Monday, September 26, 2022

Review: Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2022

It's always struck me that Annual OPEN Exhibition of the Royal Society of Marine Artists at the Mall Galleries offers more opportunities for entries from a wider range of artists than some might think.

It was therefore very pleasing to see both new names of exhibiting artists and some innovation at this year's exhibition (see end for details of where and when to see it). Interestingly I think the Mall Galleries is going to need to add some new categories into its 'buy art' section of the website to reflect this (e.g. Textile Art!)

The exhibition this year includes artwork by six new Associate Members.

This year I'm writing my review of the exhibition for those who might think about entering it next year. Thus there's rather more detailed commentary on subject and media than usual.

RSMA Annual Exhibition 2022: View of the Mall Wall in the West Gallery

General observations about the exhibition are:
  • it appears to be attracting a good number of visitors - based on the numbers I saw on Friday morning (i.e. not the PV and the day after it opened to the public)
  • it includes some excellent artwork by artists selected via the open entry - including three large artworks near the stairs
Three large and impactful artworks by open artists
  • the range of media included is more diverse than before - some would say (i.e. me) TOO diverse (see below under fine art prints)
  • I also think I saw more innovative artwork than I've seen in previous exhibitions. Generally it seems to be less about boats and more about other marine topics.
  • There appear to be rather fewer paintings of more traditional/historical ships than I've seen in the past. I know there's a big (male) fan base for these paintings but they've never much appealed much to me. 
  • There's still a tendency to include an awful lot of grey - whether that's in the artwork or on the frame. I do sometimes wonder about the obsession with grey - which I don't see in great marine painting by well known marine artists in art history. It's almost as if some marine artists are afraid to look and/or use colour. (PS The interior decorating obsession with grey is over!) 
    • What happens when there is too much grey is our eyes are drawn to the colour
End wall, West Gallery
    • this is why colourful paintings are always in line with the entrance to the North Gallery - we want to walk towards the colour
Colour draws the eye and makes us walk forward
    • I much appreciated the nuances of colour in this painting (below) of winter light at a coastal location by Keith Richens - which can then cope with a grey frame because of the colour. (But grey within grey is too much!)
Winter Light by Keith Richens RSMA

There appears to be more artwork by female artists than ever before
- in what has been a genre which has been very dominated by men for a long time. I also counted the RSMA membership
    • 51 Members of which 7 are women (14%)
    • 13 Associate Members of which 2 are women (15%)
    • 4 Life Members of which 2 are women (50%)
    • It's not very encouraging to women is it? So well done to all that applied through the open entry and succeeded in getting their artwork selected.
Sadly, this exhibition is also beginning to show evidence of a challenge faced by very many art societies with an ageing membership. 
  • I noted rather more artworks by older members of the RSMA which lack the quality and impact that these artists have achieved in the past (giben I've been coming to the exhibition for many years - see below). 
  • I watched exhibitions by one FBA art society go downhill very fast when it continued to hang ALL entries by elderly member artists. 
  • There are various options for addressing this issue which makes such decisions more amenable to those involved.
    • One FBA art society addressed this issue by elevating elderly members to Honorary Retired status - thus allowing them to retire from submissions.
    • Another has a Senior Member status which means no subscription to pay - but only one artwork is hung as of right. Others can be submitted but must be subject to selection i.e. they have to make the grade.
    • whatever route is taken, if exhibitions are to remain high quality events then selection of artwork by members needs to be considered as an option. The overall aim must always be to have most of the artwork by members looking better than artwork by artists submitting via the open entry.

About marine art

RSMA Annual Exhibition 2022: View of the East Gallery
This exhibition looks to show diverse subjects. techniques and media are all represented to best advantage. (from the introduction on the wall in the East Gallery - which I didn't finish reading until today!)

Subject Matter

This is an open art exhibition which invites artwork about anything that involves tidal waters of the world. In other this is not about water per se - it MUST be associated with the coast and places where tides have an impact
Subject matter must be essentially marine in nature, relating in some way to tidal waters of the world; topographical, historical, still life, and figure painting are all welcomed. Works relating to non-tidal rivers, inland lakes and waterways etc are not permissible.
The marine art in this exhibition covers a wide scope for painters of every persuasion. 

Tidal Craft and Shipping

It has to be said however that painting vessels - of every shape and size - should be left to those who know something about boats. I say this having been round the exhibition several years ago with somebody who did - and who identified problems with rather a lot of paintings painted by people who don't 'know boats'.

That said marine art can and does include the following.
  • commercial fishing boats
  • commercial ships
  • traditional warships
  • modern warships
  • sailing boats and yachts
  • leisure craft and motor boats
  • rowing boats
Some of the boats in the exhibition

More boats in the North Gallery

Seascapes - with or without boats 

Probably the most popular subject matter in the exhibition. It helps if your seascape is associated with places popular with those who like all things marine.

For me, i like artwork which persuades me the place is real - which is not the same as being hyper-realistic - i.e. you get a strong sense of place and know that the artist has sketched or painted the scene in real life.

RSMA Annual Exhibition 2022: View of the North Wall in the East Gallery

Figurative art involving people associated with the coast 

LOTS of paintings of small people (and others) on beaches and messing about with boats. The artist who is outstanding at this is Raymond Leech who is very, very good at painting very persuasive people and small children without being over fussy or detailed. 

Paintings of figures at the beach
- by Raymond Leech, Benjamin Mowll and Nicholas St John Rosse

Other people who figure in paintings are fishermen and those sailing yachts.

Sculpture of marine phenomena 

Fish and birds are popular but this year we have seen waves as well. Plus rather a lot of pretty indeterminate objects which don't speak 'marine' to me on first sight.

Ceramic Sculptures:
Braking Wave, Rippling Wave and Sea Shell by Valerie Kaufmann

Still life paintings

There's a fair few still life paintings - with fish, seafood, shells and molluscs featuring prominently.

Paraphernalia associated with boats and boatyards and fishing are also popular.

Still life shellfish and seafood

Art Media

There are a few constraints on eligible media for artwork in this exhibition - which includes
Oil, acrylic, watercolour, original prints of any media, mixed media, drawings, pastels, or sculpture. Fine art prints must be from a limited edition not exceeding fifty.
In terms of media I observed the following.

Painting using wet media is dominant.

Oils and watercolour are very popular. I think this might reflect the people who buy marine art who possible favour more traditional art media and more traditional approaches to figurative art. I saw very few artworks in acrylic. This usually means that:
  • few are entered 
  • few sell
  • few get selected - with this partly reflecting what is know about the collectors like and buy. Bear in mind selectors are experienced sellers of art as well as creators!

Not a lot of drawings / dry media

I've never seen a lot of drawings at this exhibition. Maybe this reflects what selectors like? Or maybe it reflects what gets entered? I'd certainly like to see more drawings and works in dry medua

I rather liked this particular drawing - using thread

A Mackerel Muddle by Emily Tull
Drawing with Thread (Hand Embroidery)

I discovered a new art society after exploring her website - founded after a conversation about the inclusion of (or lack of) stitched/embroidered artworks in the art world. 

Fine Art Prints

There are very few fine art prints in this exhibition - which I find very odd. If you go to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, fine art prints generate huge sales - in part, because it is more affordable art and often because if can be smaller than some paintings - and easier to find space for. Hence it's a much easier impulse buy - which in turn enhances sales at an exhibition (as indeed happens at the Summer Exhibition).

Fortunately John Scott Martin, the President of the RSMA is a painter - printmaker and, as he observed in the catalogue, possibly the only fine art printmaker in the RSMA.

Mixed Media Linocuts by John Scott Martin PRSMA

I am however VERY surprised to see Giclee Prints included in an exhibition like this. Giclee prints are never ever counted as Original Fine Art Prints in any other reputable FBA exhibition - and I'm very surprised to see one included in this exhibition. I'm left wondering whether its price is what tempted the selectors......

Hawke's Action, The Battle of Quiberon Bay by James Mauger
Giclee Print (edition of 3) £3,000

James Mauger appears to be a 3D Artist - specialising in Shading, Lighting, Rendering & Compositing. So is it a giclee (reproduction of a painting) or has it been created digitally?

Prints created using digital media are another matter (i.e. they're never a reproduction of an original work in other media.) I spotted a digital print in the East Gallery. I only spotted it was digital when looking at it closely and wondering how it had been produced.

All I ask for is precision in the identification of media - and the exclusion of all reproduction prints as these are not original art.

Home in Sight by Jeff Kindleysides
(Digital Print; edition of 40)

Hopefully, next year I'll see more ORIGINAL fine art printmaking included in the exhibition in future - and no giclee reproductions!

Perhaps the RSMA need to review whether 
  • the invitation to submit "original prints of any media" needs refining? and/or 
  • a clear statement made that reproductions of original paintings in other media are never acceptable.


The culture varied from ceramics to wire birds and fish and a boat which looks as if it's made out of very old Hawthorne twigs which is actually bronze in reality. Before I discovered this fact I found myself walking very carefully around it not wanting to damage it in any way!

Interestingly it was created by a female sculptor called Robyn Neild. So much for the notion that it's only boys who like boats!
Neild models directly uses natural materials such as bramble, hawthorn,
or tree roots. These botanicals are destroyed in the casting process, the bronze replacing them, retaining their texture and angles, supplanting the ephemeral with the permanent.
Hawthorne Vessel by Robin Neild
Bronze £11,000

Unconventional Media

What was very pleasing to see at the exhibition this year is media which is less evident in other exhibitions in the past - or other exhibitions at the Mall Galleries

The North Gallery has a couple of artworks involving kiln-fused glass.

Kiln-fused glass scenes of the seaside by Bren Keyte
- both priced under £500 / both sold

I also spotted several examples of textile art created through stitching and/or embroidery.  Plus I'm pretty sure some people will not have realised some of these were textile art.

Wind in your Sails by Kate Rowe
Fabric Collage

Finally some of the mixed media pieces by Richard Dack RMSA seemed to involve the skeletons of fish!

About pricing

In 2021 I published a post Pricing a marine artwork & RSMA Annual Exhibition Metrics and I'm thinking of doing an update next week - in part to see if the recession is beginning to bite - as this has traditionally been one of the better selling exhibitions, generating good sales.

In part this is because people who like (and own) boats tend to have a bit of spare cash to indulge their interest in paintings about marine life of every sort. 

About the Exhibition

The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2022 presents works inspired by the sea and marine environment, including harbours and shorelines, traditional craft and contemporary shipping, creeks, beaches, wildlife.

How to see the exhibition

The RSMA 77th Exhibition continues
  • at the Mall Galleries in London
  • until Saturday 1st October 2022. Hours are 10am to 5pm.
You can also 
How to be in next year's exhibition....

If you're inspired to try and enter this open exhibition next year, you might want to read my post earlier this year about the Call for Entries: Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2022

Archive of posts about past annual exhibitions

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