Monday, March 07, 2022

Review: Elisha Enfield LAOTY 2022 - The Winner's Commission

This is a review of the eighth and final programme - The Winning Commission - in the 2022 series of programmes about Series 7 of Landscape Artist of the Year broadcast by Sky Arts. It comments on the Commission in terms of:
  • the subject;
  • the painting;
  • the programme; and 
  • the client.
Winners Film: The victor of the 2022 competition expresses their artistic prowess through capturing a spectacular location in paint. (S7, ep 8)
The Winning Commission
Episode of 8 of Series 7 of Landscape Artist of the Year

The Commission - the subject

The £10,000 Commission from Manchester Art Gallery  is intended to celebrate the industrial heritage of the North West.

2022 is the 20th anniversary of the completion of the work done to make the Rochdale Canal navigable again. It was the first of three transpennine canals to be opened in the 19th century. The canal is 32 miles long and has 91 locks between the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge and the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield Junction in Manchester.

The challenge was both to capture something of both the canal - which crosses the height of the Pennines between Yorkshire to Manchester and the associated industrial buildings associated with the Canal.

The Commission - the painting

Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year Commission of the Rochdale Canal

Elisha Enfield created her painting of the Rochdale Canal  last summer in Oil on a Wood Panel measuring 50 x 70 cm - which is big for her.

The Unveiling

The commission painting on the Easel at the unveiling ceremony
Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year Commission of the Rochdale Canal
by Elisha Enfield for Manchester Art Gallery
Oil on Wood Panel, 50 x 70 cm

I personally think it will look very good alongside the paintings of Manchester by LS Lowry and the misty atmospheric paintings by Adolphe Valette.

Having seen the Gallery in the programme, I just could not imagine Thomas Macgregor 's preferred palette of orange red/green paintings hanging on the wall - although his submission promised otherwise. By the same token, I rated Afsheen Nasir - but her Final commission was disappointing and her commission painting might have looked underwhelming in this context

Which rather goes to UNDERLINE the importance of two paintings in this overall process:
  • the submission painting - which effectively sets the scene and allows the Judges to speculate on whether or not you might be a good fit with the the Client, the prize money and the Commission
  • the Final Commission painting - where you need to really knock the Judges socks off - because you are in effect auditioning properly for the Final Commission.
In other words, we spend 5 or 6 weeks watching heats where 8 artists and wildcards participate in each heat - BUT.... 
  • the Judges are on the lookout from the point at which they first see the submission paintings for an artist who might fit the bill for the brief!
  • most of the painting which decides the result and who gets the commission takes place off camera.
Make no mistake - it's what I'd be doing in their shoes. Never ever annoy a Client - especially one who has agreed to provide a very handsome sum of money for a Commission!

The expertise in commissions is all about matching the brief with the right artist.

It also made me realise that we could maybe have all guessed who was NOT the winner from the minute the locations for the commissions for the Final were revealed. We've known from the very first programme that the commission was going to be about something to do with industrial heritage and the Rochdale Canal. While all had water and buildings, only Elisha and Afsheen got a Canal and the types of industrial buildings associated in the past with the movement of goods by water. (i.e. Paddington Basin: Grand Union Canal and Regent Canal; Kings Cross development: Regents Canal)

Which makes me think the Winner of Landscape Artist of the Year might just be a little bit more pre-ordained than it appears. All that talk of it being a close run thing now seems like complete guff!

If a painting is going to hang alongside acknowledged Masters then there has to be some empathy for the subject going on. I think this one has empathy - plus it brings a completely different perspective - reminding viewers of how much the industrial heritage was associated with small towns and villages and not the urban sprawl of Manchester. 

I think it was a good choice because it captured both the landscape, the Pennines, the weather, the water, the small scale of much of the industrial buildings - and an interesting event in the locale. (see below for the explanation of the fire!). This in turn provided a complete contrast to the predominantly urban cityscapes of Lowry and Valette.

The Commission - the programme

The programme

The programme ran to its normal formula i.e.
  • recap of the Final and winning Landscape Artist of the Year
  • profile of the artist - with family and at home (maybe a little too much of this - I'd have preferred to see more time with the artist discussing what they'd chosen to do and WHY!)
  • visit to the client - in this case Manchester Art Gallery - and finding out where the artwork will hang - with paintings by LS Lowry and Adolphe Valette
Gallery 16 at Manchester Art Gallery
- which displays the paintings of LS Lowry and Adolph Valette
- in future will include the painting by Elisha Enfield too

  • fieldwork and sketching
  • back in the studio - creating the artwork. Nowhere near enough content for this stage - as always!
  • back to the client - Manchester Art Gallery - for the unveiling with the Judges etc present to make intelligent comments both before - otherwise known as speculation - and afterwards - known as justification.
There is none of the dialogue which can be encountered in commission situations in real life. Or if there is it's certainly not televised!

I enjoyed 
  • learning more about Elisha 
  • seeing where she works. She also wins the prize for effective foldaway bits for how to have a studio in your spare bedroom!
  • learning more about the Commission and where the painting was to be hung AND the painter Adolphe Valette and his paintings of Manchester.
  • watching her travels and the places she visited along the Rochdale Canal - and her approach to capturing views in sketches. That was genuinely interesting. I'd also been intrigued as to how big the commission painting might be given Elisha obviously had a preference for painting on quite small formats.
Did anybody else think the same as me? That a painter who comes along and produces misty paintings with a sense of the mysterious is going to produce a painting which melds well with the paintings of Lowry and Vallette?

The fire

To me it's a great puzzle as to why the event which inspired the painting didn't get a mention in the programme. Presumably nobody asked - and everybody just assumed that she's included one of her fires because she likes painting fires!

There is a discussion about another mysterious fire in a big building next to the Canal - and I'm thinking the Judges were aware of this when they selected Elisha for the Final.

Instead of which - if you go to Elisha's Instagram account you can find the answer (on iPhone and iPad only - but not for some reason on iMac!! I never knew you got different versions depending on the device used!)

In response to a question from junojunipero - who asked about the role of the fire, Elisha replied as follows

"...thank for you for asking. The fire was inspired by archive photos of the Summit Tunnel fire of 1984, which occurred in that exact spot. The underground fire burst through the tunnel vents lining the hillside, when 1m litres of petrol being transported by train caught fire. The story of the crew and local people is amazing. For me it is a link to the Industrial Revolution and its legacy in the ever changing life of the canal and its community."
This is a reference to the Summit Tunnel Fire of 1984 on on the railway line between Littleborough and Todmorden on the Greater Manchester/West Yorkshire border, England.

The only odd thing about this is it relates to a completely different mode of transport - given canal accidents tend to be of a different nature.

The Commission - the Client

I'm bemused by the fact that neither the Manchester Art Gallery website + nor the Instagram account make no mention of:

  • its collaboration with Sky Arts and Landscape Artist of the Year - while the programme was running and since
  • the new painting
  • Elisha Enfield 
Only the Twitter account acquitted itself - with two decent posts - one about where the painting was going to hang

Normally, lots of people visit a location to see the artwork. It's not going to happen in this instance because there's zero marketing.

For the record, the painting should be hanging in Gallery 16 which displays the collection of paintings of Manchester by Adolph Vallette & LS Lowry

2022: SERIES 7

All the previous reviews in Series 7 include themes for reference by future participants - or plein air painters working to a time frame - in terms of problems experienced and challenges overcome.

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