Saturday, March 2, 2019

Judging a Show: Pastel Society of New Mexico National Exhibition

Part of the exhibition at Sorrel Sky, before the judging.
You can see how the organizers have covered up signatures and wall labels
to keep the judge "blind."

I always love going to Santa Fe—good art, good vibes, good food—but this time was extra special.  This past week I spent a couple of days in "The City Different" serving as Judge of Awards for the Pastel Society of New Mexico's annual National Exhibition.  I enjoyed spending some real "quality time" with over a hundred pastel paintings.  Nowhere in town could I see so many pastels in one place.

The exhibition, which runs through March 31, occupies the entire second floor of Sorrel Sky Gallery on Palace Avenue, a very short walk from the plaza.  The paintings range from landscapes to portraits and figures to still life and abstracts, and the quality of the work is very high.  (Jurors were Alan Flattman, Brian Cobble and Sally Strand, and they did a great job in selecting.)  Conditions for judging were ideal, as all the paintings are hung under excellent lighting.  Still, I had a very tough time narrowing down the 133 paintings to just 22 winners—and an even tougher time picking the top four for the major awards.  Everyone who made it into the show should feel proud.  I congratulate the winners on their success.

I've written before about how I judge a show, but I'll summarize it again.  Armed with a stack of yellow Post-It notes, I go through the gallery quickly, putting a note next to every painting that appeals to me.  This is my first pass, and I'm looking for work that strikes me immediately in some way.  I'm not thinking of design, color or mark-making at this point but visual and emotional impact.  Then I go through the gallery again, looking more carefully at the ones I skipped.  Did I miss a quiet, shy piece that appeals to me if I look longer?  If so, I give it a Post-It note.  Then I go through yet again, looking at everything—noted or not—with an eye to design, color and mark-making.  Next, I count the number of Post-It notes and compare that to the number of awards.  The difference is what I have to remove.  So, I go through several more times, re-evaluating my choices and removing—or, in some cases, moving—the notes until I have the same number of notes on the wall as I have awards.  Now the painful part begins, and I have to decide on the top awards.  This involves double-checking my work (thinking again of design, color, mark-making plus emotional appeal and how well the artist conveyed the message) until I've made my selections.  Believe me, although the process sounds logical and simple, it's a lot of work, and sometimes I wish I'd worn roller skates to make the going back-and-forth easier!  I go through these multiple passes to make sure I've made my selections with honesty and integrity.

The Society has invited me to do a demonstration for them at their monthly meeting next Saturday (March 9, 10 a.m. at the Albuquerque Museum.)  I'm looking forward to showing how I paint "glare" on water with Blue Earth Pastels.  If you can't make it to the meeting, at least try to see the show in Santa Fe.  You won't be sorry.

Me at Sorrel Sky in front of my painting.
Judge and jurors were asked to bring a sample pastel
painting to hang.

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