Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023 - Castle Ward

This week's episode has generated a lot of critical comments - much more than usual.

This week, artists travelled to Northern Ireland for Episode 3 of Landscape Artists of the Year 2023.

The episode covers (as usual):
  • the location and weather
  • the artists' profiles
  • themes arising during the episode
  • who was shortlisted and who won
plus information about
  • the call for entries for the competition this summer
  • my reviews of the episodes so far.

Episode 3: Castle Ward

Location and Weather

the view of the gothic facade of Castle Ward 
- at the top of a very significant sloping lawn

Castle Ward is an 18th-century mansion and estate in County Down, Northern Ireland. It's a National Trust property.

It was used as a filming location for Winterfell in the HBO television series Game of Thrones

However, the house is very odd and reflects both partners in a marriage. The house is divided in two - both inside and outside - so that it represents the differing tastes of 
  • Lord Bangor - the entrance side is a classical Palladian style with columns supporting a triangular pediment,
  • his wife, Lady Ann Bligh - the half to the rear and nearest the sea loch is Georgian Gothic with pointed windows, battlements and finials.
The weather was very cloudy in the morning - with very flat light. In the afternoon, the sun came out and the light improved.

The Artists in the Pods

The artists - after they had finished

Episode 3 pod artists are listed BELOW in the alphabetical order of their surnames.
  • Links to their websites are embedded in their names.
  • Social media platforms are also referenced.
The artists came from England, Ireland, Italy and Scotland.
  • Maryem Arif (Instagram) - an artist who likes working in Indian Ink and Watercolour - from Pinner. 
  • Celina Buckley (Instagram) - a full time practising professional fine artist, author, children’s book illustrator and part-time primary teacher from Co. Cork, Ireland. She creates her artwork using collage. Her collage papers are prepared using oil-based etching inks, an etching press and by mono-printing various textures onto the surfaces. 
  • Nicola Hepworth (Facebook | Instagram) - an artist, an Art Teacher and a History of Art teacher from Walthamstow who lives in London Fields, Hackney. Has a Fine Art MA (Hons) from Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. She is passionate about art history. Her submission is titled 'View of the Graveyard from the Art Room'! She taught KS3, GCSE and A level Art in London Secondary Schools between 1998-2022
  • Chris Macauley (Instagram) - an art teacher and painter - who needs to say a lot more about himself and his art on his website! (It's not often I write this)
  • Leah McEvoy (Instagram) - a pastry chef from Galway
  • Richard Rees (Instagram)  - from London. Has painted and drawn for over 50 years. Trained and practiced as an architect before becoming a professional architectural illustrator in 1984. Now retired he has specialised in roof top vistas all over the world - but drew a ship for his submission! He also happens to be 
  • Stefano Ronchi (Facebook | Instagram) - from Italy, lives in Hackney and can work big. He describes himself as a "punk surrealist painter". He has been influenced by Leonardo, Brueghel, Dali, and Hieronymus Bosch mixed with comic book art. His very large impressive submission was called The Hill (Acrylic on canvas, 120x80 cm 2017)
  • Nicholas Walker (Instagram) - a landscape gardener and self taught painter from Manchester - who paints very fast and did two paintings during the heat. His submission painting of almond blossom was called First Blossom and can be seen being painted plein air on his website

The Wildcards

The 50 Wildcard artists were also able to paint the house but they got the other side of the house to paint - the rather nicer Palladian side. 

The Submissions

from bottom left:
Richard Rees, Celina Buckley, Leah McEvoy, Stefano Ronchi,
Nicola Hepworth, Chris Macauley, Maryen Arif and Nicholas Walker

Themes and Learning Points

Why didn't they turn the pods round?

The pods at the bottom of the lawn in front of the gothic side of the house 
- facing away from the landscape and great view!!!

There is a gorgeous view - behind the pods of the estate leading down to Strangford Lough - a large sea loch in County Down. Why didn't they use it?

I sincerely hope they turned the pods around the following day and in the next heat they're painting that view and not the other side of this very odd house!

I commented at length in the last review about the problem of having structure dominant subject matter - so I won't got on at length this week. Which is not to say I won't return to this topic
A landscape is usually a depiction of natural scenery sometimes, but not always, including buildings and/or people. This could be such an inspiring and educational programme but it is failing at the moment. However I do like seeing the different interpretations of various structures that the artists create but I would like to see something more like venues we visited with good old Watercolour Challenge!

This is a "landscape artist" competition

I'm jumping ahead here - but this is a major issue which got really highlighted in this episode.  See more comments later in this blog post.

A competition to find the landscape artist of the year has got to find an artist who has both: 
  • experience of landscape art and 
  • the calibre to produce the required commission. 
Otherwise you won't attract entries from good landscape artists. Simple as....

For my part, I think the criteria for this art competition needs to be made a lot clearer in terms of:
  • what is a landscape
  • what a landscape artist does
  • what the Judges are looking for
  • what the Judges are not impressed by or don't want to see
  • what helps an artist's chances.
IMO it also needs to apply a lot more rigour to the assessment of the pod artists selected from the overall submissions. I personally don't think they select the best people when only reviewing the submissions!

How small to make the building

I nearly titled this "not another building"! Or even "not another stately home"? 

As if landscape is filled with structures - as opposed to land and trees and sky and clouds! Whoever is finding locations this year really needs a massive reboot as the locations continue to fail to impress.

However, there are ways to cope with a building of this size - and at least four of the artists found a way to give it context and space.

TIP: ALL the shortlisted artists had relatively small buildings in their paintings - as in they also had a lot of the surroundings too. 

You can see what I mean below in the shortlisted artists section.

How to paint windows

TIP: There's a trick to painting windows. It can be summed up simply as "don't paint what you know, paint what you see"

You need to squint at windows - like anything else you are going to portray so you can better see:
  • the big physical shapes
  • the shapes of different tonal values
  • any discernible patterns within and between windows
You also need to look at the gradations in colour and tone very carefully to make sure you don't make the very narrow window bars too "shouty".

Plus never ever forget that windows are transparent and hence it's not uncommon to be able to see part of the interior if viewed from an angle.

If you paint what you know is there, you're detailing aspects which might not be immediately apparent in anything but a dead flat light. Which is the sort of light they started with - and why we had rather a lot of window painting in this episode.
you've got to abstract and take things out. You're not just doing a topographical representation of windows Chris Macauley

The temptation to do too much

When you're painting a very odd structure, there's always a big temptation to tell the story and paint all you can see. However although your painting can end up recording what's in front of you, that doesn't make it a good painting.  

TIP: Structures need to breathe and have some context to look good. 

Artists who I was hopeful might produce a good painting faded away for me when I saw the composition they chose - too much and too close.

Decision Time

The Wildcard Winner

The Wildcard winner was Matthew Timmins-Williams (Instagram) from Liverpool now living on the Isle of Mull - who I can't find anywhere online!

The Wildcard Winning Painting - on what seems to be a plank of wood.

Matthew Timmins Williams with his partner
- and his plank (to give you a sense of size!)

UPDATE: Somebody finally sent me a link to MTW's Instagram account! (I'd been spelling his name wrong - as did Sky Arts). Love the caption - and the effort!

Shortlisted Artists

Judgement Time - artists with their paintings

The shortlisted artists were:
  • Celina Buckley
  • Stefano Ronchi
  • Chris Macauley
I predicted Celina and Chris - but didn't predict Stefano as it was an illustrative imagination piece - not a landscape . - akin to the surrealist art of Bosch and Dali. 

After all if they wanted illustrators the competition would have been called Landscape Illustrator of the Year? 

There again, I'm still pondering on how you do a commission related to the Van der Veldes (who've been dead for centuries) and 17th century shipping and their studio in the Queens House at Greenwich. Unless it's to paint the Queen's House?

Below are the submissions and heat paintings of each the three shortlisted artists lined up next to one another 

NOTE how small all the houses are!

SHORTLISTED: Submissions and heat paintings of the three artists

Celina Buckley - submission and heat painting

It's not often the case that the heat painting is BIGGER than the submission. 

I think Celina will come to regret 
  • not submitting a larger artwork when entering; and 
  • including that extremely odd cloud in her heat artwork. It didn't add to the piece and I think it actually detracted from it. Idea and positioning were both great - just not the quality of the finish which was at odds with the rest of the collage.
However, I was VERY impressed by her collages created from hand-created painted papers. This is a small close-up extract of her final collage. She creates all the handpainted paper and then uses coloured pencils and to highlight details.

This extract demonstrates the quality of the painted papers used for the collage

The Judges very much liked:
  • the mix of charming and organic
  • her minimalism and crispness
  • her intense care over her slow process
but they did find the cloud to be a bit of a distraction.

Stefano Rochi - Submission and Heat Painting

Stefano Ronchi submitted a large painting - which meant that the Judges could see what he was capable of doing if he won the Heat.

TIP: Think of your submission as an example of what a commission might look like. If you;re going to get a commission valued at £10,000, the sponsor does not want a small painting! The Judges need confidence that you can deliver big and to a high quality. You can't deliver to that agenda given the very time-limited agenda.

Personally speaking, I don't think either his submission or his heat painting fit into the boundaries of my idea of what "landscape art" is about.

You can have people in paintings - that doesn't make it a portrait painting. Just because you have some land and structures in a painting does not make it a landscape painting - IF your intention was not to paint the landscape that exists in front of you.

For me, the genre was fantasy and surrealism - and that is emphatically NOT what this art competition is about.

Stefano also wasn't a fan of the house - so when he'd finished painting it, he turned his painting upside down (i.e. the house was now upside down) and turned round to face the landscape of Strangford Loch. Before he included a fried egg, an eyeball and a strange animal.

Chris Macauley - submission and heat painting

I thought the best landscape PAINTINGS - submission and heat painting - were done by Chris Macauley.  He's a very fine painter who can create outstanding compositions with a great sense of atmosphere and weather.

The Judges said that Chris was a great painter and had produced two very atmospheric paintings. Kathleen loved the wild, barren and empty feel of both of them.

For me - if there was to be any notion of a Van der Velde commission that incorporated the very flat Netherlandish landscape and flat light associated with the North Sea, Chris would have been a very safe pair of hands.

(for me it was a close call between his painting and Celina's collage. Minus the cloud I might have gone with the latter.) 

The Heat Winner

The final part of the judgement gets under way
- with the announcement of the Heat Winner

Shortlisted artists waiting for the decision
L to R: Celina, Stefano and Chris

The Heat Winner was Stefano Ronchi

For my part, I have to say I'd draw a very sharp distinction between 
  • something which is very good art - of a surreal / comic book variety
  • an excellent landscape
Both of Stefano's painting are the former and not the latter. It was quite simply fantasy. He's a surrealist painter - and a very good one - but he's not a landscape artist.

In response to Kate's comment, being unable to stop looking at it does not make the painting qualify for the competition!

I have to say there a LOT of very unimpressed viewers - who are saying exactly what they think on the Artist of the Year Facebook Page.

There are always critics of the judgement in every episode, but it's really been ramped up on this one.  Plus, as one person commented, Joan did not look impressed!
That’s it, I’ve had enough! What a farce. The judges living up to their usual poor judgement, because I think they choose to be controversial. I’m not watching any more, I had hoped they’d come to their senses and actually choose someone who produced a painting that at least looked like what they were seeing. Totally ridiculous

Not watching any more. No one who paints what they see gets through. The judges are not interested in landscapes or good artists. Just those that do 'different or wacky' I feel sorry for the people paying for the commission. Lord knows what they will end up. A good programme ruined by people with inflated egos.

I totally agree with all the comments. The judges seem to be in their own fantasy world and rarely pick the most talent artist or painting that looks like the actual scene. Why not let the 50 wild card painters vote on a winner as they are there. At least some credibility might return to this great show. Or get new judges.....
On my Facebook page I invited comments as I wanted to see if my thoughts were echoed by others. They were.
I’m so very underwhelmed by Landscape Artist and so thoroughly bored with the judges’ inane comments. They really are scraping the barrel for something “arty” to say!
Not a lot of landscape about it was there?
Are the producers and judges trying to destroy Landscape Artist? If they are they’re doing a pretty good job.
I’m not sure I will bother to watch any more episodes.

It was a real brute of a building! I wanted Chris to win. Both his atmospheric landscape paintings were beautiful….
If you aren’t inspired by man made structures it is not worth entering this competition. 
This series seems to be very poorly put together. The definition of what constitutes a landscape has been stretched very thin, both in terms of the locations for the competition and in the selection of some of the works that gained the artists a pod place. This week's winner is an excellent piece of art, but not a landscape and neither was his submission. The subjects have become Structure Artist of The Year, with Blackpool pier, the Ascot grandstand, a dull lump of a house, Blackpool Pleasure Beach big dipper, Thames barrier, all stretching the definition of landscape. The final at Portmeirion may just offer a landscape, but I'm not hopeful. They need to bring in some fresh blood for the judging, and really freshen-up the format.

To my mind this series has really 
  • undermined some of the fundamentals of what this competition SHOULD be about and its potential future audience - and 
  • possibly jeopardised some of the potential submissions for the competition this summer. It's becoming gimmicky..... That's never good. 
  • maybe made life more difficult in terms of commissions for future competitions?

Next Week

The artists and the pods will be back in Blackpool - home of the world's tallest rollercoaster - when the view will be of Blackpool Rollercoasters. So another moving target.....?


The programme is broadcast by Sky Arts ( available on Sky, Now TV and Channel 11 on Freeview) and the films are made by Storyvault Films.

For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed this summer - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 (Series 9)
(Note the Terms and Conditions appear to have disappeared from their website i.e. you shouldn't need to register to see if you would want to register!)

The closing date for submissions is NOON on Friday 28th April 2023.

2023 series

All the reviews in Series 8 include themes for reference by future participants - or plein air painters working to a time frame - in terms of problems experienced and challenges overcome.

I'll be archiving the reviews of each episode in the reference section at the end of each episode.

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