Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Review: Episode 4 Landscape Artist of the Year 2022 - Eden Project Gardens

The fourth episode of Landscape Artist of the Year broadcast in early 2022 was filmed last summer in the area of terraced gardens at the Eden Project.

This episode is a difficult one for me. 

I didn't really like any of the heat paintings, although did like some of the paintings by the wildcards. You may be surprised when I tell you which was the best painting on the day.

I didn't understand the rationale for the shortlisted artists which seemed to me to go against the criteria operating in other episodes.

The critical issue for me is one which goes back to "first principles". This is a competition about LANDSCAPE artist of the year! 

  • It's not about angst or anxiety or abstraction or chairs or mark-making - it's about landscapes
  • AND each episode is about a very specific PLACE - and I expect that all or most of the pod paintings should give me a real "sense of place" - while also demonstrating diversity in what media people use, how they approach making artwork and how they make marks. 

There's also far too much talk from the Judges about aspects which have little to do with landscapes and far too little talk about what makes a good landscape.

There I've said it. So now I'll get on with the review - although, to be honest, I could stop right now and I'd have said everything I want to say about this episode.

Episode 4: Eden Project - Terraced Gardens 

Location - The location for the fourth episode was the terraced gardens at the Eden Project. 

  • These are deeply terraced - with planting on horizontal layers across the terraces.
  • There was so much green that the view was referred to as "50 Shades of Green" at one point in the programme.
The pods were set up with biomes behind the bods.



It sometimes seems as if the production team don't think enough about what the weather / light in different seasons/months/hours of a day will do to a "view" i.e. they don't think about what it will look like if the light is very grey and flat - with no sunshine - as happened in this episode for most of the day. Or maybe they don't get enough good advice from the people who know the place extremely well. (i.e. they don't ask for the advice or they do ask but the advice is not good enough!)

The view from the pods

The view began to get sun in the afternoon at which point the sky made a more interesting counterpoint to the vegetation and lit it so that the various terraces were rather more obvious in terms of both colour and tone. 

Prior to that much of it was a huge wall of green due to the flat light in the morning which only changed when it began to get sun in afternoon.


The artists lined up for the shortlisting announcement
It's worth bearing in mind that not all the artists in the pods are people who applied to participate. 

I think it's more likely that this applies to those who have a unique and/or distinctive way of creating art.
During the pandemic, like many others I spent many hours in isolation and this gave me time to return to my artist roots. I explored collage combined with paint and pen wash, mixed media, plus embellishment with crystals. I have been showing my work on art gallery websites and now combine this with my couture business. Early last summer I was contacted to appear on the TV program “Landscape Artist of the Year” and was both flattered and delighted to take on this challenge. (one of the artists - see if you can guess which one)

Professional Artists

  • Elizabeth Bessant (Saatchi, Instagram) - an artist and fashion designer who produces collaged images uising paper extracted from Womans' Weekly magazine articles. poor quality paper tears easily - she sees the world differently. (She's also an artist who has had an impressive career to date both as an artist and as a bridal and couture designer)
  • Thomas Macgregor (Instagram- a painter and printmaker living and working in East London
  • Sung Lin Hon (Instagram) - Malaysian figurative painter. Graduated from Leeds University with a degree in Fine Arts in 2021. She has an interesting Instagram story about her experience. She uses a brown underpainting covered by a grey wash. She painted a lone tree in oils for her submission. She finds colour a distraction. 
  • Stephanie Trow (Facebook | Instagram) - a British artist who studied Visual Arts at Salford University, graduating in 2004. She now lives and works in Manchester, UK. She applies and removes layers of oil paint destroying and creating at same time.
  • Susan Isaac  - a professional artist from Nottinghamshire. She "works mostly in oils in a loose figurative style which occasionally dissolves into the abstract elements of her compositions."
  • Hugh Dunfood Wood (Facebook | InstagramTwitter) Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University; Artist in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at London's Globe Theatre, then at the Museum of Bermuda Art. Lives in Dorset but has lived in Brazil and Tahiti and he likes vibrant colour. Very fast worker in acrylic and pastels but not keen on green. I like the page devoted to landscapes on his website

The artists - posed for their photoshoot - after they had finished painting

Amateur Artists

Wildcard Artists

It seemed to me that the wildcard artists were enjoying themselves this episode. They'd certainly come packed for every eventuality - including all sorts of weather! They also demonstrated that they were very innovative in their use of both tools and technique. 

In a lot of ways I'd have liked to have seen more of this episode given over to the wildcard artists.

The wildcard artists - in the gardens near the biomes
- with complete flexibility as to which way they faced and what they painted 


The Submissions Wall - note the change in size of paintings!

What was interesting about the submissions is that, in contrast to other episode, there were LOTS of big pictures.

I began to wonder if the production team had set up this episode as the contest of the big picture painters - to get the best big picture painter.

The submissions included the following commentary from the Judges
  • a railway station platform with dominant diagonals and strong contrast
  • a very vivacious and colourful palette for a painting of a tunnel of trees through a wood 
  • collaged images from a magazine - created by somebody with a very good eye for composition
  • a big lorry with man standing on it - which combined abstract shapes with an interesting use of light
  • very subtle monochromatic painting of tree in a portrait format 
  • a complex painting of rubbed out colours
  • a landscape which looked as if it was german expressionist painting
It was a strong wall of very diverse paintings. It generated very high hopes among the Judges

What it reminded me of most was paintings done by artists who rarely left their studios.

Themes and Learning Points

The "green wall is pure landscape"

Said one of the Judges near the beginning (I forget who and forgot to make a note at the time). It wasn't quite a wall of green given the huge swathe of daisies in the foreground!

My guess is that maybe the person who chose this view as the landscape had been hoping for sunshine - and hadn't realised a flat light and cloudy sky would render a very different image. 

If the artists found no definition without it the view that, at least in part, is down to who chose the view.

A wall of green - different ways of treating / painting green

I was absolutely amazed that there wasn't a single painting where the artist focused on actually creating as many shades of green as were evident in the landscape.

It was almost as if they didn't know how to paint mix or green. Possibly because they don't paint many landscapes and/or even fewer plein air!

Instead what we got were:
  • any number of colours and shades which were in no way accurate e.g. the artist's chosen/preferred palette dominated and the painting was nothing to do with the place and everything to do with the artist
  • no attempt to modulate the very many different shades of greens which were evident
  • few attempts to zone the colours so as to make the terracing more obvious
  • some people avoiding the use of green period.
It's NOT good landscape painting when one can make the observations made above.

Literal versus Selective

There are two different ways of painting landscapes when working plein air
  • EITHER painting what's there in front of you - with some careful editing for detail and certain objects
  • OR selecting items within the landscape and choosing where you want them to be - so judicious moving them around
This heat added a third which involved
  • Painting chairs - which is "still life" in my book!

JUST the way the artist lays paint down / makes marks?

There comes a point when you want to prod any one of the Judges - but particularly Tai - for rhapsodies over the mar-making and how the artist lays down the paint with the query
"Aside from that, what did you think of the landscape / composition / focus / intent etc?"
I think the judges need to be aware that quite a few of us have noticed this type of comment - and one has cartooned it - maybe with the hope it might turn into a meme? Some may balk at sharing it (I did) even though they would dearly love to!

Much as I LOVE those people who make interesting marks (ie there's a reason this blog is called 'Making A Mark!) I also expect people who paint in this composition to come up with good compositions, colour palettes, tonal patterns etc etc

Mind you, I also expect the production team to give them an interesting view - and maybe therein lies the issue for this episode.....

A Sense of Place

The artists had their backs to the biomes

One of my tests of a good landscape is whether you can hang a landscape on a wall - and, if you knew the place, would you be able to recognise it as "of the place"? For me it's an absolute given. Otherwise one may as well stay at home in a studio and make it all up.

For me, one of the problems of this competition is that there are no clear and published criteria about how to judge landscape paintings. It's also very evident to me that the criteria used are inconsistent from episode to episode and from series to series. Also that too much weight is given to much-loved predalictions of individual judges.

For me, far too few of the pod paintings provided that sense of place. It's almost as if some of the artists forgot that this was a LANDSCAPE competition and not a still life one.

Look again at the paintings produced and you'll see what I mean.

Maybe it's because not enough of them were 'proper' landscape artists. One can only speculate....

However, the bottom line for me, was that this was a really disappointing episode with far too few 'proper' landscape artists and/or plein air painters. 

I also thought that the programme makers missed out on the essence of the Eden Project. It would have been so much better with 
  • one inside the biomes - looking at the vegetation and 
  • one from outside the biomes - but from a perspective which mixed the biomes with lots of vegetation so the artists had a better chance to be selective about they composed their paintings.

Strong Submissions and Weak Heat Paintings

For me this heat demonstrated the difficulty of assuming those who can produce strong submissions can also produce strong heat paintings.

I think this heat maybe included a lot of studio artists who rarely if ever worked plein air with an easel / table. (That's not to say all were - but rather that most were).

There again, maybe they were chosen for this episode because there was a suspicion they were all studio artists?

Decision Time

The judging with "the view" for the artists behind....

This part looks at:
  • the wildcard winner
  • shortlisted artists - and their paintings
  • the heat winner

Wildcard Winner

One of the things which distinguished the wildcard artists over the pod artists in this episode was that there were far more paintings which gave a real sense of place amongst the wildcard efforts than there were in the pods.

Kirsten Ellswood was the Wildcard Winner

Kirsten Elswood (Instagram) from Penzance in Cornwall was the Wildcard Winner.

Speaking personally, I'd have made her the winner over and above the pod artists. The reason being that 
  • she produced a landscape painting which was totally grounded in conveying a sense of place 
  • from the nature of the composition through to the colour palette, the tonal changes and the mark-making. 
  • she varied her greens and made distinctions between foreground, middle ground and background. It reads well - despite the complexity of the subject matter.
  • All supported a view of the Eden Project Gardens - and you could have planted that painting down in Leicester Square and asked people what they thought of it - and a lot would know it was a painting of the Eden Project.
Of the paintings I saw being painted, this - for me - was the best painting by ANY artist on the day!

Eden Project Gardens by Kirsten Ellswood

The Shortlist

the announcement of the shortlist

I had absolutely no idea who would be shortlisted. I knew it was almost certainly going to be a shortlist that I didn't agree with

The shortlisted artists were (left to right below)
  • Thomas Mcgregor
  • Stephanie Trow
  • Susan Isaac
The Judges commented that they stayed true to their palettes and the principles. What this has to do with landscape painting is beyond me. It's almost as if they could have been painting anything and the same comment could have been made.

I think I'd have picked Stephanie for my shortlist - but IMO I don't think she had a good day. It was her submission which gave me hope.

I liked Elizabeth's effort and I'd have been inclined to shortlist her just for the compelling nature of her picture-making and the fact that the landscape was recognisable notwithstanding the frozen peas and cardigans from woman's weekly!

Below is MY COMMENTARY on the paintings by the shortlisted artists. I'm not going to refer you to the Judges comments this week - because a kind way of putting it is they were having an "off" week. Another way of putting it is they were talking twaddle and forgetting what the purpose of the competition is!

Thomas McGregor

submission and heat painting by Thomas MacGregor

I always say that one of the things which is distinctive about those shortlisted is that the submission and heat painting look as if they go together.

Also that there are clear crossovers between submission and heat painting.

I cannot find either of these features in this artist's paintings.

Stephanie Trow

submission (which I liked a lot) and heat painting by Stephanie Trow

These paintings look as if they were done by the same artist

If I were to make a criticism, it's that 
  • the palette of greens are much more to do with what the palette that this artist likes and less to do with reality
  • I'm not sure I'd be able to identify this painting as being anything to do with the Eden Project - or Cornwall - or the UK - because of the colours....
  • to me the terraces simply do not read well
Bottom line a good artist not fulfilling her potential.

Susan Isaacs

submission and heat painting by Susan Isaacs

It's a style of painting which simply does not appeal to me

A painting of a chair does not make it a landscape painting.


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Heat Winner (Episode 4)

Shortlisted artists - Thomas, Stephanie and Susan

The winner of this episode was Thomas McGregor

Enough said.

The Final Heat of Series 7

The fifth and FINAL heat of the 2022 series was held at Compton Verney - and this time the view will be of the house. Let's hope the place where they locate the artists is rather better than the one for the 'house' painting in the last series!

That makes FIVE episodes and not one natural landscape in any of them! 

It seems to me this is a very metropolitan view of landscape painting! There are "facilities" in the National Parks and other parts of the less manicured / changed landscapes in the UK!

My blog posts for this series of LAOTY 2022

My reviews of the first three episodes in the current series are below
This post is about the Call for Entries for those wanting to submit an application to paint in the heats to be held this summer.

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