Capturing the 2012 celebrations in watercolour
A wash on paper or vibrant layers of paint – the freedom and versatility of watercolours is what attracts so many artists to the medium.
An array of works that demonstrate these contrasting styles and approaches are on display from this week at the Royal Watercolour Society’s (RWS) Picturing Britain 2012 exhibition at the society’s home, the Bankside Gallery.
Among the exhibitors is Radlett-based artist Thomas Plunkett, who has been a member of the RWS since 2008, was elected treasurer in 2009 and elected president earlier this year. For official occasions, Thomas wears his magnificent RWS badge of office (pictured below), which was designed by and donated to the society during the late 1800s by former member Hubert von Herkomer, founder of the Bushey Art School.
Thomas, 39, has been a professional artist for the past 18 years. After studying English literature and fine art Chester College, he set up his own studio and gallery –Thomas Plunkett Fine Art in St Albans in 2003.
“It was on Sandridge Road, opposite Bernards Heath,“ recalls Thomas. “I was living in West Hampstead at the time and the advantage was that I had a studio on the upper floor and a gallery below. I was painting lots of local scenes and it went well for ten years but, when I thought about doing it for another 20-30 years, I decided I needed a change.“
A father of three young sons, Thomas has lived in Radlett since 2006.
After closing the gallery, he enrolled at the Institute of Education in London to gain teaching qualifications in art and design. His work spans giving talks in Cambridge for the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists through to schooling for 11-18-year-olds.
“Art is quite autonomous. You follow the National Curriculum and generally all Year 7s can draw, but then after that they get to that point in life where they say, ’oh I cant draw’, but they can still walk, talk, write, read and do everything else so they can be taught in a sensitive way. You start off teaching them the fundamental basics and the conceptual stuff comes later but it’s just enthusing them about a whole gamut of artists, craftsmen and makers.“
Working with watercolours allows artists to explore the different relationships between paper, water and paint. Thomas tells me his style has changed quite dramatically over the years, perhaps as he has grown in confidence to allow these three elements to play out by themselves.
“When I started to make a living in art all my work was quite detailed and architectural but later I thought how can I do it differently. I’ve now moved to more figurative and abstract works.”
One of Thomas’ four works that feature in the exhibition was painted from the terrace of the House of Commons during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.
“I took a sketch book and a camera and spent 40 minutes drawing the view of Westminster Bridge. I ended up with a concertina of photos and a 12ft long drawing that needed to be condensed down. There were lots of MPs and their wives watching and someone said you’d better do one for the House of Lords as well.“
When we spoke, Thomas was still putting the finishing touches to the picture, one of four he will be exhibiting at the show, which will feature more than 100 artworks.
“The members have created a dynamic exhibition to capture the celebrations and events of 2012 and as well as the warp and weft of British life,“ adds Thomas. “Works have been wrought from water-based media and the artists’ collective imaginations.“
The exhibition will also feature works drawn from the Royal Watercolour Society’s own Archive and Diploma Collection by artists working during the historic year of the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth in 1952, as well as during the earlier Recording Britain project.
The Royal Watercolour Society: Picturing Britain 2012 runs from July 27-August 12 at the Bankside Gallery, Hopton Street, London. Open: 11am-7pm. Details: 020 7928 7521, banksidegallery.com and royalwatercoloursociety.co.uk