The 204th exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours is currently on display at Mall Galleries in London until 16 April 2016. The Cass Art Prize is awarded to a work demonstrating the most innovative use of colour. This year, artist Bob Rudd RI has won with his work Trebarwith, North Cornwall.
Bob Rudd was born in Suffolk in 1944 and studied at the Bath Academy of Art between 1969 and 1973, becoming a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1995. He has exhibited extensively at galleries in London and throughout Britain, including solo exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and the Scilly Isles, collecting prestigious prizes including the Turner Watercolour Award in 2010.
Congratulations Bob, you’ve won the Cass Art Award for most innovative use of colour, can you tell us about how you make your paintings so rich and luminous?
I work on white paper and of course watercolour is translucent so it shines through the colour. I try to use watercolour as strongly as I possibly can, so right from the beginning I’ll go to the part of the painting that I feel most sure about, it could be a colour I have seen in the landscape or a colour idea, and I paint it as if that is going to be in the final painting unchanged. This confident start gives me something positive to relate to. Working in the same way, passages are added to area by area until most of the painting is covered. Some areas remain unaltered, whilst others are modified many times and a colour scheme emerges.
What excites you about watercolour?
I love its translucent fluid quality and you can be very quick and spontaneous with watercolour, it’s very immediate. On the other hand it is possible to lay very flat washes and create beautiful gradations that almost paint themselves. It can be much stronger than people imagine.
How do you create such a vibrant sense of light in your work?
As soon as you put a really strong shadow into a painting the sun comes out! There are very dark passages, occasionally using Indian ink
, which is blacker than the blackest watercolour so I’m using the full tonal range from black, as black as I can make it, to the white of the paper. So it’s simply contrasting, stretching the range of the tones from black to white and keeping the mid tones and colour strong, and light comes out of that.
What are your favourite watercolour brushes and paints?
I use almost exclusively Winsor & Newton Artists Watercolour
tubes and I have about 100 colours. Some of the colours I use more of than others, Cobalt Blue for example I buy in 25ml tubes. For brushes I use Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable
brushes up to about size 6 or 7, they are probably one of the best sable brushes available. Bigger than that up to a size 20 in a sable/synthetic mix. And larger than that I actually find hog hair flat brushes
actually pick up watercolour well, even decorators brushes for very large works. I use Saunders Waterford
and Arches Rough
300lb paper. If I want to work big, and sometimes the work can be six foot long, I stretch it by putting it in the bath and stapling it onto a frame and it pulls tight like a drum but there’s no need to stretch the thicker paper on a smaller scale.
Do you have any colours you simply couldn’t do without?
Cobalt blue probably but it will change, of course you have a toolbox and things that you fall back on the whole time but I approach each painting individually and each time I start in a different place. Very often I don’t know where it’s going to end up. The sensible thing is to have about a dozen colours, get to know them really well and try to make them look like 100 colours. I start off with 100 and try to make them look like a dozen.
You have a wonderful way of describing water in paint, from breaking waves to shallow reflective pools, do you have any tips or techniques for other watercolourists on how to achieve this?
It is just looking very closely, looking and looking. It takes quite a lot of planning, although it ends up looking like a sheet of water, there are reflections on it, you’re looking through it and there are waves and ripples and stuff on the surface. It really is a bit of complicated painting, and especially in watercolour because it is a translucent medium, and much of the drawing and particularly the lights must be protected from the start. There are soft edges and hard edges, so there are all these different qualities. You need to find ways of dividing that process up, so it’s minute observation really, noticing all the subtleties of colour and tone, hard and soft edges and texture, then devising a way of painting all that.
Some areas of your paintings fall away into almost abstract colour work that is descriptive at a distance, do you enjoy this play between realism and abstraction?
Yes absolutely! It varies from painting to painting, in a way it’s a kind of collage between some bits that are carefully observed, bits that are freely interpreted, and other bits that are blatantly invented. I work from photographs, preferring to spend my time when I'm out in the landscape just looking and getting ideas. I take aide memoire photographs that I feel will be useful reference back in the studio. When I paint out of doors it's very intuitive, full of light and air and spontaneity, but in the studio I have the choice between painting something that is much more gestural, freely abstracted, or graphic, or simply trying to capture the reflection in a bit of water or the light. Usually it's a mixture of all of those things in different parts of a painting. Having worked over most of the paper there is usually a stage when it is more or less chaotic. So the first part of the process is throwing in the ingredients, and the second part of the process is trying to keep as many of those original ideas as I can but to blend into a strong design. The painting is finished when I cannot see anything more I can do to strengthen the image.
Which other artists do you admire?
The list of course is huge. Matisse, Hans Schwarz, Bonnard, Howard Hodgkin for their colour, the watercolours of Turner, Samual Palmer, Cotman and Piper, and abstract artists too, Patrick Caulfield and Michael Craig Martin. Also Francis Bacon is an absolute favourite, just for that mixture of free intuitive painting against very graphic backgrounds.
Image Credits: All images © Bob Rudd RI
Image 1: Trebarwith Beach, North Cornwall
Image 2: Pentre Ifan, Preseli Hills
Image 3: Prior Park with Palladian Bridge, Bath
Image 4: Low Tide, Trebarwith
Image 5: Dawn, Wiltshire Avon
Image 6: Dovedale, Lake District