This notion of the scope for changing the way the selection works was generated by an innovation this year. The prizewinning artists were asked to display a selection of their works in the East Gallery - it created, in effect a small group exhibition. I thought this was an excellent idea and I hope it will be repeated if for no other reason than it might stimulate more entries and serve to make the selector's judgement more acute.
I'm guessing that anybody who sees it will not disagree with what I'm going to say next.
Seeing a body of work together, one was immediately impressed with those artists who displayed consistency both in terms of topic, style and execution. I'm guessing that it won't be long before emerging artist Jonathan Pitts, who paints his watercolours plein air (as reflected in the titles) and won second prize, lands a gallery which wants another budding Kurt Jackson. Equally, one could appreciate why both Denis Roxby Bott and June Berry are both members of the Royal Watercolour Society.
|More work by Jonathan Pitts - painted plein air|
I wonder whether the exhibition could possibly be improved if, in future, it initially screened and selected from a digital submission of digital images of a body of work (no more than six pics) - from which one work was then selected for exhibition and transport to London. Seeing a body of work together is an excellent way of identifying great watercolour artists.
Which is a very long way round of saying I was disappointed, for the second year running, by the entry which won the competition. It's a nice enough painting and certainly warranted being in the show - but first prize....? I also know I'm not alone in holding that view.
|Prizwinners in the Sunday Times Exhibition|
Centre - First prize (£10,000) John Hunt
Right - 2nd Prize (£6,000) Jonathan Pitts
Left bottom - Vintage Classics Prize for Cover Art (£500) Philip Ciolina
I don't feel as negative this year as I did about this exhibition as I did last year (see Review: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2010 for a post I was loathe to write but which deserved to be written).
There was a lot more work this year which I was happy with. To my mind there's still too few "wow!/blew me away" pieces - and my basic argument is that - for a competition of this type and reputation - there really should be an awful lot more of these sort of works.
However there are some good works and it is certainly an exhibition which is worth going to see. (However I do wish that all the selected artists could be seen online as well). Now for the work I liked...
The work I liked
I'm going to try and highlight the artists and the work that I liked.
First some comments about a couple of watercolour "luminaries".
- David Firmstone - the Past President of the Royal Watercolour Society has a piece on the show. Frankly, if it had been a traditional watercolour piece I think it would have walked it - and won the top prize. It's an impressive piece which has real presence and there is lots to like about it. However it's in acrylics and it didn't win a prize. The message for me is that this is quite probably a show which still prefers to see people working in traditional watercolours.
- Adrian Berg RA - During my first walk round - when I just try to get a sense of what's in the show before I start on my second look (which is a lot more detailed) I spotted a painting and my immediate reaction was "there's somebody trying to be Adrian Berg". Imagine my surprise when I realised that it was in fact a painting by Adrian Berg - who is a member of the Royal Academy of Arts! That means this competition is getting entries by eminent artists - but eminence is no guarantee of a prize! Mind you Adrian's watercolour painting style is a bit like Marmite.....
|Workshop, Freebody's Boatyard by Paul Banning RI, RSMA|
|An Evening in My Part of the World (£1,200) by Robert Bates|
I've always liked June Berry's work. It's very distinctive, I love her colour palette, it always has an interesting underlying narrative which makes on ponder and it's just - well, very "watercolour".
|Two works by June Berry|
the one at the top "A French Farmyard" (£1,450) was "Highly Commended"
|Benerabba by Gordon McDowell (£3,600)|
I thought this year's winner of the Cityscape Prize was a worthy winner. I've been viewing Denis Roxby Bott's very precise watercolours of architecture for years. He works within a consistent palette and to a consistently high standard - and every now and again he produces a "wow" perspective - and this is one of them!
|The Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta (£3,000) by Denis Roxby Bott|
winner of the Smithscape Cityscape Prize 2011 (£1,500)
|two works which made me pause to look again|
|This was the end wall of the West Gallery - note how colourful the work is|
The Catalogue is available in pdf format here and provides an indication for future entrants of the prices being charged by selected artists. I'd love to see it adding in dimensions and media used.
Finally - some questions for you
- Have you visited this year's exhibition - and what did you think of it?
- Will you be submitting work to the 2012 Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition next year?