Watercolour in Britain – Tradition & Beyond

Watercolour in Britain @ Millenium Gallery

“I thought watercolour was supposed to be all blurry and stuff”, told me a well dressed gentleman whilst eating a cupcake at a bench in Peace Gardens. I was caught off-guard by this as was waiting for a friend, with the exhibition pamphlet precariously dangling from my hands.

“Beg pardon?” I said and he drew a long breath, ready to go on an Abe Simpson-calibre of a tirade. Thankfully, another old guy came by, excused himself and took the guy away.

Wish I was making that up.

“Watercolour in Britain – Tradition & Beyond” is an exhibition being held at the Millenium Gallery until the 5th of September (hurry!) and frankly, it’s quite good and it costs the princely sum of no pounds.

Right at the entry, dispelling all preconceptions of watercolour, there are various pieces that offer intricate, detailed workings that you’d swear they are not watercolours. Then the exhibitions leads you into the works of Edward Burra, an artist I had no idea who he was, but appreciated the primer that this exhibition gave me.

There’s a part dedicated to the most known artist of this technique, J.M.W. Turner, whose dream-like paintings, which look like a blurred out photography on a foggy day, are nowhere to be found, but instead, you get pieces with a more defined outline. Some of his characteristic styles are still there, though, but the sheer range of creativity the man had gets a little love here.

After these two main artists, there’s a mixed bag of paintings, from old, Pre-Raphaelite paintings to more modern (and abstract) paintings. Subject matter goes from landscapes (there’s a beautiful landscape shot overlooking an industrial Sheffield) to dreams and surrealism. The variety caters to all tastes, so although you might not like all, you certainly have enough choice, taking into account the size of the exhibition.

I have to  mention that ‘Snig Hill from Angel Street’ by Henry Rushbury was a particularly haunting piece. It’s a stark look at how Sheffield was affected by the Blitz and the detail that went into it is amazing.

Finally, there’s an area dedicated to some of William Blake’s paintings and some of them are quite extraordinary. Consider it the last hurrah for the exhibition, a little token of appreciation for soldiering through. It’s one of the highlights of the “Watercolour Britain – Tradition & Beyond”.

Now, there’s some interesting bits that I now know because of this exhibition:

a) Tim Burton’s Jack Skellington was inspired by Edward Burra’s ‘Dancing Skeletons’ (click for evidence).
b) Blake’s painting skills mirrors his word creativity.
c) Medieval religious paintings are ripe for a resurgence. They’d look bostin on skateboards and Xbox 360’s shells!
d) The instructional video of watercolour may be giving very basic steps about the technique, but, hey, can’t run without crawling.

If you’re interested in getting to know a little bit more about watercolours, the exposition will be on the Millennium Gallery until September 5. It’s very, very free, very good and it cover quite a range. Give it a go!

The Millennium Gallery is open:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 11am – 5pm

Gallery (special thanks to Jo Nancarrow and Chris Harvey for these).


About the author: “When I go out with artists / They talk about language and the cubists and the dadaist / And I try to catch their meanings / And keep up with all the martinis / I don’t know which should be my favorite paintings” – Brad Roberts.


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