Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Big Painting Challenge Final

The topic for this week’s three tasks was seascapes and the artists were packed off to the picturesque little naval town of Dartmouth in South Devon. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the harbour certainly had a lot of colour and life about it.

I’m a bit bemused why the artists are taken to the Royal Naval College and asked to create a painting which captures the atmosphere, spirit and heritage of the Naval College. Seascapes – really? 

The artists had two hours to do their research using sketches and photographs – the usual  pre-painting exercises. They then had three hours to create their paintings – indoors! This place would have bored the life out of me with its regimented lifestyle and OCD leanings where everything looked obsessively clean and in order. 

I can understand why Claire didn’t take to it – it’s macho-male territory and it’s no wonder Richard is practically salivating with his services background. Both he and Paul could probably relate to this environment better than either of the two girls and it’s they who both come up with interesting narratives for their paintings. All Claire can see is one battered old sofa that somehow breaks the sterile uniformity of cadet life here.

Amy is a less sensitive soul than Claire and just gets on with the job in hand. Her inspiration leads her to painting a submarine floating among a sea of flags. As a composition it isn’t great but it’s par for the course for Amy. She desperately wants the judges to ‘get’ her but her work doesn't merit a second look! She displays a lot of energy at the start of every picture as she lays the paint down fast and furious and while this is admirable her lack of planning is her downfall. The pressure of the occasion proves too much for her and she too had a Claire-like meltdown and gave up on her painting near the end.

Paul’s painting was well structured and thought out but oddly his clever narrative divided the judges – Lachlan got it but Dorothy played the dumb blonde (grey!) perfectly and feigned ignorance over Paul’s powerful evocation of loneliness that might engulf cadets enough to take to their bunks. I liked it.

Richard dealt with a similar concept but painted himself as the cadet in his bunk missing the person in the over sentimental photograph pinned on his wall. His lack of colour which I am sure was intentional added to the loneliness of the image. Like Paul he got a decent review of his work and both could feel happy with the start they have made. 

Dear Claire simply imploded. She took a risk in Liverpool with her abstract shopping centre and it paid off but here she tried to be too clever with her statement and no-one bought her left field, angled white rectangle on a uniform black background. She’d have been better off admitting it was a white flag of surrender.

Bearing in mind Amy was already in meltdown the judges didn’t add to her misery and fair play to them they found a few good things to say about her effort. It's pretty evident it’s now, barring something spectacular happening in the final two tasks, a two horse race between Richard and Paul!

Challenge Two as you can see illustrated here meant a 40 minute sketch with either charcoal, pastels or pencil, capturing the movement, energy and dynamism of a whole platoon of naval cadets marching in formation as they perform a sword drill. Seascapes or Human Form and Movement (Week 4)?

This was a difficult task and I think I would have been overwhelmed and probably produced something as static as Richard’s. I’m not sure whether I would have also put the sword in the wrong hand though! That's quite basic! Anyway that has just about blown any chances he had out of the water!

Claire made a reasonable effort but it was all quite tentative and her small strokes were never really bold or suggestive enough to cover so much information. She concentrated too much on the shadows and not enough on the idea there were a huge platoon of men marching.

Paul’s use of perspective and his inclusion of context made for a more successful drawing in terms of depth and movement. He understood what this was all about. He got everything that was required bar the colour. This was possibly his best Quick Draw round and he was probably satisfied to have saved it for the final. He is ahead of Richard now and barring a disaster in the Showstopper Paul will be the winner.

Amy did very well considering she was the rank outsider. She used chalk pastels and  had the cadets walking away from her. The judges liked it as she more than the other three caught the energy and movement of the occasion. She’ll be pleased with that. Was she in with a chance of causing an upset for second place – maybe – but I don’t think so.

Now to the final challenge to capture, in oils, the fluctuations of light and atmosphere of a picturesque and visually complex scene down at Dartmouth harbour. Finally something that fitted the Seascapes title! This was beautiful and to my eye there wasn’t too much complex about it – compared to the Liverpool skyline and Blenheim castle. This had for me everything I would want to paint in a landscape. I think the artists responded too as both Paul and Amy produced their best work of the series here.

Seeing the easels and the four artists on a little cobbled quay side street on an absolute peach of a day made me want to be there as they held up their small picture frames to sort out their composition. It’s funny what you learn too. Paul despite having a strong Scottish accent said this is where their family holidayed when he was growing up - so he had empathy with this Devon location.

Paul after a few brief sketches to work out the values in his paintings then went all alla prima as he painted wet on wet. He did a loose drawing, layered in his lighter focal areas first, added the darker tones. Once the main elements were blocked he started using bold impasto strokes and then a rag on the canvas to remove excess paint. After this he added the finer details and highlights into his focal points. It was interesting to watch how he worked. It was also becoming increasingly obvious that his painting was better than Richard who appeared to be struggling. 

Interestingly Amy who works oils in a similar but looser way to Paul but just doesn’t have his architectural eye for detail was giving an excellent account of herself. I was impressed by this painting as much as Paul’s.

Richard’s colours were far too muted for a summer’s day that was more Mediterranean than Merseyside. His painting just didn’t look like the sun was beaming down on Dartmouth that day!

Poor Claire seemed to be just filling in time as she was probably more than aware that she had blown what chances she had of challenging Paul for the title of Amateur Artist of the Year completely out of the water. She shown her inexperience, not for the first time, of being indecisive and taking far too much time to get started. She also over elaborated on the small woodland area of her painting so she had time issues and that meant she didn’t finish her painting. 


For what it is worth she has the potential to be a very good artist. She’s still searching for her style however. When she finds it and when she has acquired a lot more knowledge, she’ll probably be in my opinion, the best of all four in the next five to ten years.

Paul I think won easily and if based purely on the final day Amy might have pipped Richard for second place. However if the series was taken as a whole Richard would probably be runner-up, Claire third and Amy fourth! Just my opinion!  

I would have loved to have gone to Tate Britain to see the exhibition of the winner’s work and when they’re all busy looking at Dartmouth harbour I’ll slip a few Monets under my jacket. As a sort of pension plan! You know how it is!

Next year, if there is a next year, I’d like to see better artists and keep all ten throughout the six weeks as who knows how Melvyn or Jan might have developed. Amy was hardly setting the programme alight until the final week so sometimes artists need time to find their feet and get used to having cameras around and having annoying people like Una Stubbs and Richard Bacon ask them stupid questions. Anybody can have a bad week and then follow it up with a good week!

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