This is one of my favourite shows of the year. It wasn't on last year due to some international show in the U.S and this time makes a welcome return, but to a new venue, the Mall Galleries. It benefits from the new venue, more space, more light, the work is better spaced out and easier to see. I went for my birthday and was going to buy. WIth that in mind I will take you for a trot through some of the things I like.
I often have a high degree of concurrence with the prize givers in this show so was not surprised to see Angie Gray's effort (above right). An orange Fern like plant, all bristling colour. The standard of draftsmanship and skill in this show is always excellent. What makes the works stand out then is two things, composition and then just an extra level of skill. Many of the works are too crowded, it takes quite a lot of confidence just to present your piece in the middle of the page and leave it to speak for itself.
Some of the credit for the show as a whole must go to Billy Showell who is the President of the SBA and to whom I had a very nice chat while we were trying to persuade their card machine to work. The visit of the Toddler in Chief had caused mobile phone coverage to be curtailed with knock on effect. A solution was found in the end but I also like her work and example of which is above left. It is one of the few where not only are the flowers lovingly rendered in subtle print but they are also presented as part of a scene, with convincing shadow effect. This made it onto the shortlist.
A slightly more maximal look is these two paintings by Marion Perkins (above right). What she is doing here, with the customary high level of skill that you expect in this show, is showing the same plant in three different phases of life, bulb shoot (or bud), flower. The flowers are of course beautiful, richly textured but I like the idea and particularly like the detail of the earth effect beneath the bulb, and the oniony surface of the bulb themselves.
Bee Orchid! This one by Janet Lye (above right). I think it is just stunning. You have a fairly classic pyramid composition, with space all around the plant, and slightly off centre those exquisitely rendered flowers. I really like this and it also made my shortlist for purchase. It was a strong contender and I regret not buying it. It is very easy to be fixated on the flowers but the structure of the leaves and stem really build this piece up. I hope she sells it. I am sure she will.
Moving away from flowers now to other foliage. There is a strong tradition of nuts and seeds. Pine cones are a common subject. Here we have two paintings at once, Laura Barraclough's Crimson Tide (top, above left) and Bay Boletus by Reinhild Raistrick (bottom, above left). Bunches or arrangements of flowers are another trope of this show, and again I don't like them to much. They are often too crowded. I like Barraclough's though, if that is indeed what it is. It is entirely possible I have misunderstood. Anyway, I like the restraint, the dried slightly desiccated look and feel of the flowers. It all seems slightly bedraggled. There is personality here .
Who doesn't like Fungi? Raistrick's picture is a wonderful thing. Again as with all these paintings it looks simple (and indeed that is part of the appeal) but the skill and attention to detail is staggering. Particularly pleasing is the whole gouged out of the cap of the central mushroom so you can see the inside. This is the art paying homage to the scientific beginnings of the whole thing.
Likewise with Rachel Pedder-Smith's Tree Peony Pods (above right) which were my favourite of all the pod seed pictures. Attention to detail, but also a composition which suggest that these have detached from their tree and are falling to earth.
Most of the paintings (most of them are watercolours but there are some people who can do demonic things with coloured pencils) of course produced colourful flowers. There is an obvious aesthetic appeal to doing so and they mark for a nice, stark contrast against the white paper. I applaud therefore someone who goes for something more subtle and pulls it off as Fiona Kane has done (above left). The different shade of white, which just stands out from the paper around it, giving way to the spiky green tops. Of course if you are going to do this then your foliage also has to have detail and you can almost feel the texture in those leaves. Very good.
Again in a slighty different vein we have Michelle Eun Young Song's Monkey Puzzle Branch (bottom, above right) but in fact it is Jessi Neale's blue exploding number that I am particularly drawn to. It is an unusual view and the way it goes off the page is interesting. It had already sold when I saw it and I am not surprised.
As I was weighing up all of these options I discovered two racks of paintings, designated Folio works. They were effectively unframed, and slightly cheaper works by some of the same artists. There were some real treasures in here and it was in fact two of these I went for (above). On the left we have Gael Sellwood. High contrast red and purple flower, in different stages, starkly presented against a white background. The opposite facing of the two flowers is a good composition element.
Then in pen and ink, with just a dash of colour. Rachel Munn's Globe artichoke, writing up out of the bottom of the frame like some terrifying sea monster. That's a good thing by the way. Now I just have to frame them.
Sadly the show finished on 9th June, but keep an eye out for it next year, and go along.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.