painting plein air
  • In terms of the painting,  it's very much not for me. I don't know quite where to start. I'll take just one issue: I don't like his signature colours - which might be OK in urban contexts but absolutely no attempt was made to reflect the context and the actual colours of the landscape.  This is a painting which hurts my eyes.

Final Painting by Tosh Jeffrey

Deborah Danelley

Judges comments

The Judges 
  • liked the balance of her colours
  • were not a fan of the extreme panoramic format which was incapable of coping with the verticals of the trees where they created their art.
  • One commented that the format was almost like a gimmick

My thoughts

For me, as soon as I saw Deborah was working with her extreme panoramic format, I knew that she was not going to be a contender for the prize.  The wind also caused her problems on the day.

I like what she does - and I think she's very talented - but sometimes the format needs to fit the subject - and what they wanted to see were trees i.e. VERTICAL SHAPES

Final paper collage artwork by Deborah Danelley

Nelson Cheng

Judges comments

They thought:
  • this was a very accomplished painting - demonstrating 
    • good drafting skills i.e. drawing the trees with a brush
    • a compositional strength in terms of the placement of the two trees and use of a vertical format
    • a clever mix of thick and thin painting which adds surface interest to the painting
  • his water lacked interest
  • but they had the sense of the wind whistling through the trees as they had experienced on the day

My thoughts

He was the only person to 
  • paint a convincing tree - that actually looked like the ones in front of him
  • paint the sense of place which one got from looking at the television screen
  • his water is out of kilter with the stormy sky and the development of the trees
  • the fact the trees are painted differently makes them more interesting
However I much preferred his heat painting!

Overall conclusions

I take away a number of things from having written up the final paintings
  • Judges are expecting to see an artwork which says something about the place on the day
  • They are not fans of those who repeat their normal signature styles and appear to make no attempt to 
    • change their approach to reflect a different subject
    • seek out what is original about the place and then convey that as best they can
  • Plein air painters fare best when it comes to coping with "weather" - but even a studio painter can do well if they prepare
  • Most artists painted their idea of the place.  Most did not paint what was in front of them - or ignored important components of the landscape

Decision Time

I knew some artists were out of the running once I'd heard the Judges comments. I think at the end it was between Elzbieta and Nelson.

At the end they said one painting jumped off the canvas - and that was Nelson's. 

I personally think there was a strong element of thinking he was the one who was truest to the Group of Seven in terms of painting what was in front of him - in his own way. I think there's definitely some truth in that!

Nelcon Cheng - with his painting on the AY Jackson Easel
at the McMichael Collection

The painting was displayed on an easel belonging to Canadian art pioneer Tom Thomson and subsequently used by the Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson.

I'm quoting from articles published at the time

“I thought it was a big win just showing up as a wildcard to paint. I felt good about it and now to win, I’m completely speechless. This win is life changing.”
Nelson Cheng
“Nelson’s work consolidated quality drawing and painting skills, a great colour sense and his freedom of expression was lyrical, 
Joanne Tod
“Nelson managed to make me like colours that I don’t like.You’ve got to win some kind of prize for that.”
Mark Meyer


What it's like for the artists who apply to this show

Nelson Cheng has done a huge service to all those thinking of applying to any future shows of Landscape Artist of the Year in Canda

He's written a blog post about his experience at the Heat where he was a wildcard and it's a RECOMMENDED READ for anybody else entering this art competition in future. It covers: 

  • how he was approached
  • what he was told
  • how the process works in terms of locations

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