Friday, March 01, 2024

Monica Popham wins Landscape Artist of the Year 2024

This review is about the Final of Series 9 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 at Covent Garden in London - which was won by Monica Popham.

Landscape Artist of the Year 2024:
Commissions and Final Paintings by the three finalists

Below you can read about
  • Artists in the Final
  • Venue: Where/when the Final was held - which was a bit different
  • Observations about the subject
  • Themes and Tips
  • Decision Time:
    • The Commissions
    • The Final Paintings
    • The final decision
  • The Winner
As always the programme about the Final is always something of a bit of an odd show since
  • 5 other participants are missing 
  • there is the need to recap the journey to the Final
  • plus a more indepth profile of each artist AND
  • the story of the three artists doing a commission between the semi-finals and the Final 
I'll spend a little bit more time focusing on Monica since she won the series.

You can find all my reviews of previous programmes in this series at the end of this post. Plus how to apply for the next series which will be filmed this summer in six heats in three places around the UK.

The Final

The Artists in the Final

(Left to right) Kristina Chen, Denise Fisk and Monica Popham

The three artists in the Final were - in order of the heats they won:
  • HEAT 1: Kristina Chan (Instagram) is a Canadian mixed media artist and printmaker who has studied in London. She uses narrative and specific facts about a site to create a sense of place. She is very she is very used to doing commissions for prestigious clients and public art installations - but not a lot that resembles painting. Her work is in the collections of V&A Museum (2016, 2017), Ingram Collection of British and Modern Art (2020) and Royal Collection, Clarence House (2018), Royal College of Art (2018, 2016)
  • HEAT 5: Monica Popham (Facebook Instagram | tiktok) is a digital media manager and landscape artist and illustrator from Gibraltar. Currently based in Guildford. She studied Fine Art at Loughborough University and graduated in 2021. The main body of her work focuses on the tangible quality of sunlight, and how it interacts with the architecture in Gibraltar and other Mediterranean towns. She has worked on a variety of projects such as large scale murals, book covers and private commissions. 
I went into the semi-finals wanting to prove that I could do more than extremely cropped landscapes and paint a scene outside of my comfort zone. At this point in the competition, we have no idea the location of the commission but I knew if I wanted to progress to the finals I had to prove that I had more flexibility as an artist.
  • HEAT 6: Denise Fisk (Instagram) - a landscape oil painter from East Sussex. Denise has BA (Hons) Degree in textile design which led to a career as a colourist and designer in the furnishing industry. She now exhibits in art fairs in South East England. She particularly likes autumn colours.

Location and Timing

The rear of the Royal Opera House and the Covent Garden Piazza
The Terrace is the top floor on the left - with the open gaps

The venue for the Final of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 was the Piazza Terrace of the Royal Opera House - where I've been and sketched myself. (It's actually a restaurant - and while not cheap it's also not expensive! Which you need to know if you want to try it out for yourself.)

So NOT in the Pods for the first time in LAOTY History! However still undercover - with protective covers also for the nice wood floor!      
The major benefit for the three artists was that there were no onlookers - even friendly ones - and importantly no crowds. It did make me wonder if they had learned from the experience in the semi-finals....

What the artists had instead of a Pod
You have to be stood up to see what's below.

I know from personal experience, that the terrace is a bit odd because the ledge is so high (to discourage 'accidents') and that you have to stand and rest your sketchbook on the ledge to see the view below. There's no scope for sitting - unless you're working from a photo.

Which, in this instance, was more than likely - particularly if you'd fixed on the lighting earlier in the day (as all the artists did!) and the last two hours offered little by way of useful information. More on this topic below!

(I'd just like to highlight that this decision makes life very difficult for those who create artwork sitting down or those - like me - who cannot stand for four hours! It's certainly not in any way disability friendly)

This was the view or as Stephen Mangan put it...
"Paint anything you like so long it's a window or a roof"
The view from the Terrace - if you're stood up

Observations, Themes and Tips

Paintings of places without people

Do look at the Final Paintings. Not one of them has a single person anywhere in sight.

This series has been mostly about painting buildings - mostly in places where people congregate - and the number of people seen in paintings throughout the series has been negligible. 

I know this is NOT Portrait Artist of the Year - but it's also NOT about places with no people. That's just totally artificial!

This is what people in the Piazza look like from above.

People in the piazza on Finals Day - did not make an appearance in the paintings

If you're painting landscapes in the countryside then I don't mind 'no people'. However if you're asking them to paint a scene near buildings anywhere - but particularly in the middle of cities like London (or Liverpool - or any place which gets visitors), paintings without people:
  • give absolutely no sense of place and 
  • certainly do NOT tell a story of the place.
So what are we about? Telling the story of the place? Or abstracting places away from people? Or only painting the bits we like and can do?

If the Judges want to make it really difficult

"that's a lot of structures and buildings!"

"The view is very busy, very challenging and will need a lot of editing" 

Why not give situate them in front of a place which is interesting but not overly complex - but has lots of people passing through.

Just so we find out who is a landscape painter who can also paint people in context........

Painting at night

"We have thrown everything at them" 
This really is the ONLY story about the timing of this location.

Somebody decided that in order to increase the level of difficulty in the Final and give the artists a really great challenge, they'd start the Final two hours before dusk and finish it in the dark. 

Just ignore for the moment this is a painting programme and you'd imagine that locations and timing were vetted by artists for practicality and outcomes.
So the scene they were viewing would change during the course of the Final and the lights would come on and the night time economy people would be milling about.......EXCEPT:
  • The artists were painting on a very well lit terrace - which had the benefit of being able to see what they were doing
  • the weather wasn't great - resulting in fewer crowds than usual (this is normally a very busy place at night - particularly in summer when this was filmed)
  • the scene below them was gloomy to start with because of the rain and 
  • then changed to night time and looked rather like some sort of fairground - but not until AFTER the artists were halfway through their paintings.
It  really was NOT a great idea in terms of the paintings it produced. Predictably it had an impact on the artworks produced as a result - which were NOT great - although I'm very sure they all did their best in the circumstances.

The East side of Covent Garden at night

In my post about the 2019 Final (they painted Battersea Power Station - in the dark!) I commented on painting and paintings of night - and also the Nocturnes of JM Whistler

It can be very tiresome when you experience night time painting for the first time because - from a purely practical perspective
  • the night time LIGHT does really weird things to night time COLOURS - which means a nocturnal painting can end up looking extremely odd in daylight
  • you get VERY tired if you haven't been planning sleep around painting into the night and/or you're not used to staying up really late - and being tired does not make for good painting
  • you very definitely need a strategy for painting at night - otherwise a painting can lose its way and look muddled.
Tai agreed it was really difficult to paint at night but can produce beautiful results in terms of the lighting. Methinks there speaks a man who has seen the paintings and not tried the reality!

Enough said?

Essentially, in changing light you have to decide what sort of light you're going to commit too at the outset. It's essentially the same as painting plein air on a day with changeable weather. So you then have the option of 

  • designing the painting (without knowing what the scene / light will look like later) and 
  • drawing in early and 
  • then painting colour and light at night very fast later on. 
If you know what you're doing and you are very disciplined!! Personally speaking, I don't know many artists who regularly paint at night - and I have tried it myself and it's not easy and produces very mixed results.

I also don't think I've ever seen a painting of Covent Garden at night from this terrace.

The practical solution from the artist's perspective is to design your composition, palette and tonal structure based on the light at the beginning and then, as the light disappears, switch to painting from a photograph which fixed the light at an earlier hour. 

Head down and sat down - NOT painting the night below!

In which case why are we bothering about having half of the four hours for painting AFTER the sun has gone down?

Bottom line - after they went to all that trouble, absolutely NOBODY painted the night!

Let's hope this is the end of this silliness for the future.

Decision Time: Who's the winner?

The Commissions

This is when you realise how important the commissions are. I've almost got to the point where I don't mind what they do in the Final re their painting - because the final decision-making is always going to be heavily influenced by the submission paintings.

The assignment was to make a painting which told a story about a place they know. Below you can see the results, which - as ever - really impressed the Judges.

Commission Artworks left to right by:
Kristina Chan, Denise Fisk and Monica Popham

ALL the artworks were very much in the style of each artist and very good of their type.  All were also larger than paintings they had completed previously. In doing so they all fulfilled the unspoken requirement to look as if you could paint an artwork worthy of a £10,000 prize.

Kristina went for a more naturalistic view - which included the foxes which make a home for themselves under the trees above her studio. The location was printed/drawn but the context was absent leaving Kate commenting that she didn't particularly understand where it was. They liked the technique. I liked the fact she included real life - the foxes!

Denise painted her garden. She loves the natural world and this artwork complemented her submission which was also focused on nature. Her palette of favourite colours has now remained absolutely consistent across every single painting - and somehow, for me, it simply does NOT look rooted in the UK.

Monica produced a "wowser" of the street where she lives in Guildford. MUCH larger than anything she has produced before and with a LOT of very well constructed content. I think she maybe took her cue from the fact that the subjects she'd been presented with both had an emphasis on buildings rather than the natural world. Which, on the face of it is an intelligent choice - even if absolutely and totally irrelevant to the actual Commission which is the Prize!

The one that surprised me the most was Monica's. The one that had moved the artist on the most was by Monica. It also had an emphatic sense of a very specific place.
Monica has taken us to the heart of British suburbia. This feels so quintessentially English. Kathleen Soriano

The Final Paintings

Frankly the Final Paintings were, on the whole, totally underwhelming. I'm not even going to comment on them, because the setup was so very, very silly.

Nobody who paints the night starts in the daylight!!!

I have no criticism for the artists. However I'd really like to have a very long chat - that they will remember - with the person who thought that completely changing the light halfway through the Final Session was a really good idea!

It was a totally, utterly stupid idea. What's more they ignored precedent. They obviously forgot 2019!

They also had a Final which turned into the night back in 2019. This was another three woman Final and Fujiko Rose won Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 in Final at Battersea Power Station

The reality then - as happened again this time - is artists were unable to plan how they were painting because they had no notion of what it would like once night fell and they'd lose their subject if they opted for the earlier view when there was some light. No artist enjoys that sort of process and none of them are really happy with what they produce.

Bottom line - creating artificial scenarios just makes the production team look really bad. It certainly doesn't make the artists look bad from the perspective of all the artists watching - because they all know how very, very silly this timing was. (Plus I've had several comments to this effect on my FB Page already!)

Got it? Let's NOT do this "going into the night" routine ever again!

Judges' Criteria

Ultimately we're looking for an artist who can tell a story - and what we have to decide is which one will be the most exciting and interesting fit. 
Kathleen Soriano | The Final of LAOTY 2024

....and there you have it. 

The entire series has always been about which artists can tell stories about places.

I wonder how different the result might have been if that had been highlighted this much more clearly from the very beginning.

How SHOULD you judge an art competition with a £10,000 Commission about a very specific place and a very specific theme?

In my view, it's absolutely critical that everything about the criteria used to judge the artists' work is based on statements made to the artists in the letter announcing they've got a place in the pods - and repeated for viewers in the first episode of each series i.e. the commission you are competing for is:
  • about (subject) 
  • in (name of place)
  • we want you to use your paintings to tell stories about the places you see
So they all know what really matters!

Then all you need to do is choose locations for the heats, semi-final and final which make sense in terms of telling the story of the location and the nature of the Commission......

The Winner

The winner was very much a surprise - but less so when you saw the Commissions and Final Paintings lined up together.

That's because, for me, BEFORE the Final Kristina looked as if she could fulfil the brief for the Orkney Commission better than either of the other two.

Both Denise and Monica had been painting small and I had a very big query over whether they could go bigger.

However the commissions changed everything when combined with the Final Painting. The latter interestingly were never ever looked at together as just Final Paintings. Almost as if they were the "also rans". The Commissions just overwhelmed the judging.....

Commission paintings plus the painting of Covent Garden in the Final
(Left to right) Kristina Chan, Denise Fisk and Monica Popham

I appreciate Kristina's skills in drawing and conceptualising her compositions and her treatment of tone. However I confess I grew tired of Kristina's 'almost monochromatic' treatments during the course of the Final. They're really very nice when seen as individual artworks - but I started to find the colour palette rather repetitive and I must confess I tend to prefer more colour. 

The Commission has something of the fairy tale about them - which I'm not so keen on. I did like the techniques in her Commission - but somehow it didn't speak of a specific place.

Kristina Chan: Commission and Final Painting

Unfortunately, I had already grown tired of the same palette for every painting from Denise before we got to the Final - which just reinforced that view. The orange red is a bit too punchy and the green is not a natural green. Somehow, her paintings didn't look like they were in the UK. 

I felt sorry for her being offered buildings yet again for her Final Painting when obviously she is much more motivated  by nature. However, there were absolutely no people in her painting of the Covent Garden Plaza - and I've never seen it empty.

Denise Fisk: Commission and Final Painting

I wasn't taken with Monica's Final Painting which cropped out both sky and people - it was a crop too far for me.

However Monica came out fighting when it came to the Commission Painting. She really wanted to do well - as 25 year olds at the start of their careers very often do. She did a big impactful well designed painting for her Commission which was packed full of content and colour and light and perspective which was well described. It was 'flat' in the sense of no aerial perspective - but that's just not her style. She's much more graphic - and looks for interesting planes and angles. 

Her Commission also indicated very clearly to me that she's a much better painter when she's got much more time for a 'proper' painting.

To me it almost looked like one of those iconic paintings of a place in time, which remains relevant forever. It's memorable.

Monica Popham: Commission and Final Painting

Which is why the Winner of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 was Monica Popham - although she certainly didn't win it for her painting on the day!

Monica hears she's won!

Below are the five paintings Monica produced for the series - which all 'read' well. She's not a conventional landscape painter - she's much more graphic - and I don't mind that. She demonstrated with her Commission of 'her place' that she has breadth and depth and skill (when left to her own devices) - and that's good enough for me.

She also very much looked like somebody who could take on a serious commission.

Monica Popham's paintings for Series 9
(left to right) Semi Finals (Buckler's Hard); Submission (Gibraltar), Commission of a place she knows well (Guildford), Final Painting (Covent Garden), Heat 5 winner (Liverpool)

I'll leave it with Monica's Instagram post about the announcement of the winner! While reminding you there's still two more posts to go:
  • about the Commission episode
  • about lessons from this series and hopes for the future!


For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed this summer (during June/July) - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year Series Ten.

The deadline for submission is NOON on Friday 3rd May 2024 - and entries are ONLY accepted online.

This Series to date

Blog posts of heats to date:

Past Series - Reviews

You can also read past reviews of the Landscape Series of the Year which very many previous pod artists - and wildcards - have said they have found helpful.

See my Art on Television Page which:
  • lists all reviews I've published for series episodes broadcast between 2018 and 2023
  • together with the topics / themes /TIPS I identified in each episode.
The programme is broadcast by Sky Arts ( available on Sky, Now TV and Channel 36 on Freeview) and the films are made by Storyvault Films.

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