Hi, my name is Katharine Stout and I have made the contemporary selection for the Watercolour exhibition.
When the idea of this show was first discussed between the co-curators, I was unsure about categorizing art in terms of its media, or more specifically type of paint, since so many artists today work in a variety of disciplines and materials.
They are driven by their ideas rather than the formal properties of a particular medium. Yet when I started to research further into how watercolour is used today I was struck by how for many artists, the material properties of the medium are so well suited to the concepts and themes they wish to investigate and portray. The myriad ways in which artists today are using water based paint (for the show has a broader reach than solely watercolour) are extensive and wide ranging which relates directly back to how watercolour has been used in the past, as you’ll see for example in the use of a modern version of tempera by Neal Tait.
Or watercolour as one of a whole range of materials in the piece by Karla Black in order to explore qualities of opacity and transparency using paint and other substances:
Many artists working now look to how artists in past eras forged new ground for watercolour, whiles seeking to find their own range of possibilities for the medium. Today, for example, watercolour is used as an analytical tool for recording and responding to emotional memory or visual stimuli such - as in the very different paintings by Tracey Emin and Lucy Skaer: Or as a way to capture a more abstract response to experiences and ideas, expressed for example in the work of Lucia Nogueira and Bethan Huws.
Alternatively as used to extend the possibilities of colour and the material qualities of paint as seen in the work of Callum Innes and Hayley Tompkins. Whether watercolour is used as a vehicle for experimentation in the privacy of the artist’s studio, a chance to work out nascent thoughts and motifs or to produce work intended for public presentation from the outset, it remains an essential aspect of contemporary practice.
We decided to represent certain thematic aspects of contemporary practice in depth rather than offering a more general survey of art being made today and so regrettably for example, living artists who paint directly from observed landscapes or nature have not been included here. Even within the devised remit, it has been incredibly difficult to select within the inevitable space limits, and so the artists you will see in the show represent just a fraction of the vibrant and compelling work being made in watercolour in Britain today. What also becomes apparent is that it seems almost impossible to generalise about watercolour as a particularly British art under the contemporary conditions of an ever changing multi-cultural society and when artists move so frequently between countries. But then perhaps the fluidity of ideas and formal concerns, alongside the restless movement of artists themselves is something that has always defined British art.