David ; This question requires some analysis, and the answer is not straightforward or single track. It is necessary to differentiate firstly between the types of exhibition, and also organisers, who may send the Invitation. We have experienced over recent years a rapid evolution in the scope and types of opportunities presented to the working water colour painter. Within that description also lie the sub groups of practitioners. There are at least three sections of these in my opinion which are: the professional painter who must earn his/her living from their art, the committed enthusiast who strives to be upwardly mobile in their ambition to become a professional, and the very many other w/c enthusiasts who are content to practice and work through the learning process via recreational painting activities.
Invitations to exhibit may come in several formats, and will depend upon the type of show and exhibitor sub-group target. The first and more established Invitation comes from the professional Gallery operators who operate in a highly competitive and commercial environment. They, like the professional artist, must sell paintings for their living. Criteria to consider would be, is the Invite for a solo or group show, is the show geographically practical, does the Gallery have a track record , number of paintings required for the exhibit, and timing. Calculations have to be made regarding the logistics and costs involved, freighting, travel, hotels, and all the other matters that must be considered, for example level of Gallery commission, and settlement terms. Remember that the professional artist must subsidise his own investment in the project and it could be some time before he receives payment for paintings sold. There is never any guarantee from a Gallery owner that there will be any sales! It is not difficult to see that the professional artist needs to keep many other skills to hand in addition to the ones using the paint and brush. Sometimes the ethics employed by Galleries are not in the artists favour. Many enthusiasts and keen amateurs are flattered to receive such invitations, but always do your research before committing to exhibit and check out the organiser’s reputation with other exhibitors at the particular gallery, it may save you a world of pain!
The second level of Organisers is the most prolific. They are the (largely) unpaid members of Societies and Art clubs who decide to stage exhibitions. These used to be purely parochial in their format, and many still are, but the Inter connectivity of the modern art world has seen the more adventurous seek to create exhibitions with an International flavour. Quite often these are the more difficult to fathom in terms of the validity of the Invite as the organisers may have little or no track record to base decisions on. The same logistical questions apply. The Invite may be asking for a number of works, or just one or two. Calculations will still have to be made as to costs and timing. More importantly is the consideration of the professional presentation of the work. Sometimes paintings are delivered framed and ready to show, and on other occasions the organiser may offer to provide that as part of the arrangement, merely requiring the delivery of works on paper. This is something to be very aware of. Many of this level of Organiser also offer the artist the opportunity to run workshops. This can certainly assist in the expenses calculations, providing the organiser actually promotes the workshop and is capable of providing both the facilities and infra structure to make the stage a success. Over ambition by organisers in terms of the breadth, scope, and number of proposed workshops can lead to many disappointed students, and also tutors who have cancelled workshops to their name. Organisers must be realistic in their planning.
A most important consideration is communication. Does the organiser approach the artist in a professional and communicative manner? What are the response times for replying to emails, do questions actually get answered in a timely manner? There has been a tendency for some organisers to rely solely on Facebook text to issue invites and communications, this is very dangerous as they are often either not read, or get lost ! I would urge anyone reading this who is thinking of staging a show or workshop to always duplicate their communications by email. Finally the third level of organiser are those staging International Exhibitions and Competitions. It is vital that a code of ethics and absolute professionalism is adhered to. Whether the prizes on offer are solely prestigious, or whether they are cash. The competition and expo must be above reproach in its operation, selection of Judges, choice of exhibitors, and all operational factors. The entrants maybe have paid entry fees to participate, artists and their work must be treated with respect and integrity, and everyone treated equally regardless of their painting ability. I have seen at first hand some questionable judging, and some very unscrupulous behaviour. Favouritism and sycophantic practices are bad news for the water colour world and do no one any favours. Work accepted should be on merit alone. Art has no borders, and the truth will always come out!
2. AOW Have you had any unpleasant surprises once you arrived at the venue ?
David ; Yes! There have been a few. Even after all the homework has been done, your work has arrived at the show, things can still go very wrong! When you first walk into the gallery all you want to see is your work presented in a nice space and hung on the wall to show it at its best. What you don’t want to see is your work hung upside down, or in the wrong orientation, at an irregular angle, or placed at knee height. After all, if you have labelled and applied the correct fixings to your painting, sent images to the organiser (the right way up) and the subject is pretty obvious in its visual interpretation, you would expect the person hanging the paintings to pay some attention to these visual clues ! Additionally if you run a workshop it is nice to actually get paid at the end and not have to chase the organisers for weeks who are suddenly very hard to locate , I label these types of organiser ‘dodgy promoters’. For some strange reason they seem to disregard the idea that we artists communicate with each other and share our experiences!
A few years ago I organised a small group of artists and participated in several group shows in the USA, UK, and China. Galleries were contacted with the offer of a complete group show, and arrangements were made. The tour began. I arrived at a South Carolina Gallery after a long flight from the UK and expected to find 40 paintings displayed in a wonderful contemporary space. This was, after all, what the Gallery owner had promised and photos of ‘the gallery’ had shown. What I found was completely different. The gallery consisted of a small series of interconnecting corridors full of very large items of furniture, upon which were huge jugs of flowers. Very nice you might think however all the paintings were displayed behind these jugs of flowers. Some were not on the walls at all. One painting had been placed on a coffee table top and was being used to host plates of biscuits and cakes! I will leave it to your imagination to create the verbal exchanges that then took place….as much as I do like cakes!
3. AOW Your career has taken an International dimension, with many exhibitions around the world. Notwithstanding the quality of your paintings, what are, according to you, the reasons for this ?
David ; Networking is key. Being visible can instigate invitations, and as importantly provide the experience to reciprocate opportunities amongst fellow artists. It is of course very nice to get invited to many shows around the world. Unfortunately it is just not possible to be in everyone, or to visit them all. I have been dedicated to painting in pure water color for many years, having served my apprenticeship and gone through the ups and downs I am in a fortunate position now of being quite well known. Watercolour is really an obsession and I never lose the excitement for the medium. My enthusiasm I suppose is a little contagious and art for me has no borders. My philosophy goes like this, if you love what you do you can eventually get quite good at it, and somewhere down the road someone might pay you to do it! But the most important element is to love the painting process, this will give you the confidence to reach out to others that share the joy of painting. Eventually those invites will come, but never lose the love!
4. AOW What are your views on the recent growth of the world watercolor scene ?
David; Well, it is fantastic on many levels. The more water color painters there are on every level the better it is. Cultural exchanges in technical skills and subject choices will deepen everyone’s knowledge and experiences.. It’s also good news for equipment manufacturers and those who serve the medium. However there are also dangers. Something that grows too quickly can also have weaknesses. Of concern is the presentation and expectation of exhibitors and exhibitions. It is a fact that W/C is best displayed within a frame, and behind glass. This is for both the paintings preservation, but also the addition of glass over a painting enhances the tonal range, particularly in the dark colour ways. I have seen recent exhibitions where works have been taped to a wall, not even in frames, and even stuck on poles. I can understand an artist’s desire to be exhibited, but there are important standards to maintain. Presentation of paintings in a setting and in a qualitative manner shows respect for the work and its creator, regardless of the standard of the work or artist, enthusiast or professional. In my opinion it is just not good enough for some organisers to exploit the hopes and dreams of w/c lovers, taking money off them, and then displaying their work in a very un-professional manner. Additionally growing the mediums popularity is one thing, but as much effort should go into increasing the audience for what we do amongst the wider public. Again presentation and professional framing and curating are vital to sustain this new audience’s interest.
David; I expect it may still be possible to be a professional artist and never leave your own country. But I don’t really think it is possible. The Internet has meant that whatever we produce can be flashed around the world in seconds. If what you paint is ‘liked’ then you may get new collectors and opportunities, the down side are you also get copyists and those who would steal your rights in your work ! Being a recognised International artist has many benefits of course, especially if you like to travel and meet new friends as I do. These are always for me important moments as new friendships develop, I regard them all as precious experiences which can add to my emotive repertoire and be transmitted into new art making. As artists we wear our hearts on our sleeves, and our paintings represent the depth of our feelings for this world and the wonders it offers, beyond the mere surface representation of the painting.
6. AOW Do you spend a lot of time on social media ( Facebook et al)
David ; It’s impossible to ignore social media. Yes I think we all spend too much time on it, but everyone reading this will think that and know how addictive it is! For me it’s been largely positive and provides a very good way of getting a message across, but I see it as an additional medium along with Magazines, books, film, music, what an amazingly communicative time we live in
7. AOW Generally speaking when doing your own PR for your paintings what are the do’s and don’ts ?
David ; Tough question. ! The three messages to get across when promoting a show are what, where, and when. Talking about paintings and techniques is something I could do all night, it’s endlessly fascinating. In fact I think the more we think we know, the more we realise how little we do know. As most of my own work is inspired by some thing or place striking an emotional chord then getting that deeper meaning across to an audience is vital and incredibly rewarding. But that’s what I do and in a way that is my security blanket. Firstly I paint because I have to, if someone gets into what I have painted then that is a real bonus for me to make that personal connection.
8. AOW How has your worldwide exposure influenced your paintings ? In terms of subject, style, etc ?
David ; It has definitely increased my subject range. Strangely when I visit other countries and go on subject hunting trips I am searching for the same connections I feel when exploring old farm yards or factories back home. I think the pure sound of quietness is very pervading when discovering a hidden corner. There is always a stillness as the possibility of what I see might transform into something I could paint, wherever in the world I happen to be. Capturing that moment in time and holding onto it like a precious butterfly is the essence of excitement. ‘Love is the loudest sound’ is a great line from a song by Mutual Benefit, and of course it is true. To be motivated by your love of the medium and moved by the painterly possibilities of the subject you chance upon, they are the most precious moments wherever you find yourself in the world. Those that know my work will appreciate that my subjects tend to be the overlooked, the abandoned, and the forgotten. magic moments where nature is busy reclaiming what we have created and discarded. Just like people, the richest characters are usually the least obvious.
9. AOW What are David Poxon’s Future plans?
David ; As well as the big shows I am committed to being in then I look forward to collaborations with some very good friends on the International stage with a series of travel shows which will take in the Far East, Australia, USA, and Europe. So I look forward to seeing all those reading this somewhere on the road. Additionally I am working on my new collections for the annual RI (Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours) Exhibition at the Mall Galleries London and also the International Watercolour Masters exhibition . Of course most of my non studio time is allocated to planning, curating, and managing the International Watercolour Masters Exhibition , #IWM2020, which will be at Lilleshall Hall Shropshire in May 2020. IWM2020 is a much expanded show from the 2018 expo, and will feature 38 elite Masters from around the world. Daily demonstrations and lectures, a full workshop programme, and a fantastic and historic location set in glorious Shropshire countryside – an unmissable experience ! See you there ?
AOW Yes !
Tickets for #IWM2020 are on sale now. Admission by advance ticket available from www.saa.co.uk/masters