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Landscape Artist of the Year Contestant and Oxford-based artist Simon East

Landscape Artist of the Year 2015

Sky’s Landscape Artist of the Year competition played out earlier this year in a series of exciting “paint-offs” reminiscent of The Great British Bake Off format
Landscape Artist of the Year Contestant and Oxford-based artist Simon East

" 'He’s not gonna make it, is he?' said a lady in the front row to her friend"

Instead of haute cuisine, expert judges Tai-Shan Schierenberg, Kathleen Soriano and Kate Bryan feasted on artworks of exquisite National Trust locations created against the clock by shortlisted artists. Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, Trelissick in Cornwall, and Lyme Park in Cheshire provided the inspiration for the heats, with winners progressing to the final and the possibility of a £10,000 commission from the National Trust.

Landscape Artist of the Year Contestant and Oxford-based artist Simon East details his intense experience on the show

 

On 26th April, the 8 Heat 2 artists emerged bleary-eyed from their hotels to make the 7.30am arrival at Waddesdon Manor, where a breakfast of bacon butties and coffee was laid on to fuel our creative engines.

The artists tentatively engaged their new colleagues, and imminent rivals, in a quiet patter of conversation – had we visited the location in advance of the big day? What would we be required to paint? One or two ventured that they had painted several possible aspects by way of preparation. Not for the first time, I noted the possible advantages of foreplanning. I had been busy with a commissioned work and managed only to produce the first colour layer of a view taken from the internet very late the night before – at the same time ensuring that I would be sleep-deprived and competing the next day on a mixture of caffeine and adrenaline. I hadn’t even prepared the linoleum into which I would soon be cutting my design in the pursuit of a heat-winning print. I excused myself in order to cut a block and sand it down, deflecting a cameraman’s suspicion that I may have jumped the starting gun by remonstrating against the cold weather.

By now, the aspect that we would be painting was clear: a line of eight evenly spaced glass pods, or artists’ shelters, faced out across the fountain, over statues, winding paths and the neatly manicured shrubs and blossoming borders of Waddesdon Manor’s signature parterre. The scene was growing busy with production crew. The time-lapse cameras were installed and contestants were miked up, then led away to give brief interviews and be filmed passing comment while strolling through a gazebo containing the shortlisted work from each artist. “Oh, I love this one!” I enthused of my own print of willows from Oxford’s Port Meadow, unintentionally inviting the possibility that I could be edited into the role of series egomaniac.

‘Artists, you may begin!’, declared presenters Joan Bakewell and Frank Skinner soon after, signalling five hours to exquisitely immortalise the gardens, or else freeze up and offend the judges’ fine sensibilities wisth a couple of poorly placed daubs

I began sketching the parterre as if seen from high elevation and with exaggerated perspective, imparting a little expressionist flavour. The completed drawing must then be transferred to the linoleum, and progressively cut away and printed, in order to create successive colour layers.

Just when one was striking into a groove of tolerably good work a camera and boom mike would arrive, a judge or presenter draw up a chair, and another interview would take place. Meanwhile the time-lapse camera clicked and whirred, scrutinising the creative process, as did the browsing members of the public. The sun appeared for a while before the cold returned and pinched our busy fingers. I skipped lunch and tea breaks and gave interviews with shivering teeth.

With an hour left, my linocut tools were cutting faster and faster, becoming a blur almost, and only just beginning to carve the final – detail – layer into the linoleum. “Plenty to see here, it’s changing every minute,” enthused a lone cameraman in my glass pod, while avoiding low-flying pieces of linoleum. The other artists finished and breathed a sigh. I hurriedly slapped inks together in search of the right shade of turquoise. With just ten minutes remaining, a couple of elderly ladies decided this was precisely the right time to visit me in order to chat in detail about something – probably Nietzsche, or Bernoulli’s principle of fluid mechanics, I forget now. The cameras and crowd convened upon my glass pod.

‘Two minutes to go! Do you think you’re going to make it?’ the producer aimed a mike at my nose. I rolled ink onto the almost finished lino block, lined up the paper – a couple of millimetres out and the print might be ruined – and burnished the back of it with a spoon in order to transfer the final colour layer. The crowd watched. “He’s not gonna make it, is he?” said a lady in the front row to her friend. The final minute ticked away. Everyone was watching except for my parents, whose nerves were frayed from the stress of the last hour and were facing a wall. I peeled off the finished print with ten seconds remaining and my heart in my mouth. A round of applause happened. Unlike with painting, with a print you generally don’t know if it will be a success until the very end of a long process, when the final layer is in place. I risked a glance at my picture. It wasn’t too horrible.

Soon the artworks were whisked away for the judges to commence with their public deliberations and excoriations. The artists lined up to receive judgement. Who was the winning artist? – you’ll have to watch to find out, but both Joan Bakewell and the producer requested one of my competition prints by which to remember an exciting day, so I gave my final interview still rather cold, but feeling pretty warm inside.

Sky Landscape Artist of the Year is currently showing on Tuesdays at 8pm on Sky Arts channel, and episodes are also available on demand. Simon’s heat (Waddesdon Manor, heat 2) is shown on 3rd November. The print that Simon created on the day will be uploaded to his website shortly after the programme, and various other original prints are also available to view or purchase here too.

 

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