The Enticing Diversity of the RSW’s 143rd Open Annual

Helen Glassford, 'Light Mapping', mixed media
Helen Glassford, 'Light Mapping', mixed media

The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) 143rd Annual Exhibition

Mon - Sat 10:00 - 17:00, Sun 12:00 - 17:00

From: 13 Jan 2024

To: 6 Feb 2024

The Mound
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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This year’s RSW Open Exhibition presents a most enticing, diverse display of 370 paintings by over 150 artists, including many renowned RSW members and a selection from open submissions. 

‘We have a huge range from traditional watercolour to artists who are more expressive, more daring. This is the future… maybe that’s part of the Scottish psyche. We enjoy pushing the envelope, trying things out.’Angus McEwan, President of the RSW. 

Having grown up on the North Norfolk coastline, Sarah Knox specialises in painting en plein-air to observe the changing light in impressionistic moody seascapes. Her poetic watercolour Pour away the Ocean focuses on the translucent sheen of azure and emerald waves, fierce flurry of rain clouds, a simple splash of white adding a faint glow of sunlight over the shoreline of a distant Hebridean island. 

Sarah Knox, ‘Pour away the Ocean, watercolour

The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a narrow strait between Jura and Scarba, featuring treacherous tidal currents and whirlpools. Corryvreckan depicts the flowing, circular motion of the glistening water, the watery, indigo-blue wash illustrating the dark, whirling swell of the wild waves with such minimalist atmospheric vision. 

 Sarah Knox, ‘Corryvreckan‘, watercolour

‘The natural language of nature, the edges between shoreline and water, hill and horizon, cloud and skyline all soften into an unfolding diorama.’ Helen Glassford

Escaping to remote places is the backdrop to Helen Glassford’s quiet, evocative scenes. Drift captures the mesmerising merging between sea and sky with shimmering luminosity. (RSW Watermark award).

Helen Glassford, ‘Drift’, acrylic

In a loose, sketchy composition, Light Mapping, the vivid burst of coral sunlight shining over the dark sea creates an imaginative, dreamlike perspective of this fleeting moment at dawn or dusk. 

Helen Glassford, ‘Light Mapping‘, mixed media

Australian artist Ruth Thomas is constantly inspired by the art of nature along the seashore: ‘Nature’s calligraphy: the myriad of lines on windswept beaches, the delicate rocks and shells.’  To convey the geological structure in Across the Water, long narrow strips of painted paper are layered in a cool kaleidoscope with an aquamarine, chestnut brown and soft grey textured collage. The striated pattern of horizontal lines – sand, wild grasses, rockpools, rippling waves, distant shore, trees, contoured hills and slither of sky – a panoramic scene of calm, peaceful tranquillity. (SAC Award). 

Ruth Thomas, ‘Across the Water, acrylic and collage

In 1993 Ann Wegmuller went to see a Matisse exhibition which she said, ‘liberated me from any literal translation, to put colour down as I felt it should be and not as it was’. 

Wegmuller paints what she sees around her, the land beside the sea, rocks, plants, tideline, observing the scene with intuitive abstraction. InSmall Beach, the bold use of colour is the dominant factor, to represent golden sand, sun, flowers, trees and sea. Rather than geometric blocks, it’s a happy, haphazard jigsaw of shape, line, dot and light, following Ann’s liberated creative philosophy, ‘Art, whatever it takes.’

Ann Wegmuller, ‘Small Beach, gouache

Over 50 years ago, Reinhard Behrens found a rusty toy submarine on a beach and soon afterwards read a report in a Turkish newspaper about the collision between a submarine and a cargo ship named Naboland. This has taken him and his toy on a journey of the imagination to real and mythical places, such as Tourism, where the wee yellow submarine has travelled to a Polar region amongst a cluster of icebergs. Balancing the authentic realism of this bleak, barren place, as always in his wonderful witty world of Naboland, it’s delightfully humorous and quirky and received the RSW Council award. 

Reinhard Behrens, ‘Tourism‘, watercolour

Observing the Scottish Borders countryside through the seasons has long been a passion for Douglas Davies. Frozen Branches is an exquisite abstract scene, blending tones of cream, buttermilk and icy blue in a frosty haze under the pale sun. The close-up of tangled bare branches, wire fence and winter cornfield stubble is astutely portrayed with a sweeping expanse of the cloudy sky, in which you can feel the bitterly cold air.  

Douglas Davies, ‘Frozen Branches, acrylic

‘I try to find a balance between the elements of texture, movement and geometry in the landscape, using energetic over-layerings of colour, blocking out shapes and marks’. Lynn McGregor

Lynn’s studio looks out over Loch Awe and surrounding hills, the continual source of her inspiration. In the cool blue-tinted New Frost, a woodland of trees and undulating hills are effectively depicted in feathery brushstrokes, smudges of acrylic with thin furrowed lines across the fields. Look at the economical technique for the sunless sky – just a pure block of bleak winter greyness. (Sir William Gilles award) 

Lynn McGregor, ‘New Frost‘, acrylic on board

‘I am inspired to create art by a combination of reading and travel. An imperative proportion of the sources must include historical/cultural elements.’ – Ian Cook

Ian Cook has travelled the world – Africa, India, South America, Mexico – keen to learn about ancient culture, heritage and folklore. With a disjointed, Cubist style, Village Bride imbues a period setting, political revolution or civil uprising, the young woman raising her fist in protest. Her stance reflects strength and stoicism, but perhaps a hint of fear in her facial expression. The title, suggesting a recent wedding, is intriguing. 

Ian Cook, ‘Village Bride‘, acrylic, gouache

Ian Ritchie shares this historic theme, studying Scottish myths and legends, recently investigating the recurring practice of arsenic-poisoning in Victorian society. In his fashionably stylish yet menacing portrait, Dark Angel, the large, penetrating eyes of a mysterious lady stare at you from across the gallery, akin to the Mona Lisa. Draped in her lace veil, the pretty black widow may look grief-stricken but perhaps hiding a dark secret.   

Ian Ritchie, ‘Dark Angel‘, acrylic, collage and image transfer

It is nearly 100 years since Coco Chanel invented the Little Black Dress, which has remained a fashion statement ever since. Michael G Clark has an enduring passion for touring France and Italy to observe café life and culture, including the iconic LBD. The shapely contour of these five simple yet elegant black dresses is like an illustration by a Parisian couture designer. While draped on a dressmaker’s dummy, they appear to twist and move as if being worn in real life in a choreographed dance. 

Michael G Clark, ‘The Enduring Appeal of the Little Black Dress, water-based media

George Donald is a painter and printmaker whose vibrant use of colour is linked to his Indian colonial childhood, as well as a post graduate travel scholarship in Afghanistan and Nepal. A human figure is frequently present as part of experimentation with mark-making, as seen in All Things Considered. A wistful look on the faces of the two women – one holding bridesmaid’s flowers, perchance? – as a dog sleeps in the midday sun, in this richly-patterned, musical medley reflecting time passing and the rhythm of life.

George Donald, ‘All things considered, acrylic and collage

As Angus McEwan describes in his overview, it’s exciting to see daring, futuristic artists pushing the boundaries in the art of watercolour. With detailed accuracy akin to photorealism, James McDonald perfects exquisite paintings of flowers, portraits and a theme, entitled Plain Bread, such as this most appetising slice of Toast and Jam. This thick slab of Mother’s Pride, with a dark crust is smothered in melted butter and sweet strawberry jam, with a juicy blob dripped on to the marbled kitchen counter. Time for tea!

James McDonald, ‘Toast and Jam, acrylic on paper

With grateful thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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