You can tell an art blog is useful when it tells you about exhibitions which have already finished. I intend fully to ignore this prescription by telling you about the Pastel Society exhibition at the Mall Galleries, which finished on 4th March. There is a good technical review of the show at Making a Mark, but this is not what I am doing here. Here I am just setting out what caught my eye.
If you haven't been to Mall Galleries it is located at the top of the Mall, just past Admiralty arch. It is part of the Federation of British Artists and hosts a number of exhibitions and competitions. Inside there are basically three gallery spaces and this exhibition occupied all three. I went at 10:30 on a wet Monday morning and it was blessedly empty. It struck me as a well hung coherent exhibition, not too crowded with sensibly priced attractive works. Many had been sold. It is a nice space with good lighting, a cafe and a little shop. I was the youngest by a good few decades.
When one thinks of pastels you think perhaps of twee landscapes or wispy portraits. There was a bit of that but there was allot that was very good. What I was particularly not expecting was the abstract, or semi abstract work. The pastel society is not just pastel, it is also charcoal and pencil. A number of works caught my eye, and I have highlighted the ones that did.
In the first room five artists stood out, four above and one below. Top left is by Jennifer Thorpe and is called Luminosity. It had bagged the Unison Colour Product prize. It was a little difficult to see as was hung quite high but the burning sunset, executed in orange pastels, and its reflections on the choppy seas are very enticing and well executed.
Top right is Jaana Fowler's Blue Bottle. You can make out the blue bottle in the centre of the picture. This too picked up a prize. It is in fact a mixture of collage and pastel. It has a certain cubic Braque like quality which I like, I particularly like the reiteration of objects, especially the banana. I'm not sure the grater works but that is being super picky. It manages to do something unexpected with pastel.
Bottom left are three similar works by Liz Balkwill. They all feature very well rendered citrus fruits of various kind with a detail and subtlety that I didn't think was possible with pastel. There is a good colour contrast and the darkness of the background gives an old master feel to these painting. They work very well together and I was not at all surprised to see that all three had sold. A good show for Liz then, and a well deserved one.
Bottom right is an autumnal landscape called Forest Shades by Marie Bew. I cannot find a website for her which is a shame. I like the looming, leafless tress and the shadow they throw on the foreground all over that mellow gold and yellow.
The final piece (below) is an excellent charcoal portrait. It is called the Actor but in my mind is Don Quixote. It is by Valeriy Gridnev. The artist is a talented portrait artist and a member of the Royal Society of Portrait painters. You can see this skill in this characterful rendition in charcoal. I like the slightly scrubby lines.
Then onto the main rooms, which mainly included works by member of the society. A wide range of styles and subjects.
I am always impressed when pieces work well on their own but also compliment other works by the artist, showing a consistent style. Cheryl Culver has done this very well (below, top left). She has also chosen her frames very well. Especially effective are the middle two which could easily be a diptych. It is an almost simplistic style but this I think takes away from it. There are smart choices being made here and the autumnal palette is a nice novelty.
Very different is this gritty dark piece (below, top right) by Jason Bowyer called the Old Workshop Window. The dusty nature of the pastels has been used to good effect here to given the impression of industrial grime and the murky walls and windows. There is detail to in the abandoned machinery.
Jeannette Hayes (below, bottom left) produces abstracted landscapes. I particularly like the centre two which I believe are called Green lanes. I have included it with some other works around it to show a bit of the range of works available. In Jeannette's work I like the cool scrubs of green and creams complimented by flashes of orange.
The final selection (below, bottom right) is by Bob Last. Bob doesn't seem to have a website. He has produced four geometric almost classically abstract works. I have seen very similar things done in oils and acrylic over the years but rendering them in pastels gives them a softness that is an interesting change.
While we are talking about abstract continuing around the room another artist doing again, almost classically abstract work another artist is Robin Warnes. Again he doesn't seem to have his own website but I did find a blog, sadly abandoned in 2015. The pieces have strong geometric shapes and each work has its own colour theme. The blue lamp with its semi circular cream light ray is for me the most effective. Again the pastel gives a good texture to the work.
In a rougher more patchwork style is that of Joanne Last (below, top right). I talking here about the bottom two pictures in that photo. This again takes something that other media does but the sort of scruby, stubbly nature of pastel makes these different. A distinctive style and good colour composition. I would like to see her do something on a larger scale using the same themes.
Switching styles and techniques now it is the work of Sarah Bee (below, bottom right). It is the wonderful turquoise sea that really make these pictures. They lift what might have been mundane picture into something special. Again the streaky nature of pastels is used to create the wavey water effect. The top of the two pictures with the contrast between the blue sea and the red cliffs is particularly strong.
Typical pastel fair might be thought to be still life and flowers. Just because it is standard doesn't mean it can't be good and I thought Ann Wilkinson's quartet of work were attractive and appealing. I like the exaggerated geometric nature of some of the elements, particularly the bottom left picture with the cloth and the vases. There is a good use of shadow here. My favourite is the one with the red flowers.
The north gallery is the final gallery. This included a mixture of smaller works by society members along with non member pieces. The four centre pieces on the gray wall are by Keith Roper. They are fine example of landscapes done in pastel. You can't really see in these photos but they are semi abstracted and make good use of pastels opaque cloudy quality.
The picture next to it (below, to right) shows that in contrast to that you can produce sharp defined work which in itself impressive. This one is called Disused Workshop by Elizabeth Nast and she bagged herself a prize for it. I like the sharp diagonal but it is those two doors, the red and the blue that really drew me to the piece and then that corrugated iron that kept me there.
In the picture below bottom right I have shown a few pictures, again to show a bit of the range of what was on display. The ones that caught my eye where the two narrow vertical pieces with the changing patterns and colours. These turned out to be also by Libby January whom, it would seem, produces work I like.
Very different to that (below, bottom right) are these two dreamy shadowy pictures of passageways. They are by Christine Watson. The light at the end of the tunnel in both of them is a good feature but I like the way they appear as though you are looking at view without glasses or out of focus. No surprise that they are both sold.
A good show. I enjoyed it. I gave serious thought to purchasing a couple of pieces and was defeated by a combination of a lack of infinite money and that many of the best pieces had been sold.
The show also had an interesting feature. There were about 10 small works all of which were available to be purchased by secret auction. You had to bid a minimum of £180, your bid sealed in an envelope and the highest bid wins the painting. The relatively low starting price and the number of works available invites you to participate and this of course puts you in a painting buying mood. Nice idea there. I shall probably go next year.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.