Art in Babylon
Watercolourists have suffered from too much exposure. Everyone with any time on their hands feels they might qualify as one. People from Prince Charles to Charlie Watts are practitioners and the history of watercolours is surely as genteel and unadventurous as art gets? Isn’t it?
A visit to Ely’s Babylon Gallery will sweep those preconceptions away with the cold Fen wind. In this charming riverside gallery, the Society of East Anglian Watercolorists are on display - with work selected by The Royal Society of Watercolourists’ John Crossley, Lillian August RI from the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and Byard Art’s founder Juliet Bowmaker. Prizewinners are firmly marked out and two painters actually doing their stuff as you walk in. It isn’t surprising really. Don’t watercolorists work anywhere? Not for them the pretensions of an elaborate studio, these paintings were, many of them, executed in situ.
Chris Lockwood, at work on a splendid flower painting almost embodied the modest but uber-talented character of modern watercolour work. Unfazed by visitors she was quietly adding paint to a glorious fall of late summer blooms whilst on the gallery wall hung her disparate contributions to the Show, “I thought I was exclusively a flower painter” she says of a tradition that spans the centuries ,”But now I find I can expand into landscape ( “Rivers in the Sand’ was such a venture) “and also portraiture” (Soaking up the Sun is a delightful picture of her own daughter.) “Oddly, I now find myself where I began, with flowers.”
Working alongside her painting vibrant leaves, was Helen Clarke who has received a prize for her moody ‘On the Edge of the Fen’. Helen finds so much joy in her work, it exudes from her, a real enthusiasm for the medium and a willingness to take it further than she had imagined.
Vandy Massey’s ‘Morning Glow’ and a glorious ‘Mist Rolling In’ exemplified the scope of trope of modern watercolour art today - emotionally connected and spiritual in feel. Both works are typical of the calibre of accomplishment in the Babylon. Michele Webber’s ‘Birch trees’ are a breakaway in the psychedelic direction earning her a Special Award for a nature study with strong pinks and fluorescent greens . On the more literal side , there was still so much accomplished talent. Tony Hatt with his seascape, Slack Tide, might appear simply traditional, but so well done it lifts the eye and the perspective with wonderful foreground detail to intrigue. Hung alongside him, Surinder Beerh’s ‘Boats at Woodbridge’ and a study of Pin Mill might be of the Old School but no less talented - and accomplished - for that.
My favourites were Patricia Stoten’s still life studies in vibrant orange and blue. And for the cognoscenti, President’s Prizewinner Justin Hawkes landscapes did dominate with a truly watery three piece Fusion . But whatever your taste watercolours will never be an art form you think you can predict. Because you can’t. Judging by this exposition, it’s all to play for.The works are only from members of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists - however it would be accurate to say that the exhibition selectors included John Crossley VPRWS, (Vice President of the Royal Watercolour Society), Lillias August RI, (council member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours) and Juliet Bowmaker (founder of Byard Art and co-founder of Acuity Arts) - the two most important national watercolour societies in the UK. Their expertise has helped to make this exhibition a showcase of excellence in watercolours for the East of England.