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.

Neal Tait 'Country Booby' 2008
Contemporary tempera: Neal Tait Country Booby 2008

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:

Karla Black 'Opportunity for Girls' 2006
Made of what? Karla Black Opportunity for Girls 2006, cellophane, watercolour, emulsion, acrylic paint, vaseline, glass, shampoo, hair gel, toothpaste and thread

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.

Abstract responses: 'Untitled' by Lucia Nogueira

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.

Hayley Tompkin 'Day Series' 2007
Material qualities: Hayley Tompkin Day Series 2007, gouache and enamel on wood

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.


Elizabeth Clark

Watercolour can be used in so many ways. I love it for sketching out ideas and use heavy watercolour paper to get great coverage - a little of each colour with water goes along way and is versitile.

Lesley Frenz

Insightful commentary on the curating of a museum exhibit. Wish I was in London to see this! I, for one, love that you've chosen to showcase the more modern use of watercolors instead of going for the typical landscapes. Makes the exhibit much more relevant, IMHO.


define "exist".

Des Joseph

Watercolour and tempura is the oldest medium and is also the hardest medium to master because of the speed of drying..with watercolour less is more. AAron Penley's(1807-1870) 1875 instruction book was amazing, Sketching Nature in Watercolour. The exployers used watercolour to record what they saw because it was portable and so easy. Colour and pigment has been used since the begimnning of time. Contemporary watercolour does not exist.


I agree! Saw it last week...stunning

Chris B

Love watercolour

Sue Phipps

Speaking on behalf of members of our local art society.. The exhibition was enjoyed by all.Most of our members were enthralled & amazed at the versatility of the medium and the variety of subjects. The general concentus was that the last room of contemporary artists was rather disappointing.

Andrew Fountain

I have always found watercolour the most difficult to use and the least attractive medium min terms of results - until now. It is amazing what has been achieved as represented in the exhibition and some of the works are truly inspiring. I was particularly struck by how vivid the older pieces still are, after nearly 500 years.