SWA 156th Annual Exhibition 2017, Mall Galleries from a Painter's POV

President of SWA Sue Jelley

President of SWA Sue Jelley

There is a theory about why the concept of women only exhibitions should be obsolete in contemporary art scene. There is another theory about why  societies of women artists are still important in our times of gender equality. So what's in the name - the  Society of Women Artists (SWA) today? With that question  in mind I've approached the best person to shed the light on the topic - the President of SWA Sue Jelley.

Surrounded by staggering number of artworks (total of 406) on display at Mall Galleries,  the President and I sit down for a quick interview. Coming from an accomplished artist as herself,  and as an artist-to artist dialogue, I am eager to hear about Sue's view on this topic. She immediately  points out that there is indeed a lot of controversy around the society's  existence, but one has to keep in mind the history of how SWA evolved from it's origin in 1857. 

And evolution indeed! - very much reflected through how the society was named. Founded as the Society of Female Artists in times when it was considered unseemly for women to paint for public display. At Society's first exhibition, some artists chose to hide their true identities for fear of social recrimination. However, as the access to professional training for women  artists improved, along with the higher standards came the second name-change. In 1969 it became the Society of Lady Artists. Finally, in 1900, the Society embraced the twentieth century with the present name SWA.

In President's own words, there is no doubt that through the decades the Society has nurtured its members from weakness to strength. Despite the difficulties of early years when women really didn't have a voice, the Society travelled well into the 21st century, attracting some of most noted and talented artists of our time. Today, the Society remains as popular as ever with 2000 submissions for the annual Open exhibitions, specially encouraging the young artists to use the opportunity to kick-start their carriers. However, the President adds, there is one thing that is still against the Society - and that is to be perceived as less serious just because it is for women. That would have never happened if the society was just for men' and although not exactly in the art world, there are indeed plenty of such exclusive clubs and organizations still around.

I am asking Sue, in her own opinion, whether the existence of SWA still justified today. She answers that personally she wouldn't recommend new female societies today, just because the many existing societies in UK  are mixed and are rather about about genre than gender. But, she adds, she hopes that SWA as institution continues to carry the tradition and let that  tradition become modern though the work of its members.

My final question is what the President thinks about being a female artist herself, and she  answers without hesitation that she doesn't like labels and wouldn't be called a female artist;  she is just painter. She says it with a smile and a warm glimpse in her eyes as she hurries away to take care of her many tasks and duties.

And so my eyes turn to the exhibition itself, and the first impression is that there is no subject- matter to consider as being too small or insignificant. It covers broad range of styles and expression. Abstract or figurative, the  main criteria for juri's choice seemes to be that the work has to be substantial and/or exciting. The variety of media is quite impressive - painting, sculpture, drawings, etchings,  mixed media; with the exception of photo and installations.  Works are divided in two large groups: members of SWA and guest-exhibitors, of which I am a representative. The walls are literally covered with works, and although the placement is carefully  thought through, it is nevertheless overwhelming - very much like Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts.

Confronted with great variety of techniques, I decided to organize the works that fought my eye into categories by use of  media: oil/acrylics, drawing/pastels, mixed media and sculpture.

Still life, oil:

Tanya Moderscheim's traditional Still Life with Delft plate' Dutch artist inspired by Dutch masters.

Tanya Moderscheim's traditional Still Life with Delft plate' Dutch artist inspired by Dutch masters.

Dani Humberstone's somewhat ironic Press Out Still Life.

Dani Humberstone's somewhat ironic Press Out Still Life.

Fresh and subtle Blue Bottles by Ann Kelly.


Fresh and subtle Blue Bottles by Ann Kelly.

Portraits and figure are very strong represented, but here is what I found attractive for different reasons:

Rosalind Robinson's We Two Together,  one of the series of enigmatic frozen figures, seemly belonging to a different time.

Rosalind Robinson's We Two Together,  one of the series of enigmatic frozen figures, seemly belonging to a different time.

Jenny van Gimst - That Day 1. Minimalistic and expressive, and a bit of Modigliani revisited.

Jenny van Gimst - That Day 1. Minimalistic and expressive, and a bit of Modigliani revisited.

Equally enigmatic and appearing of belonging to a different epoch is Sophie Ploeg's Guest.

Equally enigmatic and appearing of belonging to a different epoch is Sophie Ploeg's Guest.

Caroline Pool, Here I Am: Howard. It is large work, but it is the gestalt that draws you in like a beginning of a story yet to be told.

Caroline Pool, Here I Am: Howard. It is large work, but it is the gestalt that draws you in like a beginning of a story yet to be told.

Sue Jelley and her Young Dansers, simple and attractive in black and white with luscious edges.

Sue Jelley and her Young Dansers, simple and attractive in black and white with luscious edges.

Isabella Watling, Sam Jamma. Delightful portrait with masterly subdued use of color.  

Isabella Watling, Sam Jamma. Delightful portrait with masterly subdued use of color.
 

Last landscape was: Tina Stokes, Whispering Waters - an pleasure for the eye in its impressionistic minimalism.

DRAWING AND PRINT

Michelle Ashby use of pastel in her La Taverne de Montmartre is truly masterful. I have struggled to avoid the reflections and it does affect the quality of image, but  the work has a deep velvety quality of mezzotint, which is quite remarkable.


Michelle Ashby use of pastel in her La Taverne de Montmartre is truly masterful. I have struggled to avoid the reflections and it does affect the quality of image, but  the work has a deep velvety quality of mezzotint, which is quite remarkable.

Melody Amber(Van Oosterom) , Earthly Desires. I liked her approach to drawing, a combination of elegant and edgy. 

Melody Amber(Van Oosterom) , Earthly Desires. I liked her approach to drawing, a combination of elegant and edgy. 

Francis Bell, drawing of Pregnant Nude. Love the complexity of model's  expression combined with her simple posture.

Francis Bell, drawing of Pregnant Nude. Love the complexity of model's  expression combined with her simple posture.

Irene Lees, See Me-See My Anguish. I liked the simple design og the drawing to begin with, but it really impressed me when I understood that it is actually a continuous line black pen work

Irene Lees, See Me-See My Anguish. I liked the simple design og the drawing to begin with, but it really impressed me when I understood that it is actually a continuous line black pen work

Heather Meyerratken and her print Sitiing Pretty got an award for most innovative use of art materials - and that is exactly what is very interesting about it. The work is hard to photograph, it is three -dimensional and appears almost like a hologram.one wonders how she did it.


Heather Meyerratken and her print Sitiing Pretty got an award for most innovative use of art materials - and that is exactly what is very interesting about it. The work is hard to photograph, it is three -dimensional and appears almost like a hologram.one wonders how she did it.

Personally, I have a deep rooted respect for  watercolours. It is the most beautiful, but hellishly difficult medium. I definitely found some mastery of that:

Patsy Whiting's Garage Shelf is not a watercolor, but without reading what it was on label, I first thought so. It is actually a coloured pencils and it just blew my socks of - or sandals, rather

Patsy Whiting's Garage Shelf is not a watercolor, but without reading what it was on label, I first thought so. It is actually a coloured pencils and it just blew my socks of - or sandals, rather

Ann Blockley, Autumn Teasles in Cobweb Wood. That work doesn't even need a comment, it is just masterful and speaks for itself

Ann Blockley, Autumn Teasles in Cobweb Wood. That work doesn't even need a comment, it is just masterful and speaks for itself

Hazel Adam's Quoth The  Raven is what it is - a simple, but striking miniature. She must have used the brushes size of human hair, and yes, I am impressed

Hazel Adam's Quoth The  Raven is what it is - a simple, but striking miniature. She must have used the brushes size of human hair, and yes, I am impressed

Mixed media works:

Treasured Possessions by Dr. Linda Smith is another work that appeared to be in a different technique than it actually is. Thought to be a remarkable drawing, it turned out to be a remarkable enamel fired on glass. I am have to say that I am not familiar with the technique, but I did love the work.

Treasured Possessions by Dr. Linda Smith is another work that appeared to be in a different technique than it actually is. Thought to be a remarkable drawing, it turned out to be a remarkable enamel fired on glass. I am have to say that I am not familiar with the technique, but I did love the work.

Jessica Zoob, Triumphant. A large work that just spoke to me through its texture, colours and the flow of composition

Jessica Zoob, Triumphant. A large work that just spoke to me through its texture, colours and the flow of composition

Ingrid Lucas, Incarceration. Egg tempera and resin on board, an interesting decision on choice of format and visual effect of stained glass in church.

Ingrid Lucas, Incarceration. Egg tempera and resin on board, an interesting decision on choice of format and visual effect of stained glass in church.

Julie Oldfield, Brass-Scape that is a mixture of patination acids and alkali on brass sheet with gouache, oil pastels and spray paints. It is actually humble in size, but the more you look at it, the more it grows as it draws the viewer in. Loved the translucency of it too, although it needs to be seen in better light than it currently is.  

Julie Oldfield, Brass-Scape that is a mixture of patination acids and alkali on brass sheet with gouache, oil pastels and spray paints. It is actually humble in size, but the more you look at it, the more it grows as it draws the viewer in. Loved the translucency of it too, although it needs to be seen in better light than it currently is.
 

The is an abundance of sculptures to every taste at the show, but I was attracted to and greatly enjoyed a  very particular type of sculptures - depicting mythological or fantasy creatures.

Minotaur by Elain Peto

Minotaur by Elain Peto

Diana by Elaine Peto. Her work becomes instantly recognizable, and once seen, you just want to see more. I could live with those creatures of hers.

Diana by Elaine Peto. Her work becomes instantly recognizable, and once seen, you just want to see more. I could live with those creatures of hers.

Equinox by Anna Gillespie, bronze/found wood. It invoked about thought of finding a balance in Herculean labour when I was looking at it, and it is an interesting work that needs to be seen from more than just one angle - as all sculpture does.

Equinox by Anna Gillespie, bronze/found wood. It invoked about thought of finding a balance in Herculean labour when I was looking at it, and it is an interesting work that needs to be seen from more than just one angle - as all sculpture does.

Bushes Fakhoury, Kudo Posession. I couldn't resist to think about those small aliens in MIB, but regardless of my association, I found this work to be strangely uplifting and highly entertaining. As a conclusion I would say that with it's massive body of work, the exhibition is bound to have something for everyone. The work I covered is very subjectively chosen, and my selection neither reflects nor does justice to a plethoria of work on display. That is said, there is one thing that doesn't make sense - and that it the extremely short duration of the exhibition. I am sure there must be a good reason for it, but it must feel unfair to the exhibitors. So much  to see, so little time. The exhibition lasts until July 9th. For more information about the history of SWA, their work and future submission calls, go to  https://www.society-women-artists.org.uk/

Bushes Fakhoury, Kudo Posession. I couldn't resist to think about those small aliens in MIB, but regardless of my association, I found this work to be strangely uplifting and highly entertaining.

As a conclusion I would say that with it's massive body of work, the exhibition is bound to have something for everyone. The work I covered is very subjectively chosen, and my selection neither reflects nor does justice to a plethoria of work on display. That is said, there is one thing that doesn't make sense - and that it the extremely short duration of the exhibition. I am sure there must be a good reason for it, but it must feel unfair to the exhibitors. So much  to see, so little time.

The exhibition lasts until July 9th. For more information about the history of SWA, their work and future submission calls, go to 

https://www.society-women-artists.org.uk/

As a conclusion I would say that with it's massive body of work, the exhibition is bound to have something for everyone. The work I covered is very subjectively chosen, and my selection neither reflects nor does justice to a plethoria of work on display. That is said, there is one thing that doesn't make sense - and that it the extremely short duration of the exhibition. I am sure there must be a good reason for it, but it must feel unfair to the exhibitors. So much  to see, so little time.

The exhibition lasts until July 9th. For more information about the history of SWA, their work and future submission calls, go to 

www.society-women-artists.org.uk

Natalie Holland | Alice in Wonderland | 60x50cm | oil on canvas

Natalie Holland is a contemporary realist artist, best known for her highly skillful ability to portraiture humanity in her work. 

She received her education in St.Petersburg Academy of Arts, started her career as artist in Norway and,  after attending the studio of Odd Nerdrum in Oslo, proceeded to exhibit internationally, with gallery shows in Norway, Italy, USA and UK.

In 2007 she moved to London, where she currently works. Here, she exhibited at BP Portrait Award 2009 and several times with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Federation of British Artists at Mall Galleries. 

Natalie Holland's work may be seen soon in Chicago at the Zhou B Art Center for Woman as Warrior group exhibition curated by Didi Menendez and Sergio Gomez.