Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Review of the Society of Graphic Fine Art Annual Exhibition 2024

This morning I visited the Annual Exhibition 2024 of the The Society of Graphic Fine Art (aka The Drawing Society) at the Mall Galleries.

The SGFA have taken over the large West Gallery with 181 artworks demonstrating a wide range of artworks covering diverse subject matter and different media. 

You can see the artwork exhibited ONLINE - with links from both the Mall Galleries website and the SGFA website (although you need to wait awhile before the images appear - and only if you accept cookies, which I normally always object too as per GDPR i.e. it shouldn't need cookies to work)

The default position is you can view the artwork as thumbnails

Alternatively you can view by name of the artist 

Or view a large image of each artwork - which provides details about the art and the artist

HOWEVER this only applies to artwork by SGFA members and associates.

I'm also going to be uploading my photos to a Facebook Album - more or less in the order they are hung in the Gallery - and will insert a link here when this has been done

You can also follow the SGFA on https://www.instagram.com/drawingsocietyuk/

NOTE: There is no catalogue.

About the Society of Graphic Fine Art SGFA

What's different about the intended focus of this exhibition is the raison d'etre of the SGFA.

The purpose and objectives of the SGFA

As it states on their explanatory panel which can be found posted around the gallery (see above), the SGFA is all about drawing and draughtsmanship.

Established in 1919, the Society of Graphic Fine Arts is the only national Society which is based in the UK which is dedicated exclusively to drawing. It exists to promote and exhibit original works of high quality in colour or black and white. This includes traditional and contemporary media. The emphasis is on excellence in drawing and draughtsmanship, demonstrated by hand.
I'll come back to that later - as I think a divergence from the intended scope of the exhibition appears to have occurred this year.

Work which is eligible for exhibition is
  • Drawings in any medium, monochrome or colour - pencil, coloured pens and pencils, pen and ink, pastels and oil pastels, charcoal, conté, etc. 
  • Any original artwork which demonstrates evidence of drawing by hand: - original printmaking, watercolours, acrylics, oils and 3-Dimensional work.
  • Any work based on a photograph must have the photographer's permission.
Work which is NOT eligible for exhibition includes
  • Digital imagery generated by computer.
  • Giclee prints and all other reproductions and facsimiles.
  • Work shown previously at the Mall Galleries or hung in an SGFA London exhibition.
  • Work that is more than three years old.
  • Any work that might infringe on copyright law 

The Exhibition

In general, the exhibition has a lot of excellent artwork by artists who are clearly accomplished in their design and execution of artwork with an emphasis on drawing skills.

It's not all of a very high standard - but that's the same in most exhibitions.

The exhibition comprises 181 artworks - all of which are for sale - covering 
  • drawings, fine art prints (engravings, etchings, linocuts,woodcuts) and paintings
  • in a wide range of media: graphite, charcoal, pastels, coloured pencils, metalpoint, ink, watercolour, acrylic, paper collage, stitched media and the ever present "mixed media"
The styles on show for any one medium are diverse. In that sense this is a good exhibition to view what's possible with different media.

Dry media such as pastels and charcoals are used by exhibiting artists in various styles from the very precise to the very painterly. Coloured pencil use is more related to precise drawings.

Graphite and pen and ink are very much favoured by those who like to be very precise.

Speaking personally I'd like to see a lot more fine art prints and rather fewer paintings.

The view of the exhibition at the entrance to the West Gallery

The Artists exhibiting include:
  • members and associates of the SGFA - who are the only ones listed in the "view by artist"
  • members of FBA Societies based at the Mall Galleries
  • members of other leading national art societies (eg Billy Showell, Past President of the Society of Botanical Artists)
There are a lot of medium sized works and some very impressive large works - and some triptychs.

You can find comments about genre and subject below, followed by an observation about the paintings plus a wall of smaller works

smaller artworks - sensibly positioned near where to people have a break

The art in the exhibition, in my opinion, looks much better on the wall than on the online website. That's because:

  • The exhibition is well organised and hung well. 
  • Artworks are grouped according to genre, theme or size. See some of my views of walls below - and in the Facebook Album of photos I took this morning for this review.
  • while not all works by an artist are hung together, it is common to see two artworks by an artist hanging together - which provides greater impact in relation to subject matter and style


Most of the long wall - next to The Mall - was dedicated to portraiture and figures.
The bay which focuses on small artworks also includes lots of portraits and drawings of people

A significant number of smaller portraits and drawings of figures
on the "small works" wall.

I do know portraiture is hugely favoured by many non professional artists. 

However there is a downside. 
  • In general, the public do not buy artwork which features people they do not know. As soon as you include a face it's personal.
  • Which is not to say it doesn't sell. But it just doesn't sell as well as other genres. 
For example, the purpose of the annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters is to show what their members can do - which in turn generates commissions via the society which in turn generates income for its members and the society. But they don't tend to sell a lot of portraits at their annual exhibition - of those that are in fact available for sale.

IF one of the aims of the exhibition is to generate income to fund annual exhibitions (which I strongly sustpect it does) I would recommend the SGFA take a long hard statistical look after the end of the exhibition at the numbers of artworks involving portraits and figures and 
  • how many sold
  • what price bands they sold in
  • what % of income they generated relative to 
    • total income 
    • the % of wallspace they occupied
In other words, does it make good business sense to have quite so many portraits?
IF you don't also run a commission service for those artists showing their work in the exhibition (which of itself brings lots of interesting and additional legal and tax issues!)

I'd argue that some of the artworks in this category are more likely to sell - and these are those which do not involve a face. 

For example, this excellent drawing (I enjoyed inspecting the hatching technique) of a hand by Tom Mole is anonymous because there is no face. 

"SC8 Hand" by Tom Mole
graphite on paper


Landscapes filled the end wall 

There was a point when I wondered whether "trees" was a theme of the exhibition. There's a lot of them.

There were rather a lot of paintings in this category. While drawing was involved in their creation, I wouldn't say that was the aspect of the artwork which was most notable or even noticed. See my commentary on the disconnect between drawing and realism below.

Plants and trees

Artworks about plants (and smaller works about  trees)

There were a very diverse range of artworks about plants - portrayed in various drawings which ranged from the measured and highly realistic bordering on scientific, through to illustrative. Plus a number of paintings - which mainly did not shout "drawing" at me.

Still Life

Still life subject matter is very diverse and is treated in a wide variety of ways. This is where most of it can be found - bookcased by artwork about urban landscapes.

I loved the drawing by Robert Strange SGFA UKCPS of some very old annuals. I did wonder whether he's visited the affordable art fairs and seen what another artist has done with collections of books and LP sleeves. All I know is that they are VERY collectable. 

His Instagram indicates he has a very clear preference for creating artworks about compilations.

Old Annuals by Robert Strange SGFA
coloured pencils

More conventional still life is also popular - as exemplied by one of the early sales for Patricia Rozental (who is not a member).

Egg and Spoons by Patricia Rozental
watercolour on paper

Animal Art

Largely monochrome animals in dry media

As always, drawing media appeals to a lot of animal artists who display their skills and techniques in this exhibition by displaying some excellent animal art.

I was particularly seduced by the oriental cat drawn in charcoal on paper by Tianyang Wang ASWLA ASGFA an artist working primarily in charcoal drawing and currently based in London, UK. He's certainly succeeded in achieving his aim of creating a very distinctive look in charcoal.

"The Cat" by by Tianyang Wang ASWLA ASGFA
charcoal on paper

What is Drawing?

Drawing is about mark-making and essentially using the artist's eye and the media to create the marks - assuming CAD (computer aided design) is not yet one form of drawing which SGFA favours....

To go back to the quotation at the beginning

The emphasis is on excellence in drawing and draughtsmanship, demonstrated by hand.

To my mind drawing and draughtsmanship cannot be equated with realism per se.  It can aim to be realistic but this is not required for a drawing to be a drawing.

To this end, looking at in reverse, realism is NOT drawing.  Realism can be presented in various kinds of artwork - and most would not describe themselves as drawings. Indeed a number are created using mechanical or other technological aids BECAUSE the artists lacks skills in drawing. 

For example, I certainly spotted one artwork in the exhibition which looks great - but I wonder if people would think is quite so good if they knew how it started life.

From which I can conclude that a painting which involves realism is not necessarily a good example of drawing. 

Indeed I found paintings which I would argue were not good examples of drawing or draughtsmanship - but I'm not going to embarrass the artist or the society by naming it.

Given this is the ONLY art society which focuses on drawing, I'd very much like to see much more emphasis drawings and prints and rather fewer paintings.  Most of the latter could be exhibited in any number of exhibitions which also have their customary "small wall of drawings".

This to my mind is an art society which should be celebrating drawings - at the expense of paintings. 

THIS is an exhibition which should go all out on drawing.

I hope when I visit again next year, the balance will have changed.

PS I've not yet looked at pricing but will come back and add comments once I've reviewed that aspect. I certainly saw some ambitious pricing.

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