Here's What Kate Bryan Considers When Judging Landscape Artist Of The Year
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Here’s What Kate Bryan Considers When Judging Landscape Artist Of The Year

We sat down with the curator and Landscape Artist Of The Year judge

Are you a fan of Landscape Artist Of The Year? The perfect TV show for culture vultures, it airs weekly on Sky Arts and challenges a mixture of amateur and professional artists to whip up a brilliant landscape painting in only four hours. It is judged by award winning portrait artist Tai Shan Schierenberg, curator Kathleen Soriano and art historian Kate Bryan. We sat down with Kate to get the inside scoop on the series.

Interview: Kate Bryan On Landscape Artist Of The Year

Kate Bryan

© Gina Soden

Hi Kate, how’s life going at the moment?

Good, thank you. It’s nice to be starting the new year with a quite empty diary, thinking of all the great plans you’re going to have before the reality hits and everything comes crashing in.

Landscape Artist of the Year recently returned to our screens. For anyone who has never watched before, how would you describe the series?

I’d say it’s a very lovely way of watching paint dry! We find amazing artists who apply to be on the show, and then we take them to extraordinary landscapes, and they have to render that landscape in a day. Then we have the very difficult job of deciding who did the best job on that day, and then put them through their paces again in a semi-final. Eventually, we find one winner from all of the artists that applied; over 1000 people apply, and then we have about 50 or 60 people actually take part on the show. Then someone is crowned the winner, literally the ‘landscape artist of the year’. It’s a mixture of amateurs and professionals, and we’re looking for a really great artist to demonstrate that landscape painting, or landscape art, is a very valid and exciting art form.

Judges Kathleen Soriano, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Kate Bryan

(L-R) Judges Kathleen Soriano, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Kate Bryan. © Sky UK Limited.

How would you describe your judging style, and that of the other judges, Tai and Kathleen?

I suppose we’ve been doing it together for so long now, so we’re very close, and we can sort of read each other’s minds, but we do still surprise each other. We’re not really ever opposing forces, and then have to win to get our way. There are three judges and, actually, we always come to an agreement. I think what’s amazing about it is that the other judges can really see things that I can’t see sometimes, and then vice versa. So you can help each other appreciate something that maybe isn’t ordinarily something that you would find appealing. And then you can read the artwork in a different way through their eyes.

You know, we’re not really looking for the painting that we want to have on our wall at home. We’re genuinely asking who rose to the challenge on that given day, whether it was torrential rain, whether their canvas blew away, whether they never painted a building before – whatever the circumstances. And that might not be your favourite artist. There might be an artist that morning that you thought was fabulous, and you’d really love to see what they were doing for the rest of their career. But they might not win that day because they might not do the best job.

What was your favourite spot the painters had to capture this season?

We get to go to such amazing locations, but going up to Stonehaven in Scotland in episode one was probably my favourite this season. It was such a strange thing to paint, because you’re kind of on a cliff edge, and then there was this tiny little ruined castle. It was really difficult for the painters because obviously it’s quite picture perfect. But, actually, when you think about the constraints of that day, it’s very difficult. They’ve got light coming in, the weather’s changing every five minutes – it’s Scotland, you know? So it’s a pretty difficult thing to do. But I think what has always blown me away is that there’s pretty much the exact same view for everyone, and the paintings just couldn’t be any more different.

Kate at Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

Kate at Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven. © Sky UK Limited.

What has been a standout memory from filming the series?

There have been so many memories. But I think one of my favourite memories of all time was when Joan [Bakewell, who previously hosted the series with Stephen Mangham] was having a lunchtime nap, and we literally got her a bed and put it under a tree in the middle of a landscape. And that’s where she had her nap because she wanted to be able to listen to the birds singing and stuff. I think that will always stand out for me. She’s just so cool that she did that.

The other thing that stands out for landscapers is that whenever it’s a nice day out, everyone on the production gets an ice cream. I just love this idea. Can you imagine what kind of organisational feat it is to try and get 100 people an ice cream? And then do it every single time it’s sunny?

Do you prefer Portrait Artist or Landscape Artist?

It is a really difficult question. I’ve loved making Landscape because I’ve been to parts of the country I would never otherwise have gone to. We’ve been to some very remote places, particularly in Scotland or Wales, where I just don’t think I would have ever gone. And we’ve gone to some really famous places and seen them in a totally different way, like Ascot Racecourse and the Eden Project. Just on a personal level, it’s lovely to see the country you live in. Not to see it from a train or even to go for lunch there, but to literally spend time in the landscape of that place, and to talk to local people about what it means to them and to see it through the artist’s eyes.

The thing that I’ll always love about Portrait, though, is that the artists can be a bit more reckless. We can push the envelope more in Portrait than we can in Landscape and that really excites me. You know, when someone like Curtis Holder comes along and makes his portraits in the way that he did, it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anyone make work like that before’. Morag Caister was the same – she just had such a completely unusual way of working. I’m not saying Landscape is safer, I just think I’ve seen that happen more in Portrait.


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A post shared by Morag Caister (@moragcaister)

What’s the trickiest thing you face when judging?

When you see an artist that you really believe in, and they don’t have a good day. Anyone can not have a good day. I remember really well Morag being on the very first time. I loved her submission, but she didn’t have a good day, and then she just left that day. And then she came back a couple of years later and won. So it’s quite validating when that happens.

What’s the best part about judging?

The best part about judging is just the sense of satisfaction when you see how much an artist has progressed and developed. When you see how the competition has helped them go to the next stage of their career by the virtue of the pressure cooker of it. They have no choice but to get better in real time. That’s really satisfying. Maybe you go and see their solo show, the year after they won or whatever, and it’s just so lovely to see what people do when you give them the opportunity to do things that they’re good at. To be a tiny, tiny, tiny part in that is very rewarding.

What do you look for when picking a winner, or wildcard or heat winner?

We’re looking for the same thing, whether they’re wildcards or they’ve been in the pods for Landscape. We’re looking for someone who just had the capacity to bring their own style to the table, like them telling us what they thought about Stone Haven or them telling us what they thought about Ascot Racecourse, or whatever. It’s got to be very authored, and we’re looking for that artist’s distinct point of view.

I’m probably always looking for something that pushes the envelope a bit more. I’m not typically that interested in things that are incredibly safe, just because I think that you’re looking to see someone take risks and really be a great artist for a museum. That doesn’t mean that I’m against historical traditional artwork – we’ve had a lot of very beautiful final paintings. It’s more what you do with the skill that you have.

Zooming out a bit, what has a career highlight been to date?

In terms of my TV career, I think it’d be filming in the Sistine Chapel. I think for any art historian, getting to film in the Sistine Chapel is huge, and I made a program last year on Michelangelo for Sky Arts, and I got to film in the Sistine Chapel. I thought that would be very difficult to top. It’s very hard to get filming access, and I think there’s some crazy fact like I was the first British woman presenter to film in the Sistine Chapel in over 10 years. So that felt like a big moment.

What’s something you’ve never done that you dream of doing?

What I really dream of doing is really helping more people come to art and feel more confident coming to art. I meet so many people, and everyone wants to talk to me about art, but so often people say to me, ‘I don’t know anything about art, but, you know, I really love David Hockney’. And it makes me sad, because they feel so disenfranchised, and not empowered to own their own tastes or their own passions. You’d never say, ‘I don’t know anything about music, but I love Adele’. So if I could do anything, my dream would be to try and help demystify that. I’m working on some projects now that should hopefully contribute to that.

I think everybody has an innate right to come to art. We all made art as children. Anyone could go to any museum in the world and find something to love, but it just feels like sometimes there’s barriers to entry. It’s not anyone’s fault, but I think it’s the job of the people in the art world to open it up.

Landscape Artist of the Year / Kate Bryan

© Sky UK Limited.

If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

Don’t get that tattoo on your lower back that you’re going to get in a couple of years…?

I’d say all the work that you’re doing, you’re so obsessed about art, you’re going to be able to make a career of it, so don’t worry about it. Keep throwing yourself in. I’m not really a person to have regrets, but it’d be nice to go back and encourage myself and say this is perfectly valid passion. I’d like to tell myself that I was on the right track.

How can we all live a little bit better?

Think a bit more like an artist. Think outside the box. Listen to your own creative voice because it has real validity.

Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?

I made a film with Maggi Hambling, which I’m really excited about. It’s called My Week with Maggi Hambling and it’s gonna be out this spring/summer. I just basically spent a whole week with Maggi Hambling, who’s one of my heroes. I shot a lot of it on my iPhone, so it’s quite a different kind of film. I’m really, really excited to see it because it allows you to get really close to this icon that is Maggi Hambling.

Quick Fire

My favourite artwork… Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, because it’s just such it’s such a beautiful image about hope and the human condition

Favourite gallery/museum… The Vatican

Favourite film… Good Will Hunting

TV series I’ve loved recently… Succession

Favourite album… Joni Mitchell, Blue

Cultural guilty pleasure… The Kardashians


Kate Bryan judges Landscape Artist of the Year, Wednesday evenings at 8pm on Sky Arts. Catch up on Now.