- all those who might be thinking of applying next year
- members of the RWS.
Also one of the other benefits of going to an exhibition late is you can see how well it has been received by the buying public. Let's face it, the only reason art competitions like this can run at a reasonable entry fee to the artist is if they actually generate sales and commission for the gallery where the exhibition is held. So sales are really important and it's can never just be "art for art's sake" unless you have got really significant sponsorship!
I'd like to say I had a grand plan to visit late - but in fact with other commitments it's just the way things worked out. I had originally aimed to go last Friday but was just too tired after flying in from my Ulster Festival of Art and Design "gig" last week.
Below you can read:
- who won the prizes
- what the exhibition looked like - on the walls of the gallery
- why I think this competition and exhibition has lost its way
- PLUS details of two NEW watercolour exhibitions opening in London later this month.
First, here a list of the Prizewinners - and images of some of the paintings
- ROYAL WATERCOLOUR SOCIETY AWARD - Paradiso After Dante by Emma Haworth (winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour competition in 2010 and a Runner-Up Prize in the 2009 Lynn Painter- Stainers Prize. In fact she has a unique and original style which has developed well over time and she's now been consistently winning prizes for some years)
The places she paints are magical, full of secrets and hints of stories. (Statement: Emma Haworth)
|(left) Paradiso After Dante by Emma Haworth|
- ROYAL WATERCOLOUR SOCIETY PATRONS PRIZE - The Height of Summer (Acrylic on 450gsm watercolour paper, Image size 56x76cms) by Gerry Baptist RE
‘…plants behave in much the same way as humankind, strangling and smothering rivals in the rat race for position and food…all that struggle behind all that beauty.’
- ROYAL WATERCOLOUR SOCIETY EXHIBITIONS AWARD Grandfather's Chair by Jenny Matthews,
|Grandfather's Chair by Jenny Matthews|
- DAVID GLUCK MEMORIAL AWARD - Cat Hill Field and Tuscon by Iain Nicholls
|Cat Hill Field and Tuscon by Iain Nicholls|
- ST CUTHBERT'S MILL PRIZE - Shouting Loudly at Each Other by Joanne Hummel Newell (see below for image)
- WINSOR & NEWTON
- 1st PRIZE - Curzon Soho by John Duffin
- 2nd PRIZE - Carolina in Gold by Aine Divine (see below for image)
- 3rd PRIZE - Mischief Makers by Mark Elsmore (see below for image)
- DALER ROWNEY PRIZE - Beaumont Creek II by Simon Carter (see below for image)
- THE ARTIST PRIZE - Olive Fig Garden by Tessa Pearson (see below for image)
- HEATHERLEY'S PRIZE The Story by Sue Barnes (You can see more of her collage work on her website)
|The Story by Sue Barnes|
(collage of painted paper) £875
So - what did I think of the exhibition? I went to see it yesterday afternoon and I've liked other exhibitions for this competition a lot more.
My overall impression is that this exhibition has lost its way. I'm beginning to think maybe the RWS has too.
In saying this I'm comparing the works to the open entries associated with the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour which are exhibitions which I enjoy a lot more than I this one.
This year it's going to be particularly interesting because there are going to be two watercolour exhibitions running at the same time. I can see a lot of art societies making the trip to London to see both shows! There will also inevitably be comparisons.
I also think somehow people have got the idea in their head that maybe "contemporary" means abstracted and entirely without any evidence of draughtsmanship - and that is simply not true. The definition of "contemporary" which should inform this show is
belonging to or occurring in the presentThat actually means it should represent the complete gamut of art being produced today - because otherwise the exhibition just reflects what gets submitted and what gets selected according to the personal tastes of the judges:
- Richard Cork - art critic, broadcaster and curator
- Andrea Rose - British Council curator
- Thomas Plunkett PRWS President of the Royal Watercolour Society
- Isla Hackney RWS Education Officer
- Bill Henderson RWS Chief Hanger
Extract from criteria for entries
Any work in watercolour, acrylic, gouache and ink are eligible on a paper based support
There are no limitations on style or subject matter
The judges will be looking for ideas, competence and integrity – as long as the materials conform to those stipulated on the application form, they will be interested in how you choose to use them and will be excited by both innovation and expertise in traditional methods in using water-based media.
What I liked
Not a lot. I can't say there was very much at all which made me want to take it home - in contrast to previous years.
One painting I really liked was by the winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition Winner (2012) Mark Ellsmore . This won the Winsor and Newton 3rd Prize. For me it won the prize for "best people painted in this competition".
|Mischief Makers by Mark Elsmore |
(watercolour and gouache) £1,000 SOLD
|Profile of part of Diptera 2 (£1,100) by Julie Ball|
However it's not one I yearn to have on my wall although I do like it. I just really want to know how the artist did it! To my mind it's a serious contender for hanging on the wall of one of those 'white on white' apartments down by the riverside!
I'm not a big fan of Emma H aworth's paintings but I can readily appreciate their appeal for others - and also the effort that goes into the creative thinking behind them.
What I disliked
The bad paintings.
There are some seriously bad paintings. Some of them would look boring and bad on the wall of a sixth form art show. One of them won a prize.
I also really wish people would learn how to mix colour! I'm not a fan in any way shape or form of people who use black or Paynes Grey for shadows - it's just plain lazy in my view. One of the wonderful features of watercolour is its ability to show us the beauty of coloured darks and greys mixed from complementary colours on the palette or the paper.
There were also some paintings which displayed poor standards in relation to presentation. For example, if you're going to stick a painting on top of mountboard (not even float mounted!) rather than behind it then you've really got to learn how to cut a straight line! Even better learn how to mount art on paper properly!
I absolutely despaired at the standard of some of the paintings of flowers - selected - but that might be to do with the standard of work submitted.
I bang on and on at artists I know who have excellent technical and design skills and do wonderful paintings of plants and flowers in 'proper' watercolour - including ones which are "very contemporary" and others which usually sell very fast for significant prices - to enter their work in this competition. To date I have had no success. I'm now telling them that they are so much better than the paintings in this exhibition that I will be sending out regular reminders next year!
|One bay had paintings of people - I was not impressed.|
Carolina in Gold by Aine Divine, winner of Winsor & Newton 2nd Prize, middle of the right hand wall
I guess a generation of painters who have never been taught to draw will generate cartoon figures. How come other watercolour painters - who do know how to paint people - do not feel encouraged to enter this competition? I know they're out there. What's stopping them from entering their work?
I also saw a few too many paintings by artists trying to be like other artists.
What I found odd
Some of the pricing was very odd. Some artists either don't have a clue or seriously overestimate their ability to achieve a price. Others are pricing well below where they should be for a gallery in central London. Others are pricing right for their status as an artist but that's seriously out of synch with the prices for a lot of the work in the show.
Overall the prices in the exhibition were all over the place. In my view, people typically find this confusing since it makes it difficult for people to relate the value of one to another. This could also explain the low level of sales.
Something to ponder on - the RWS might like to consider:
- a minimum price for all works for future competitions.
- providing advice to artists if their indicated wall price is likely to be problematic. I know other competitions where artists are told when their works are priced too high or too low.
What was missing
I didn't see any painters who will replace artists of the quality of Leslie Worth PPRWS (paintings) (1923-2009) and another Sunday Times Watercolour winner David Prentice RWS (paintings) (1936-2014). In fact I saw absolutely nothing that came anywhere near their standard of their work. It's very sad.
I wouldn't mind but I also saw extremely little that came anywhere near the standard of work by current RWS members who are very skilled and really know how to use watercolour - such as Turner Medal winner Paul Newland, James Rushton and Angus McEwan.
I could make a case for maybe two or three of painters as future RWS members - mainly on the basis of originality (e.g. Emma Haworth and Gerry Baptist ). That's if they've not already opted for membership of the RI (you can only be a member of one or the other but not both) and assuming they're interested in being members. Mark Elsmore could be a contender but I'd expect to see more of his work in the show - but there again maybe he only submitted one.
The most significant observation?
Two walls of the gallery - the end wall and the long wall opposite the bays were dominated by paintings which leaned hard towards abstraction and the use of media other than pure watercolour.
In fact they looked like any other contemporary art gallery.
|The end wall - the only ones which stood out for me were|
Gerry Baptist's two paintings (second from left) from his series Mysteries of an English Garden
They're still recognisably figurative despite the extravagance of the palette
and the calligraphic mark-making which are somewhat reminiscent of Dufy
Gerry Baptist is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter/Printmakers and a former Council member
On these two walls, there were NO SALES of contemporary abstracted work. The only two paintings which had sold were two figurative watercolours which could have been hung in any gallery showing more traditional figurative artwork.
Above is the end wall. Below three sections of the long side wall. Only two of these paintings sold.
|Two paintings sold on this wall - both are realistic and figurative|
Transformation by Jane Anderson Wood - a traditional watercolour landscape sold for £600 (bottom row second from right)
Tree Series (two paintings) by Evie Schartner £2,000 (extreme right)
I have however seen very much better painted trees by others att empting the same approach - see the trees on her website
|Still no red spots|
Beaumont Creek II by Simon Carter, winner of the Daler Rowney Prize is extreme right, top row
Olive Fig Garden by Tessa Pearson, winner of The Artist Prize, is extreme right, bottom row
It was very clear to me that the abstracted and more "contemporary (as in non-figurative)" had almost completely failed to convince and that their inclusion in the exhibition had depressed sales generally. (Or, putting it another way, I hope that the Bankside doesn't think this exhibition's financial performance is OK!)
I'm not alone in my views. This is a comment from my Facebook Page
I was a tad underwhelmed too. Not quite sure I understood how some submissions had been accepted. The lack of sales indicates that the general public felt the same!In my view this is a contemporary watercolour competition which has seriously lost its way.
In trying to be "contemporary", to my mind it has completely lost sight of the aspect which makes this competition almost unique i.e. it's a competition for watercolour artists.
It's quite simple. While looking for originality and innovation is fine and dandy what is overall most important is that these paintings need to look like paintings made by people who enjoy painting in watercolour for the unique properties it offers!
The problem in part seems to me to stem from this insistence on the competition being about water-based paints. This effectively means that some of the paintings could have been submitted as part of the open entry for the Royal Institute of Oil Painters which also accepts paintings in acrylic!
I certainly don't want to see all the artwork that I can see in any other art competition.
I want to see a competition which is being run by an art society which is proud of its history and roots in the use of traditional watercolour and shown by a gallery which is emphatically NOT apologetic about the medium.
I really don't want to hear people telling me that "watercolour is not a popular medium" when paintings and visitors to other exhibitions shown elsewhere would suggest this is emphatically not true.
In my opinion, this RWS needs to get back to focusing on what differentiates it as an art society and makes it special. Playing the "me too" game with the very many contemporary art galleries in London is a recipe for dwindling standards and dwindling interest.
I'd also suggest it becomes rather better at promoting this competition. Extending competition deadlines - as this one did - is always an indicator to me that a competition has failed to generate enough entries of the required quality.
Exhibiting excellent and original watercolour paintings is what makes a real difference. Let's hope next year's exhibition is a considerable improvement on this year's.