Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Three

I came into this programme following the startling revelation that my Wednesday night SERC tutor Mary Doran once had Jennifer as a student! I’ll say nothing more on this staggering confession, save that I am off to get some hair extensions to use in a painting tomorrow. 
The Pretty Flamingos - that aren't pink!
Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstable, Bedfordshire is one of Europe’s largest wildlife conservation parks and home to nearly 3,000 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. The artists were lined up to paint pretty pink flamingos and large plodding greyish elephants, eight hours of animal portraiture ‘en plein air’ and in weather more suited to painting than that endured in Hastings last week. No animal is ever going to model for an artist so I’m not sure why David was getting frustrated at them turning their back on him.

Ruaridh got the colour wrong and they were fairly flat!
The two hour task was to draw a flock of flamingos milling around in their pond. These iconic and oddly shaped birds stand on tall, bald, stilted legs with knees that bend backwards with every step taken. The artist’s task was to give the birds a sense of life, and through observation draw them accurately in terms of shape, colour and if in a group picture, composition. Where did the clichĂ© pink flamingo colour come from? They definitely appeared more orange on my television so an artist should never ever assume colour! The eight made their customary pencil sketches that probably didn’t stand up to much critical anatomical scrutiny and then set to work on their finished piece.
Jennifer just about got everything wrong!
I was disappointed in most of their efforts. Jennifer really hasn’t a clue how to observe, compose or sell a picture – the craic is apparently that me, the judges and most of the UK can’t see what Jennifer is seeing. Alan works too flat and wooden while David appears scared to leave his comfort zone and is merely content to keep the judges happy. Suman and Ruaridh did OK and I am warming to Angela yet again!

It was interesting that Daphne contradicted her fellow judge David twice in the judging of the flamingo round. Makes me wonder again why a third judge is needed, particularly someone who hasn’t the same professional painting pedigree as Daphne and Lachlan.

The Elephants
Before tackling the Elephant Showstopper Pascal led them in an observation exercise – 90% looking and 10% painting which in this case meant sixty seconds looking and only seven seconds making quick descriptive brush marks of an elephant. Suman starts off the most confident composing a baby elephant large scale on her canvas. It’s clear she knows what she wants to achieve. Ruaridh and David are both unhappy with their first offering and start a second one while Camilla cops out and paints an elephant’s arse with her palette knife! Angela’s is looking rather twee because she’s painting too many small, undetailed and insipid elephants. Less is definitely more! Jennifer is doing what she does best! Hair extensions, paint splattered randomly on the canvas and moved around trying to make something out of her ‘observation’. And I can see what she’s trying to achieve once she explains what’s what… but it’s not clearly recognisable as a lumbering elephant. Not yet anyway!

Choose the Pascal inspired one on the left David – or your own! 
Pascal calls David’s canvas busting elephant a masterpiece but none of the judges agree, which calls into question Pascal’s mentoring input. If I were David I would tune Pascal’s voice out. It’s clearly at odds with his own (and mine). And no you wouldn’t see it in the Saatchi Gallery Camilla! Wise the bap! Ruaridh also followed Pascal’s advice and he too got less than complimentary words from the judges. Camilla’s three legged elephant didn’t get any rave reviews, nor did Angela’s wimpy effort nor Jimmy or Alan’s. I got to say I love Jennifer’s final canvas - the trunk and the eye were brilliant – easily the best she has produced so far but it’s not in the same league as Suman’s who offered us the best painting in the series so far. The judges agree with me as did the immunity panel made up from zoo workers who give Suman a quick-pass to next week. Well done! Jennifer must have been close to a hat trick!

Suman's winning canvas
Camilla was asked to leave the process as Daphne considered her naive and unable to move on to the next level. This competition is as much about development as ability, and you can see the evolution and a willingness to learn in several of the painters (Angela and Ruaridh). Some are more stuck in a rut (David, Alan and Jimmy) while Jennifer with a bit of skilled drawing application could improve dramatically.

Jennifer's best painting of the series so far!
Next week is portraiture. I see Angela Rippon is a sitter. Getting a likeness will be a real test for some of these artists. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Two

I painted ‘en plein air’ for a week in North Wales a long time ago and I loved it. From sitting on a grassy bank, sketchbook in hand drawing boats in Abersoch harbour and market trader stalls in Pwllheli to capturing life in a disused slate quarry near Nefyn in charcoal. We struck lucky that week as the weather was untypically warm for October. That’s why I felt sorry for these newbie ‘en plein air’ artists. They got clobbered with four seasons in one day weather down in Hastings. 

The refurbished Hastings Pier
I helped out on an RLSS photographic shoot in Hastings around ten years ago so I was fairly familiar with the location and the pier (prior to its refurbishment) though not from the side the artists drew it during the first two hour challenge. I wasn’t very excited with the view though I can see why it was chosen to explore scale, perspective and proportion.If this had been a cricket match, rain would have stopped play and the match abandoned but artists, their mentors and tv crew are made of sterner stuff and the Battle of Hastings had to go on however squalid the conditions, It was crazy stuff as the wind and rain was literally blowing the paint off the canvas so it was hard to make headway! Even Van Gogh would have given up and headed to the nearest cafĂ© and drawn the pier from their window or if no view some sunflowers on their table!!! He didn’t do any Wheat fields in a storm did he!

Jennifer's blitz
David's nuclear bomb
Hard to say who did best as none of them really stood out. Ruaridh captured a great sea and beach but his pier went missing in action. David’s effort looked like it had been hit by a nuclear bomb such was the radioactive colour scheme on the beach. Jennifer – well hers was less nuclear but still blitzed enough for me to believe the pier was destroyed by German fighter planes in WW2. She tried her best but my goodness she’s just not cutting the mustard!

I like it when the two mentors takes centre stage and demonstrate useful tips for the six hour Showstopper painting. Pascal got them practicing simple outline shapes with markers in different colours to represent different aspects of the landscape in front of them - beach, trees and buildings for example while Diana had her artists drawing at arm's length with a stick of charcoal on the end of a cane. Hmmm - not sure about that idea!

This was my favourite. I think Angela's captured Hastings best!
Showstopper time! The seafront of Hastings. Wow! There’s a lot to take in! Pascal’s lot are looking east and have the view I would prefer to have painted, while Diana’s drew the short straw – west! I don’t really get the point of six hours on the one scene especially when the sun (if there was one) and the shadows cast would have moved quite dramatically during that time period. Easier, drier, warmer and more comfortable to grab a few photographs, take them to a copy shop and get a few of the better ones printed up A3 size! Cost a few quid but hey you don’t get frustrated with the damned British weather. And stuff the purists who say otherwise! Interesting that the few artists I have seen demo and heard bleat on about the wonders of painting 'en plein air’ over painting from photographs have paintings on their websites that are 4x3 ratio - around that of a digital print! They're shameless bluffers!

Camilla's banana beach and crazy perspective
Back to dullsville Hastings before the mist rolls in off the sea and out again, and then before you can sing Y Viva Espana, turning almost Mediterranean sunny, but not as in David’s portrait painting of this Hastings seafront landscape. He and Pascal are often at odds with each other - it’s almost like David purposely disobeys the fine art, art school tutoring he’s given by Pascal and goes back to his own tried and tested impressionist style which in my book was wildly off the mark this time around. Camilla has a banana beach thing going on and it’s weird. She’s poor on perspective which is simply bad observation. She doesn’t plan her paintings – just crashes in with a large paintbrush and as I see it hopes for the best!
David and Suman's Showstopper canvasses
Suman interestingly works on a circular canvas – a view as through a porthole of a passing ship. I like it - works for me. Jimmy’s effort looks cartoonish but half decent! Alan and Angela's are at least recognisable as Hastings and the best of the bunch! Jennifer who is painting beside the rest of the group (yes, beside them) has a completely different view of Hastings - she’s more to the right – an awful, awful lot more to the right and she's bluffed this Showstopper with something more sea than land. It looks as if her canvas is painted from the front of a Club 18-30 banana boat speeding up the coastline! But the fine residents of Hastings give her immunity because it reminds them the most of their seaside town! What? Really? Honestly? You're having a laugh! You cannot be serious!  You're not! OK, BBC this joke is going on too long! For me Jennifer failed on a sense of place and composition but I’ll give her the sense of light and because one out of three ain’t bad (with apologies to Meat Loaf Ch1v4) she can stay this week.

Jennifer's madcap view of Hastings seafront which mostly ignored the buildings
Did Maud deserve to go? I think so. For me it was either her or Camilla who like David seems to spend most of her time annoying Pascal! It’s animals next week so that’ll test a few of the painters! I think Jennifer will have her hair extensions out again!


Monday, 13 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week One

I have been living in a ‘Tender’ bubble for the past three weeks, ticking boxes, trying to understand procurement language and gathering up printed samples and electronic versions of my 2016 work – and all perhaps for nothing!

With work distracting me I had no idea there was a second series of The Great British Paint Off planned (the Radio Times has it listed as The Big Painting Challenge though so as I wouldn’t think it bore any resemblance to Bake Off). But swop the whisks, baking trays and ovens for paints, brushes and easels and it’s more or less the same politically correct hour long feast of sheer bliss. 

The 10 artists participating this year (click to enlarge)
I missed the first teatime edition so I had to watch it on iPlayer late at night. No Una Stubbs! No Richard Bacon! Well, that’s a plus! Rev Richard Coles??? I remember him from his Communards days with Jimmy Somerville in the 1980’s – and aside a few number one hit records I’m wondering what art kudos he has - would he not be better off presenting ’Songs of Praise’? I have always liked Mariella Frostrup - her mother was an artist and despite being Norwegian she grew up in Ireland so she’s OK! 

The very uninspiring still life (click to enlarge) 
The show was slightly different from the first series. I liked the introduction of tutors/mentors Marcel Anson and Diana Ali. They were on hand to give advice and encouragement to those struggling with the opening Still Life tasks and to dish out basic tips on perspective and negative space for the second task. There’s more of an educational twist to this second series. That’s good. Unfortunately judges Lachlan Goudie and Daphne Todd are still here after boring me silly first time around. The BBC in their wisdom have added a politically correct third judge – Dr David Dibosa who at least has a bit of charisma about him – even though he does come out with the most colourful load of praise-curdling tosh – “There’s a cinematic feel to what you’re doing here.” he says to Ruaridh, who looks at him slightly flummoxed thinking it’s only a teddy bear, a clarinet and some feathers, not a remake of Braveheart. Here’s a thought! Why didn’t the producers let them choose and arrange their own objects – surely that’s part of the task of knowing what makes a good picture. 

“There’s a cinematic feel to what you’re doing here.” 
(David to Ruaridh)
There are two tasks instead of three this time around – a two-hour Signature followed by a six-hour Showstopper. The artists are allowed to use any medium they wish - again an improvement as they’re not forced into unfamiliar territory. Another innovation is the public getting a vote… is that really a good idea after Brexit and Trump? That vote means they can issue an artist with an immunity card which ensures they can’t be sent home by the judges that week. Lisburn girl and abstract artist Jennifer is the beneficiary of the first one which is lucky for her as she struggled and was a surefire bet to be fired first! In Norn Iron (Northern Ireland) speak her wee blonde head was full of artsy-fartsy, wee sweetie mice. I have no problem with her being alternative and avant-garde but not to the point of completely ignoring the brief. To do it once and ignore Teddy and Co was forgiveable but to repeat her abstractness, add a few hair extensions for textural effect and then barely leave time to get the main objects into the Van Gogh bedroom scene in the Showstopper was really testing the patience of the judges. And am I really convinced the public voted to give her immunity or was that just a piece of BBC connivance worthy of Simon Cowell to keep a controversial artist in the programme for viewing figures?  

Jennifer's abstract work really disappointed me!
(click to enlarge)
That said the other nine hardly set the world alight with their brilliance. Lesley probably did deserve to go as she was the weakest link and it’s never a good idea to purposely ignore advice the tutor has given you. Naughty woman! The only one who showed any kind of outside-the-box thinking was Suman in her Lichenstein Showstopper. My favourites at the minute are three guys – David White, Jimmy Mackellar and Ruaridh Lever-Hogg but it’s probably far too early yet to establish just how talented/untalented these amateurs really are. But I will keep watching and hope the tasks are a little more interesting than that boring first still life. Anyway that’s my tuppence-worth for the first episode. Five more to go! 
Lesley had to leave
Question - can Jennifer paint the same abstract nothingness picture next week?