Anne Byrne with her Blackpool winning painting. Photo courtsey of Sky Arts and Cass Art.

Find out what it's like to take part in Sky Landscape Artist of the Year. Read Semi-Finalists 2023 Sky Arts Landscape of the Year’s contestant Anne Byrne’s experience of appearing on the show.

All the artists will have their own experience, but I found the day itself to be combination of so many different aspects that collectively make the ‘LAOTY ‘experience such a unique one.

After winning my Heat in Blackpool, (Episode 4), I went through to be a Semi-Finalist where the artists were tasked with depicting the Thames Barrier in London.

The process is unlike anything you would typically experience as an artist. Apart from tackling the creative challenge it’s not every day that you find yourself having a film crew and production team capturing you paint as well as a lot of interest from the public (who were wonderful) who are watching too.

Blackpool Challenge: Episode 4

On arriving just after 7am at the location for the Blackpool Heat, I was surprised at the direction that the Pods were facing. I thought that we would be facing the pier but quickly realised – that Blackpool’s North Pier had already been the subject chosen for the artists for the other Blackpool heat and another ‘pier’ challenge wasn’t to be.

 Instead, the Pods were facing the huge rollercoaster and the facades underneath which wouldn’t usually be something that I would choose to work with. However, I knew I had to respond and carefully consider what was it about that spirit of place that spoke to me personally. Consequently, I searched for a narrative that I felt reflected Blackpool’s’ unique identity as a place of manufactured entertainment, but which is also surrounded by vast natural elements over which we have no control: the sea and the sky.

There’s a tension in that contrast that I wanted to capture. I felt that Blackpool wouldn’t be Blackpool without the heavily engineered rides and Rollercoaster, but it also wouldn’t be Blackpool without the huge expanse of sea and sky running along a seven mile stretch of coastline.

My composition was chosen to try to capture that tension and true sense of place that looked wider than directly facing the rollercoaster so that I could acknowledge the imposing presence of those natural elements. The long promenade presented a strong vanishing point that I felt supported my choice of composition.

I was delighted when I was shortlisted as I was up against very talented artists whose work I respect hugely. To be then chosen as Heat winner was an incredible feeling.

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Thames Barrier: Semi-Final

The Semi-Final challenge of depicting The Thames Barrier had a similar combination of the ‘heavily engineered and man-made’ co-existing with the natural element of the River Thames.

The barriers themselves are immense pieces of engineering that protect central London from flooding caused by tidal movements and storms. In contrast to the rollercoaster at Blackpool – which primarily exists for pleasure purposes, the barriers have a real and serious role to play in protecting areas of London from serious harm.

It struck me that there was an ‘audacious boldness’ in this, with the barriers appearing to openly ‘challenge the birth-right of the Thames’ to exist on its own terms throughout history. As an artist, I felt it was important to try and capture that context which meant choosing a composition that reflected how they sit within the landscape of the Thames and the riverbank together with their immense scale.

I’ve since slightly refined some areas of the painting but it remains largely the same work as that created on the day as I want to keep the piece fresh and as I experienced at the time it was created.

Keeping Focused: the practicalities of taking part

Generally, the day of filming is so fast paced, with stop and starts for interviews and chats with the judges (who I found to be very supportive and keen to understand your approach), there simply isn’t as much time to step back and mentally ask-yourself (as well as answer questions) about the piece you’re working on. In my studio, that really is an essential part of my creative process.

Consequently, I made sure that I found – and took time to stand back and review my paintings as often as I felt I needed to, in order to create works that I felt reflected my interpretation of both days.

At Blackpool the weather was brutal with wind and rain for most of the day. Oil paints and rain aren’t a good combination! In contrast, the weather for the Semi-Final was warm and generally bright.

On both occasions, keeping focused and ‘in my zone’ was the only way I could successfully wrestle with the ‘busyness’ of the day and the associated influences over which you have no control such as the weather. My aim was to be cognisant of these – but not distracted and focus on the challenge ahead.

Final thoughts

To sum up I’ve found taking part in LAOTY to be a fantastic experience. An extra bonus is meeting some other great artists, some of whom I’ve kept in touch with which has been great.

Anne Byrne

Find out more about Anne on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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