Art journal: RSW Annual Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh

Clear mist by Jackie Stevenson

RSW Annual Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh ****

With over 300 works on display, the 141st exhibition of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolor (RSW) occupies the main galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy. It hangs elegantly and with a light and spacious feel that suits the medium of watercolor to which the company is nominally dedicated. The annual exhibition, however, always raises a question about this dedication: when is a watercolor not a watercolor and does it really matter?

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Upon entering, for example, you are struck by a large, brightly colored work, Navajo Dancers, by Ian Cook. It has the scale and quality of an oil, but being acrylic, a water-based medium, it is referred to as a watercolor. It’s more of the same, but then you find a work like A Thin Place by Janet Melrose that looks like, but turns out to be, a delicate paper collage in transparent whites and grays.

From North to Northwest, by Gordon Mitchell

However, there are also many works that show what is special about watercolor, its luminosity as we see it in Alison Dunlop’s Nah-Eileanan Siantu, or in Jean Hill’s Flooded Again, a study by trees standing in flood water, and its marvelous precision as seen in Victoria Braithwaite’s Study of a Red Onion, or in Gordon Mitchell’s astonishing North by North West, a large painting of a boat sailing on the sea inside a boat.

There are also more adventurous works that are also definitely in watercolor, the freely painted study of Lammermuirs by Pascale Rentsch, for example, or the bright abstract colors of Ann Wegmüller by the sea. Don’t Get Me Started by John Kingsley is an abstract, expressionist ink drawing. (Is the ink watercolor?) But a star in my opinion is one of the smaller works on display, Will Maclean’s dark and intense Night Sea. Painted on a nice thick paper with jagged edges, it is indeed a watercolor. But in the end the range of works is such that one wonders if the identification of society with watercolor is not outdated and that it is time to change.

Finally, last year visibly saw a sad lightening of the ranks. Memorials to deceased members include works by Elizabeth Blackadder, Brenda Lenaghan Allan Robb, Pat Semple, Tom Shanks, George Mackie and David Evans.

Glacier hunt by Reinhard Behrens

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