For several years I have taken informal tours round Mall Galleries to view and comment on the works on show for the Annual Exhibition of the RI. With the galleries closed this year, it was suggested that I might like to take a virtual tour of the exhibition to go online.
Now as I travel with my mouse through the exhibited images on my computer screen, my intention is to respond to those paintings that particularly catch my eye: and leave a few words in response.
A starting point is looking for paintings which change or expand our ideas of what a watercolour painting is. The conventions of shape, size, proportion, media, and the support can all be challenged, as can the presentation of the painting.
However, it is equally important to remember that most of these conventions have evolved for pragmatic reasons. Apart from the unique qualities of the watercolour itself (and all of these selected examples are very fine paintings in terms of form and content), the qualities of the presentation are there to protect the painting and to prolong its life.
Thus the frame, the mount and the glazing are there primarily to keep the image flat and dirt-free when it is displayed. Of equal importance to protection is permanence – we don’t want to see the image disappear owing to fugitive paint or inferior paper!
So, it is very interesting to see how certain artists in the exhibition are challenging some of these conventions.
Julie Green Wild Wanderings Watersoluble mixed media, 84 x 102 cm, £2,350
Julie Green’s painting not only evokes a visual representation of a landscape but in its structure, it echoes the structure of the landscape itself in a most successful way that almost extends the watercolour into sculpture.
Alfred Carpenter Red Rusted Boat Mixed media collage & acrylic, 42 x 36 cm, £475
Similarly, Alfred Carpenter’s Red Rusted Boat frees his image from the restriction of the rectangular perimeter, though still allowing a satisfying interplay with the rectangle of the frame.
Faye Bridgwater 140 Monochrome Studies of Sussex Pencil, watercolour & ink, 68 x 87 cm, £495
George Butler Delhi Market Watercolour, 110 x 130 cm, £5,000 - winner of the £3,000 Winsor & Newton Award.
George Butler’s fine Delhi Market observational drawing is enhanced with an assemblage of additional studies and ephemera which retain elements of the total experience of being in that environment.
Watch the video of George speaking about this piece, that was awarded the Winsor & Newton Award for here.
Sheila Vaughan Snail Acrylic, 43 x 61 cm, £400
The apparent simplicity of Sheila Vaughan’s painting belies a sophisticated and imaginative interplay between the inherent qualities of watercolour paint and its application in defining the form of the subject.
Bina Shah Winter Storm on Bracken Fields III Mixed media (Tempera, glair, ink, bitumen, graphite & natural earth pigments), 44 x 35 cm, £975
Robin Hazlewood RI Last Light, The Thames at Barnes Watercolour & white gouache, 49 x 49 cm, £435
An evocative painting by Bina Shah redefines a landscape with confidence and critical analysis; as does this watercolour by Robin Hazlewood RI. In both these instances, the artists have achieved images which cross the boundaries between figuration and abstraction to create paintings that function simultaneously well in both conceptions.
Other paintings which have caught my eye are two portraits. The first, Age of Confidence, is by Daniel Byrne and is a strong image which utilises the watercolour medium very well to explore the personality and appearance of the sitter. The second is Zi Ling’s The Puzzle Garden. This very imaginative and dynamic portrait uses colour and patterns to give life to an image which tells as much about the creator as it does the sitter. These two paintings use quite different routes to reach similar objectives.
Daniel Byrne Age of Confidence Watercolour, 52 x 42 cm, £850
Zi Ling RI The Puzzle Garden Watercolour & collage, 74.5 x 60 cm, £2,300
Teresa Lawler The House on the Edge of the Lake 2 Watercolour & gouache, 70 x 70 cm, £1,050
Teresa Lawler’s accomplished painting uses colour beautifully and expertly to atmospherically convey early twilight as artificial lights are lit.
In terms of really good use of colour, I also select Cool Chilli by Anne Goldberg. Her well-designed and intriguing painting has an original interplay of colour as well as a real rapport between the represented two and three-dimensional elements of the work.
Anne Goldberg Cool Chilli Gouache, 70 x 57 cm, £1,500
On the subject of colour, my attention was taken by a more conventional and traditional application of watercolour in a painting by Junwei Dai. In Fairyland Series 1, Junwei has demonstrated strongly the luminosity, translucency and richness of colour that good handling of the watercolour medium can achieve.
Junwei Dai Fairyland Series 1 Watercolour, 72 x 52 cm, £5,000
Anne Ware Flash Flood in the Lakes Watercolour, 50 x 62 cm, £640
I very much enjoyed looking at Anne Ware’s watercolour Flash Floods in the Lakes. The evocations of hazard, danger, fleeing to safety, the movements of the flooding water and the time scale involved, all encountered and engaged within the parameters of the painting, is quite masterly in its execution.
Derek Robertson What We Lost in the Desert, Refugee Camp, Jordan Watercolour & acrylic, 84 x 103 cm, £4,950
This painting is also arresting in its presence. Derek Robertson’s What We Lost in the Desert, Refugee Camp, Jordan is a powerful image; in topicality, in execution and, ultimately, in its poetry.
Day Bowman Storage Facility 2 Gouache & graphite, 30 x 33 cm, £675 - winner of The Winner & Newton Product Prize
So this brief excursion through the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 208th Exhibition concludes with a widening perception of what a watercolour painting is. The final painting here is Storage Facility 2 by Day Bowman. This is another image which is topical in conception, but economic and dynamic in execution, and evocative of so much of our contemporary world. My mouse rests.
Tony Hunt RI