The 52nd Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists, ‘The Natural Eye’, runs at Mall Galleries from 29 October to 8 November; here, our Exhibitions Manager offers an exclusive preview of what to expect at this year’s show:

There are over 300 works on show at the forthcoming Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) Annual Exhibition, all of which have been inspired by the natural world: its places and species, or by projects and politics concerned with it.

Many members have been inspired by the natural world on their doorstep. For example, Fiona Clucas has been inspired to create her mixed media work Moss verge, summer by daily walks with her dog around local Levens Moss, where the rich hedgerows, moss pasture land, birds and insects prove a constant source of inspiration. Also influenced by local wildlife and landscape, Antonia Phillips painted Dawn Deer; Dene Woods following her purchase of Uplyme woodland, which presented the artist with exciting new subjects to draw, marking a departure from the artist’s more familiar scenes of seabirds and shorelines (as seen in Oystercatcher trio).

Antonia Phillips SWLA, Dawn Deer; Dene Woods, Uplyme

In contrast to Phillips’s picture of a deer in deep Dene Woods, fellow member Rachel Lockwood has painted, in Watching the forest edge, the sight of a creature (perhaps another deer?) emerging from the forest, out of the shadows and into the light. Meanwhile in Pool Movement, Lockwood swaps woodlands for water, showing young Herons learning to hunt at a pool while Egrets wander amongst them, animatedly threading in and out.

John Reaney is another artist for whom the local area has provided a rich source of inspiration. In the particular case of Parish lamps lit, Reaney has observed at the River Ouse - below Lewes, near his Sussex home - a group of Swallows descending at dusk on a newly cut hay field to feed before roosting, joined bizarrely enough by a bat (seen swooping in from the top right of the watercolour).

Meanwhile at the other end of the British Isles to Sussex, Tim Wootton has drawn, close to his Orkney home, the coastal cliffs of Yesnaby, complete with Greenland Wheatear - one of the artist’s favourite birds. As well as the watercolour Wheatear, Wootton is exhibiting Glorious, a series of four bird studies in oil paint, as a reaction against the “Glorious Twelfth”, that is the start of the shooting season which commences on the 12th August, during which droves of Red Grouse are unashamedly shot for sport. Thus in Greenland Wheatear and Glorious, Wootton has represented subjects close to his home and heart respectively.

Tim Wootton SWLA, Greenland Wheatear

Other exhibitors, meanwhile, have found inspiration much further afield than their local area. Darren Rees travelled far from his home in Stirling, Scotland, to produce his works at a residency with the Scott Polar Research Institute and Royal Navy in Antarctica; whilst there, Rees studied penguin colonies, such as Gentoos at Port Lockroy and even foxes and whales at Svalbard, between mainland Norway and the North Pole. While in contrast, Dafila Scott - granddaughter of Captain Scott himself - has depicted wildlife in much warmer climes, from Wild Turkeys displaying in California, to Giant Eagle Owl in the Kalahari, and suitably rendered in hot red, orange and pink pastels, Red hartebeest on a red dune.

Demonstrating a decidedly dynamic approach to depicting wildlife (not unlike Dafila), Kim Atkinson’s prints of Starlings, such as Starling drinking, Starling bathing, result from drawings made while watching Starlings and especially from listening to them – the dots and dashes and liquid nature of their song and chatter, translated into prismatic colour and pattern in relief prints. Ben Woodhams, on the other hand, has chosen to draw more silent specimens, so to speak: in particular, a dead Sparrowhawk that had crashed into a neighbour’s window, a dead Merlin which flew into Woodhams’s own window, and a Partridge picked up from the side of the road – each Ben painted in meticulous detail until, according to the artist, it all got “a bit ‘much’”. 

This year, a fair few exhibitors have focused their work on instances where man has supported wildlife and its conservation. For example, Max Angus’s linocut Good to see you is based on the artist’s friend Mr Breeze (the figure in blue beneath the bunting), and the blackbirds opposite his shop which he looks for every spring morning to check if they have survived the night. While as part of the RSPB’s project at Wallasea Island to re-create the ancient wetland landscape ‘to provide a haven for a wonderful array of nationally and internationally important wildlife’, Greg Poole has documented (among other exhibitors) the interplay between the on-site machinery and area’s wildlife, especially well captured in his monotype Short-ear Owl flying near digger, completed in his studio from sketches made in-situ on the Island.

Max Angus SWLA, Good to see you

Above are just some of the works on display in what is the SWLA’s 52nd Annual Exhibition, the country's showcase par excellence for the very best of contemporary art inspired by the natural world.

View more highlights from the exhibition here