Review: Plantae 2020
I confess! First - after the mammoth effort of compiling my last post Plantae 2020: Selected Artists about the ONLINE Plantae 2020 Exhibition by the Society of Botanical Artists, I wasn't rushing back to do my review post! Next - in general I find it a lot easier to do a review of the entire exhibition when I can view it in its entirety on a wall in an art gallery. Themes for discussion then pop out at me very quickly when looking at art in person rather than on a screen! Which goes some way to explain the delay.
Nevertheless, when I was reviewing all the selected artists and their artwork, I did pick out
This is a very long post - I'd go and get a nice drink and a comfy seat before you start reading!
All the links in the images go to the original web page (now removed as the exhibition has closed online).
For more about the exhibition see my previous posts
What follows covers
Perhaps the most important point is I really miss seeing proper botanical artwork in a proper gallery! Even if it is lovely to have a record to look back at online. I'm already looking forward to post pandemic exhibitions.
I do wish I'd been able to see this exhibition properly. However I also think the SBA did a very good job of providing us ALL with something to view.
VIEWED BY THE MOST PEOPLE EVER!
One of the MAJOR bonuses of Plantae 2020 the Society of Botanical Artists Annual Exhibition Plantae going online is that this year's annual exhibition has been seen by the most people EVER!
Certainly it's been seen by very many more people who have never ever seen any of the SBA's annual exhibitions before - although some may have seen my blog posts!
I can only think this will stimulate more interest in the SBA - and more interest in exhibiting with the SBA in future years - particularly if the online virtual exhibition continues.
LOTS MORE INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS
SBA is to be congratulated on developing a very international exhibition of contemporary botanical art. There are many more international artists exhibiting in this year's show than ever before - totalling some 20% of the exhibiting artists.
What is also interesting is that MANY exhibits are by artists (of any nationality) who are NEW to exhibiting with SBA - which was also pleasing to see. Hopefully this is a trend which will continue.
I didn't manage to identify everybody's nationality - but was helped by people who came forward after my last post. While there are some very strong contingents from some countries, what is more remarkable is the range of countries with artists who submitted artwork and got selected.
The numbers from different countries are as follows:
INNOVATION AND RANGE IN MEDIA & TECHNIQUES
I particularly enjoyed seeing a much wider range of media and techniques used for creating botanical artwork. This to my mind is one of the particularly noteworthy aspects of Plantae 2020.
The liberal criteria and interpretation of botanical art used for entry to this exhibition is to my mind best used when applied very much to the nature of the media which can be used to create original botanical art. This then allows us to see the scope for innovative and contemporary botanical art.
I think I noted more variation in the media used for artwork in this exhibition than I have ever seen before. I think it's wonderful to see that there are artists who are interested in going beyond the conventional botanical watercolour painting - people who want to explore different ways of representing plants accurately in different media.
There was a very distinct development of 3D art in ways we've not seen before.
Pastel drawings are very rare in the SBA Exhibition. Consequently it was good for me (with experience using pastel) to see five artworks by the Ukrainian artist Oleksandr Smahlyi in the exhibition.
There are also a number of NEW Jewellers and Silversmiths whose work I've not seen before but who are very impressive.
Particularly notable in the show were:
MORE SMALLER WORKS
There seems to be more small works - of one leaf or one flower - than I remember from past shows. (Bear in mind I've got lots of photos of past shows!).
This is a trend I'm seeing a lot online. For some reason quite a few artists prefer to stick to smaller works which are much less challenging in terms of composition. ââ
I'm all for smaller works - which make for more affordable art and enables people to build a collection (I have 'wall-space problems' and my collection of originals comprises small artworks of impeccable quality by RHS Gold Medal Winners!). Plus I do very much understand that smaller artworks are easier and cheaper to send when you cannot drop them off.
However I do also like to see people stretch themselves - and some of the more impressive artwork is also larger.
LOTS MORE TREES!
I was very taken with the fact that this exhibition seems to have more trees than ever before - and particularly pencil drawings of ancient trees.
I cannot help but think that this marked surge in interest in drawing trees may well have been stimulated by the Mark Frith exhibition of pencil drawings of Ancient Oaks at Kew Gardens together with the very impressive past exhibits by both Pamela Taylor and Sandra Doyle. (See Recording Ancient and Heritage Trees and A retrospective perspective on recent exhibitions at Kew)
I hope this continues. Trees are much ignored by most botanical artists and yet they are some of the most important plants on the planet.
With a growing interest in making everywhere more environmentally friendly I also cannot help but think there's going to be a growing cadre of collectors of artwork about trees. So, if you're interested in selling your art, is might be a factor you'd like to keep in mind.
Particularly notable in the show were the:
(You can read more about How to draw and paint leaves and trees for botanical artists and illustrators in the TIPS section of my website.
LOTS OF SALES
I gather that despite the exhibition being online only that there have been a lot of sales. I'll be interested to hear in due course how these compare to gallery sales in past exhibitions.
Obviously we've had the unique context of the pandemic and a lot of people with rather more time than usual for viewing of art online(!) - plus quite a few people getting rather more used to buying art online. However online sales augur well for the continuation of a virtual exhibition at every future exhibition.
I'm very sure that a number of the issues I identified (see below) have been picked up already and will be addressed in future to make any further virtual exhibitions more satisfying for both members and collectors.
Artists and Artwork worth highlighting
What follows is artwork which caught my eye - for various reasons - when I was working my way through the list of 221 selected artists. â
Much of the artwork I wanted to highlight is contained in the above Overview and particularly the section about innovative media and techniques. Hence this section contains those who use more conventional media - rather well!
The first artist I'd like to highlight is Giovanni Cera - for creating compositions which illustrate the growth habit of different plants. This is a practice which I think we see far too little of - and need to see more. Plants are not a set of isolated features - unless you are creating a botanical illustration for a scientific journal. It's also important to know how they grow and what they might look like - in terms of how they grown - when you come across them. I also like compositions which think carefully about the four most important lines and how to position the plant within them (see my blog post Composition - the four most important lines). He's also very capable of producing accurate and informative botanical illustrations which have already been awarded an SBA Certificate of Botanical Merit in the past (at the 2017 Exhibition).
âI'm very much looking forward (hopefully!) to a suite of six works exhibited in an RHS Show at some point in the future!
I liked seeing French artist Michelle Grimson's very fine pen and ink drawing of a Protea. You can see an enlargement - and see the pen strokes - on her website.
I confess I'm particularly partial to looking at plants from the top down - the bird's eye view I guess you'd call it. It's amazing how it complicates plant identification. I like German artist Andreas Hentrich's watercolour on paper of a bird eye view of a Yucca which he's chosen to paint as a roundel format
Scope for improvement - virtual exhibition
When I view an exhibition in a gallery I comment on the hang - SBA Exhibitions in the past have excelled at providing a pleasing exhibition to view on the walls of a gallery.
When I view an exhibition online, I comment on the software and content - which contributes to a satisfactory experience.
Here's my list of what I'd like to see changed in future
HOW BIG IS THE WORK?
SLIDESHOW OR GALLERY VIEW?
I was impressed by the three different views of the exhibition which were possible:
This may seem a bit picky - but I was a bit surprised at the variable nature of "letters after names". I'm accustomed at all national art society shows to seeing signature status after people's names - for ALL relevant societies. Also if Fellows are paying a not inconsiderable annual subscription then I think this should be recognised in the virtual exhibition! Not sure if this was something to do with the submission form or something else - but it's worth paying attention to.
QUALITY OF THE DIGITAL IMAGE
Absolutely nobody knew when they submitted their digital image that it was going to end up being part of an online exhibition! So I want people to understand that what follows is in no way a criticism of individuals who already know their images are less than perfect.
That said the same can also be said for a lot of other art society exhibitions which had to go online in 2020.
While an awful lot of the digital images are top notch when it comes to quality, a number indicated there was scope for improvement - particularly in relation to the "grey paper" phenomenon which bedevils a lot of images online. Problems are often to do with a failure to light properly or evenly and/or a lack of knowledge about how to adjust under-exposure or colour levels.
I can only encourage artists to get to grips with the processing required to bring a digital image up to scratch. I've done blog posts about this in the past and I'm inclined to do some more - plus finally finish my page off about "how to photograph art"! I'd love to see every botanical artists producing top notch images.
âScope for improvement - criteria for entry
âTo incorporate more recent techniques and styles in a broader interpretation; combining the scientific and representational, giving a rich and varied view of the wonderful world of plants.â
I'm very accustomed to seeing art societies having their exhibition boundaries tested by those submitting work. The extent to which this is visible to me is always dependent on the selectors - who can vary from year to year and also vary as to their interpretation of "what's allowed"
SCOPE OF THE EXHIBITION - what's allowed - and what gets selected
I certainly wouldn't like to see the criteria boundaries loosen any further and I'd rather like to see some tightening up on emphasis on "botanical art" - as taught by the diploma (i.e. demonstrating congruence between education and exhibition). Otherwise :
I definitely suggest that future exhibitions make a point of EXCLUDING
I'm sure there's a satisfactory way of finding criteria which can both promote innovation and creativity as to the scope of botanical art while at the same time excluding submissions which really belong in a more general art show
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JUST LIKE THE ONE DONE BY.......
I guess one of the penalties of looking at and studying an awful lot of botanical art - from all over the world - as I do (virtually every day) is that I do tend to spot artwork by artists who have been
I think what I might do at some point is to start highlighting the artists who have been "inspirational"! :)â
âReference: past posts about SBA Exhibitions
Reviews of past Annual SBA Exhibitions â- in Central Hall, Westminster
âI always find it really interesting to read my previous reviews and to see the development of both the exhibition and indivudual artists
28/6/2020 09:09:15 pm
Interesting review of SBA online exhibition. I would add that I found the incorrect presentation of Latin names very irritating. It’s picky perhaps but the SBA diploma teaches that and the exhibition should follow. For example Digitalis purpurea never has a capital for the second word. There were typos too. It needed careful proof reading. I also felt that as no commission was to be charged then artists should have had the opportunity to alter their prices if they wished to do so. I wish there was a catalogue too!
1/7/2020 08:03:18 pm
Thank you Katherine for this comprehensive review. I do so agree with your conclusive statements about still life and maintaining the high standard of botanical art as taught on the diploma course. And yes, SBA, please publish a catalogue next time and get the Latin names right - we students have to and are penalised on assignments if not!
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about botanical art and artists and has followers all over the world. You can also find her at linktr.ee
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