Saturday, 16 August 2008

Threadneedle Figurative

Lay Figure 'Vivian'This week sees the opening of arguably the most important and certainly the most expensive show ever put on at the Mall Galleries: The Threadneedle Figurative Prize, which runs from 20 August to 6 September. Graphics of the 71 selected entries are online (title link) although you can't vote for your favourite until 19 August (voting closes at noon on 3 September). I'm usually enthusiastic about exhibitions at the home of the Federation of British Artists, but this show is a sad disappointment. The lay figure used to promote the competition implies that representations of the human figure are the subject of this award, but no. The selectors have chosen the widest definition of "figurative", which is "non-abstract". So anything goes, from landscapes to a dog. That would be fine if works of high quality had been submitted and selected, but no again. The bulk of selections are unimaginative and poor in execution. The 7 shortlisted entries aren't the best by a long way. If this event is "showcasing the finest in contemporary British figurative art" it's time for Brits to toss their paintbrushes into the bin! However, all is not lost. I spotted a few excellent urban landscapes and four paintings which I thought outstanding for different reasons:
Paul Brason - Eighteen (CLICK)
Mary Jane Ansell - Anima/Animus (CLICK)
Marie Harnett - Delysia Doorway (CLICK)
Tessa Coleman - Winter 1565 (CLICK).
Paul Brason's fine portrait of his 18-year-old son cleverly uses dramatic lighting to symbolize the break from childhood to adulthood. Mary Jane Ansell's Anima/Animus has fun with gender roles. Marie Harnett's entry is one of a series of paintings inspired by movie stills. And Tessa Coleman's Winter 1565 plays around with the perspective of Pieter Brueghel's brilliant painting The Hunters In The Snow. All four artists communicated a fresh vision to me.
Whatever you think of my favourites or the standard of entries in general, I believe it is important to cast your vote. We are the punters, and there is big prize money at stake (CLICK). If you don't fancy the show or can't visit it, do cast your vote online.


At 16/8/08, Blogger Robert said...

I wonder if we ought to try and create an exhibition that is about the Human figure? I am sure we would have no trouble in getting works to show or filling the place when it starts! Probably sell some too if it was well publicised!

At 17/8/08, Blogger Coxsoft Art said...

A good idea, Robert. Study of the human figure was the basis of traditional art teaching. The Anti-art Establishment seems to discourage that approach now, but I'm sure there are many students still practising life studies. If they were allowed to enter their student sketches into a competition, who knows what new talent might be found? And nudes are always popular. Look at that ghastly "Venus" I posted recently. 25,000 years old?

There have also been some life-study contraversies in the USA. See the Pete Pansy saga. So, I suspect publicity would be guaranteed. And we don't need any more gimmicky prizes like the Turner Prize or that Welsh Mundi thingy. We need prizes for quality art, like the BP Portrait Award. A prize for quality art of the human figure would fill a gap. I can't see that the Threadneedle Prize fills any need, apart from giving money to an artist!

Have you come across the Art Renewal Centre (or Center)? Gobsmacking website. It supports traditional teaching methods and grants prizes and scholarships. I've featured a few of its winners. Search my blog for Art Renewal Centre The website is:

I must visit that website and do another post on it.

I read your post on the flower seller. Thanks for the link. Ironically, the two smaller versions you posted show the girl's flower better than the larger versions I saw. I got the "plaster model" for the grave sculpture from the Wikipedia website. I'm not sure if the finished sculpture on the grave is stone or marble. It looks like stone, but that could be due to weathering.

At 17/8/08, Anonymous Marie Harnett said...

I've just read your blog and I would like to thank you for your lovely comments on my painting :) Best, Marie

At 17/8/08, Blogger Coxsoft Art said...

Hi, Marie

You're most welcome. I really liked your painting. As well as being a fine piece of work, it stirred the film buff in me.

At 17/8/08, Blogger Dada Sholokhov said...

I'm not sure that encouraging 'punters' to vote, having judged the works only online, is really in the spirit of things. Surely we need to see art 'live and on stage' to have any kind of meaningful encounter?

I'd be interested to know your thoughts on the show after having actually visited it.

Potentially this is a good show.. (and some works will surely be deserving) but maybe, as you say, this isn't it. It does though seem that there are different values being promoted throughout the range of works.

Given that this Prize announced itself with a call for entries that were 'direct and authentic statements on themes of topical social, political or environmental interest, as well as re-workings of other traditional figurative themes’, it is surprising the number of generally quite conservative works selected.

This must be a reflection of the selectors, who, with the exception of Hew Locke (thankfully), are all establishment figures...

Unfortunately, at least four of the shortlisted are all connected in some way (personal projects, the same drinking clubs, even commercial interests) with Sewell, Packer, Flowers, and Cork. I wish it wasn't true.

At 17/8/08, Blogger Robert said...

Art renewal centre is a very good site. Only problem is that it is on the wrong side of the pond for us here, I am sure we could do some thing as good or better here, no?

At 17/8/08, Blogger Coxsoft Art said...

Hi, Robert

I'm sure we could do as well here, and the Mall Galleries and FBA would be the ideal institutions to do it. Big problem is getting the idea across to those who have been brainwashed by the Brit. Anti-art Establishment. If the people behind the Threadneedle Prize could be persuaded to refine the award brief and go for quality, not gimmicks....

At 18/8/08, Blogger Coxsoft Art said...

Hi, Dada

I agree seeing a work is better than viewing a photo of it. The prime example is Constable. His landscapes were on everything from chocolate boxes to jigsaw puzzles when I was a lad, and I never quite saw the quality of his paintings until I moved in front of one at the National Gallery and saw the light shifting on raised spots of paint that represented leaves. Wow! Instant convert.

Still, there are wonderful works of art spread all over the world and we can't visit a fraction of them. So, for me, the Internet has been a revelation. The graphic quality is also getting better and better, and I can certainly relate to a work online as I do to one in a gallery. It's second best and subtlety and grandeur are lost, but finding new works of art every day keeps me entertained, hopefully my readers too.

I think the idea of having an Internet vote is a good one. Let the public decide who wins. The Art Establishment completely ignores what the public likes in art and insists on telling us what we should like. Stuff that! is my attitude. So public voting introduces a much needed touch of democracy. It also reduces the influence of cronies, which, as you've pointed out, already seems to be influencing the Threadneedle Prize. (By the way, why do we need a shortlist when all 71 works are online for the public to judge? A hint for the punters?) And isn't it useful for artists to know what their potential customers like?

You may be right that it's the selectors, rather than the artists, who are too conservative. But also I think the entry guidelines were a confused mish-mash of bright-sounding ideas and politically correct thinking. I mean, how can you demand innovation and politically correct messages at the same time? It's a contradiction in terms. So I suspect a lot of artists were put off by not knowing what the hell the judges were after. And why should an established professional artist who knows what he's doing risk the embarrassment of coming nowhere in a vague competition that doesn't seem to know what it's looking for. Let's wait and see what the twerps pick, would be my attitude.

When the quality of entries is known to be extremly high, such as in the BP Portrait Award or the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, there is no disgrace for the professional in not gaining a prize, because the standard is astronomical. It does a top photographer no harm to get an honouble mention in the Wildlife Award.

The Threadneedle Prize needs to establish a reputation for quality, and it isn't going to do that with a set of contradictory guidelines cobbled together by a committee made up of people who aren't sure what they want.

Quality first, a fresh vision next, and no gimmicks. These would be my guidelines. The four I chose as favourites all fitted that bill. Mind you, they had to impress me as thumbnails before I bothered to view the larger graphics. I may well have missed some crackers too subtle to show up well as thumbnails.

At 18/8/08, Blogger Dada Sholokhov said...

Fair enough, but the point is that the democratic nature of the vote is already subverted, and thus illusory.

The public can effectively only vote for what the selectors decide we can vote for! The fact that some self interest on the part of the selectors has determined part of that 'choice' further tarnishes the 'result'.

(google Tai-Shan Schierenberg, and you go straight to Flowers East/Central..! It matters not if he wins, his stock has already gone up 500% just by being shortlisted, do the same with the rest.. and then work it out!)

True, all works could be voted upon (far better, yes), but again the problem of judging a work in reproduction becomes self evident. You would have missed the Constable for instance! And how is it possible to view sculpture on a screen?!

The exact 'feel' (and quality) of the work is always lost, and the 'scale' (as opposed to the size) is again not being considered. We would only be voting for an image of the work, and not the art. This distinction is critical.

And as for the thumbs.. well, the cropping is obvious if you go through them..

However, I don't admittedly have an answer...

But I do look forward to seeing the show, and also reading your review.

At 18/8/08, Blogger Coxsoft Art said...

Hi again, Dada

As voting doesn't begin until tomorrow, I don't know how it will be. I'm assuming we can vote for any of the 71 selected entries (yes, selection has already taken place) and not just the 7 shortlisted. The reason I wanted people to vote is in hope that the shortlisted entries will be given the bum's rush, which I believe they deserve, their cronies too.

I preview shows and rarely visit them. I hate the Underground, and London buses are even worse. So I visit free local shows. Somebody would have to pay me a good salary for visiting and reviewing all the London shows I cover. (I'm still waiting to be headhunted by the Daily Mail, which doesn't seem to have an art critic.)

I get feedback in my comments, which range from "loved it" to "you berk, you dunno what you're talking about!"

Providing they're not obscene, I publish them and usually give as good as I get when replying.

I Suppose the answer for viewing statues online might be a YouTube style video that pans round the sculpture, but the few I've seen so far are worse than a set of good still photos.

Holograms? I saw some interesting ones about 3 decades ago at the Whitechapel Gallery. Credit card companies seem to be the only firms regularly using them. The best ones are incredibly hi-tech. Did you see the one of the Queen? H.M. agreed to two sittings because of the complexities of setting up all the cameras. Brilliant result. If you missed it, search my blog for Queen.


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