Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Big Painting Challenge FINAL 2017

I was metaphorically on the edge of my seat last night watching the Final of The Big Painting Challenge on BBC1 - willing my prediction to do well.

Which was a bit silly when it dawned on me that this was filmed last summer and no amount of positive thoughts from me would have made any difference to the result!

However to my mind 'attitude' made a big difference to the result last night.
"Being in the Final, what it says to me is you shouldn't be so negative about your possibilities" David White
The Final Judgement
Not only did we have a worthy winner in Suman Kaur (who I had a lovely messaging chat with in the week - where she didn't betray a thing!).

We also saw four artists who had genuinely been - in those cliché words much beloved of TV people - "on a journey".

If you've missed my earlier blog posts about this series (and the last series) you can find them at the bottom of this post - along with links to the websites of all the participants in the series (including the Judges and Mentors - unmissable!).

Now for the final!

The Penultimate Challenge

The location was the Queen's House in Greenwich - which is a magnificent building and a beautiful setting for this challenge.

Hearing that the Penultimate Challenge is a Portrait

The presenters indicated that
  • The final episode would contain two very different challenges which would show how far they had progressed during the series. (Let's not forget that the different aim of this series was a much more educational slant to the programmes and continuous mentoring throughout up until this point.)
  • The ultimate aim was to identify the Finest Amateur Artist of 2017. (I'm guessing this is because Sky has already nabbed the Artist of the Year title - and this BBC series wants to emphasise its relationship with amateur artists across the country).
The Finalists were also told that the big difference in the Final was that the Mentors would NOT be able to counsel and coach - and they were on their own for the first time. That was a smart move - it made the first five episodes seem like lessons and tests and this was "The Big Exam" at the end of term!

So the first challenge was to be a portrait - but they were not told who was going to be the subject. So much speculation with the favourite being that they were going to paint their mentors.

They had tips from the mentors
"Think about your strengths that you've got remember to keep looking, keep observing. Think about composition, could be the face, could be the whole thing, think about the background, think about colours. You're going to be on your own. Just have my voice in your head saying 'Do that, do that!'." Diana Ali
"If we can get this triangle right between the bottom of the nose and the centre of both the eyes, no matter whether it's square on face or three-quarter view, if you get that right you can kind of do anything you want with the painting. You;re going to do the best painting you've done so far - I'm 100% sure." Pascal 
This challenge was WAY BETTER than the penultimate challenge from last year's series which was completely unrealistic in terms of subject matter and how people respond to it.  You can't make people paint subjects that don't mean anything to them - especially when the subject is the Royal Naval College!

This year, the penultimate challenge of evoking an emotional response for a painting was so much simpler when the artists were given the chance to "paint a parent"!  (Well done to the parents for agreeing to sit and be painted!)

The challenge was to paint a portrait in 3.5 hours AND:
  • to showcase all they have learned
  • to paint a portrait which demonstrates the character of the sitter
The overdub opined that painting parents can actually be a very real hindrance to painting a portrait BECAUSE of the emotional reaction. However I think the BBC forgot that compared to the challenges they had put painters in previous episodes this challenge apparently felt like a bit of a walk in the park. Well maybe not that relaxed - but definitely one which stimulated them to do well but without making them stress about the subject.

In fact, the presenters kept commenting on how much more relaxed the session was! Nobody was stressing out in a corner........

The episode also enabled the programme-makers to give a potted summary of "the progress the artists have made so far". They're particularly interesting on reflection because in a lot of ways they're not untypical of very many other amateur artists out there who have similar issues re. skills and areas they need to improve

The summaries went something like this....

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Michelangelo & Sebastiano at the National Gallery, London

I went to the preview of "The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Michelangelo & Sebastiano" at the National Gallery this week, along with rather a lot of other people from all over the world.

Michelangelo & Sebastiano - Room 3 Defining the Roman Style
Michelangelo is a name we all know - but Sebastiano is less well known. This exhibition is about why they worked together within the context of Raphael's ever-increasing profile and prominence.

The key issue for me for those coming to visit the exhibition is that there talents and reputations and unequal - people will come for Michelangelo - while the exhibits (paintings, drawings and letters) are mostly by Sebastiano.

Notwithstanding it's impossible to remove mural frescos from walls in Rome and there are some exceptional loans of sculpture and drawings by Michelangelo, the exhibition does feel a tad unbalanced.

The 'Taddei Tondo' - the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in Great BritainMadonna and child with the infant John the Baptist and a bird
On Loan from the Royal Academy of Arts (which it has not left since the 1960s!)
However, I did find the curator's talked focused on the relationship rather than the paintings and how their joint enterprise progressed and in that context I came out of the exhibition with a better impression than when I went in.

I'd also go a long way for a look at Michelangelo's drawings!

Michelangelo drawing of a seated nude with arms (crop)
The exhibition includes around 70 paintings, drawings, sculptures and letters.The exhibition is in the North Galleries on Level 2 and continues until 25th June 2017. It's open from 10am - 6pm daily (9pm on Fridays). The curator of the exhibition is Matthias Wivel, the National Gallery's curator of 16th-century Italian Paintings.

Below are highlights of the exhibition and key points about the context and the artists. Articles about the exhibition are listed at the end of this blog post.

A creative partnership

It's an exhibition about a creative partnership. Michelangelo (1475-1564) - who, as the audio guide suggested, never sustained a relationship with anybody - had a collaborative and creative working friendship with Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547).

This is the National Gallery short video about the exhibition.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review - The Great Pottery Throw Down

The first series of The Great Pottery Throw Down had me fixating on the potter's wheel and raku firing. I ended up taking a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum and writing this post - The Ceramics Gallery at the V&A. Mainly because I'd never before realised the scope, breadth and depth of the V&A collection.

The rest of the country conspired to make pottery now the most over-subscribed evening class in the UK!  Although I suspect that for many people being unable to have a kiln at home also probably contributes to that....
    I've again been a regular watcher of the Second Series which I've been greatly enjoying yet again.

    The semi-final is on BBC2 at 8pm tonight (and apparently we're all going to be wowed by Johnny Vegas throwing a teapot very fast - he used to study pottery at Middlesex University where he was taught by Kate Malone).

    Then there's the final next week - I've no idea who's going to win - and after that nothing, except evening classes.

    Or that's what I thought until Pavilion Books sent me 'the book of the series' to review - so this is that review.

    PS If you think this blog has been a bit besotted with art on television of late you have the programmers to thank. It all seems to go up a gear as we go into the New Year!

    The Great Pottery Throw Down - the Book


    Those who have enjoyed the series will definitely enjoy this book - and learn from it.

    What's the book about?


    It's intended as a companion book to the series - but it's not a "how to" book.

    That's not to say it doesn't explain techniques - because it does and it does illustrate stages.

    However, it is emphatically NOT a step by step type book for those who want to try every pottery technique known to man since the beginning of time

    I think it's very probably aimed at those who like to stay in their armchair rather than venture out to an evening class - and yet at the same time provide enough content to stimulate those who loved the series to have a go for themselves.

    I found it very educational in a very easy read way. I don't mean that it uses simple concepts and words but rather than the information is presented in a well thought through way. It has enough information to enable learning and not so much that you want to switch off!

    I now know a lot more about:

    Wednesday, March 15, 2017

    Gareth Reid is Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017

    Last night, it was revealed that Gareth Reid was the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 - and had won a career-changing £10,000 commission to paint Graham Norton (who for the uninitiated is a television and radio 'national treasure' in the UK).

    Sky broadcast two programmes back to back last night.
    • The first related to the Final held at the National Portrait Gallery last year.
    • The second related to the story of the winner and the painting of the commission.
    Below you can find out more about
    • The Commission
    • The Final
    • Gareth Reid
    • How to see the exhibition about the Portrait Artist of the Year 2017
    • How to watch the Heats for the Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 - NEXT MONTH!

    The Commission


    The prize portrait commission for the winning artist was revealed on New Year’s Eve as television presenter and comedian Graham Norton.

    Graham Reid with his portrait of Graham Norton

    Graham Norton and Gareth Reid
    Graham commented afterwards on a really curious coincidence - both sitter and artist turn out to be related via family in Ballymena. It turns out that Mr Reid’s great-grandmother is the sister of Mr Norton’s great-grandfather. They only found out when they met to start the portrait.
    "Out of all the people who entered, getting the opportunity to paint Graham, out of all the people they could have chosen, and it turning out we're third cousins"
    The portrait will hang in The National Gallery of Ireland and goes on public display in the Millennium Wing of the Dublin gallery TODAY.
    "The most important thing for me was the privilege of having a painting in a national public collection, but the thing you just can't buy is the exposure on this scale. For years you do the work and it's a very slow and often frustrating process getting it out there. But a big prize, especially a televised one, will definitely help the cause. We'll wait and see how it goes." Gareth Reid
    I think it's a great portrait being both a really good likeness and having a nice painterly quality to it.



    Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 - The Final


    Let's not forget where it all started - and I'll have a reminder at the end about how you can watch the 2018 competition

    Tuesday, March 14, 2017

    London and its River by The Wapping Group

    The Annual Exhibition of the Wapping Group of Artists is titled 'London and its River".

    The Wapping Group is somewhat curious. Originally formed to record the River Thames and shipping in the Port of London (at Wapping). Its members have continued to meet since 1946 to paint the River Thames “en plein air” from Henley, along the banks of the Thames and out to its estuary in Essex and Kent .

    Paintings by Paul Banning and Derek Daniells
    It now has 25 "statutory members" - and only one of them is a woman (elected in 2016 and showing this year for the first time as a full member)!

    I'm not quite sure what they mean by "statutory" as it normally means "required, permitted, or enacted by statute". I'm not quite sure what law deemed 25 members sufficient.... Maybe the word they mean is 'maximum'?

    Paintings by Trevor Chamberlain and looking through the two more galleries of paintings
    This is the 14th annual exhibition held at the Mall Galleries. The exhibition continues until 4pm on the 18th March in the North Galleries. You can see in this post some of the photos I took this afternoon of the exhibition.

    This wall included pastel paintings by Rick Holmes
    Winter light, Isleworth by Graham Davies SOLD
    What I noticed was that:
    • the painting of some of the older members is not what it was in the past
    • they have three candidates up for membership - Chris Burdett, Graham Davies and John Walsom - each with three paintings in the exhibition. I was particularly impressed with the paintings of Chris Davies who seemed to capture the soft vaporous colours of the riverside.
    • there's rather a lot of views of London - of places away from the River.
    Paintings by Bert Wright and Sidney Cardew
    I'm a purist when it comes to the Wapping group. I've seen a number of their exhibitions - and I like to see paintings of the river and the land immediately adjacent to the river - as I have in the past when exhibitions only included a very occasional view away from the River Thames.   Views of other parts of London are what I expect to see in other exhibitions but NOT this one.

    Paintings by Alan Runagall
    I'd very much like to see the Group return to its roots and what it does which is distinctive and different from any other art society - which is
    • painting the River Thames
    • the boats seen along the river, 
    • the land and buildings on the banks of the river  and
    • some of the people and places associated with river activities.
    That gives lots of scope for a great exhibition. There's really no need for paintings of soldiers marching or the streets of the City of London.

    Maybe the Group needs a new rule which says something along the lines that the maximum submission by any member of anything away from the River and river activities should be limited to one per member?

    Paintings by John Killens and Michael Richardson

    Some earlier posts about the Wapping Group of Artists

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