Finally I made it to the Summer Exhibition this year. In accordance with the established helpful tradition of the blog, the exhibition finished last Sunday so if you haven't been, you can't do now.
There is a predictable sameiness to the summer exhibition. In part this is due to the RA members who can put up to 6 pieces in the show as of right. They all tend to have a very distinctive style and so this ensures a certain continuity.
Beyond this though, the public submissions that are chosen often have the, I’ve been here before quality. It is a big and packed show so it takes a while for one’s eyes to adjust to the madness of it all and make out what is good and what is not.
There are simply to many paintings to pay them all serious attention so what I now do is scan round the room and then focus on the ones that catch my eye. Any other approach is just exhausting. Incidentally the RA do an excellent website catalogue for the show and they are to be commended for this. The photos from this blog are taken from that website or taken myself on my rounds.
My main disappointment from this year’s show was the absence of architectural models. I wonder if that was a choice of selection or submission. It was a shame either way as these made up some of my favourite pieces last year.
They had sold a good percentage of the pieces by the time I went, there was still a large crowd in there and some of the prints had an absurd number of red dots festooned on them. Prints it seems are the way forward at this show. Even some comparatively dull ones had done very well
There were though still some things I liked.
The above is Fiona Rae RA's Many Coloured Messenger Seeks her fortune. I like the colour and the texture (which sadly does not come across very well in the photograph). It has a calming and alluring quality and has an unusual palette which is very individual. This is one of two works that were very similar but I slightly preferred this one. The semi abstracted birds and bees appealed to me.
Kira Freije has produced the above, almost life sized and thoroughly creepy sculpture called The Unbeliever. The top of the staff glows with a red malevolence and when you encounter it, it looms out of the crowd of people beckoning to you. The gauntness of the sculpture adds to this sensation. It reminds me of fantasy magicians. I wouldn't want to own it but I do like it.
Kenneth Draper RA's Waterfall is an interesting piece. I like landscapes that flirt between abstract and figurative in the way this one does. It is something I do myself. I like the way the water streaks metallic like over the surfaces and I particularly like the rocky lower cave like surface contrasting with the red above it. The red gives it a sort of biological feel to it and there is something (in the best possible way) slightly repellent and off putting to it. I love it though.
Wendy Freestone's watching is a very popular bronze sculpture (above). It is as you can see a group of grey bronze figures opposite a smaller childlike gold bronze figure. Who is watching who? Who cares? They are well rendered pieces full of personality. Justifiably it has sold several editions. Accessible, purchasable, small , a good idea done well. Precisely the kind of think that fills me with hope at these exhibitions.
Bill Jacklin Ra had several works on display of which the above two were my favourite. The one on the right is called Stars and Sea at Night. I forget the name of the other. I like his almost fingerprinty clouds. Atmospheric and contemplative they are a very nice depiction of light, with the various swirls and colours.
Tin cans can be art. Especially when arranged and coloured as above light a cut off from an enormous suit of armour perhaps adorning. Produced by Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga it takes the idea of a wall hanging in an new and interesting direction. I think it looks much better against the red wall in which it was actually hung than against the white wall of the professional photo so credit to the curators.
I am rarely interested in photographs but this one called Hairbath by Nastha Sade Ronkko and Luke Turner . They often work with the actor Shia Labeouf but he does not appear to have been involved in this one. It is a technically very well taken photograph but the subject and the setting are all very beguiling. The blandness of the white really emphasises the main subject.
Two pieces here, one has sold lots and other sold, but only one. The one on the left is Sara Dodd's Swell. It looks like paper but in fact it finely made of porcelain. This one got quite a lot of press attention being featured on the promo show on TV, picked if memory serves, by Fiona Bruce. I think the smallness the intricacy, skill and also the un-threatening nature of the piece, would be mean to say bland, but there you go. This is a good piece of art. It is a good idea, it is done well but for me it lacks the extra appeal to me.
Whereas the piece next to me really does called Changing Spaces by Mandy Payne. I like the urban claustrophobia of it, not grimness, the colours are grim but it doesn't seem grim to me, but somehow hopeful. It also reminds me of the Barbican. Deep breath now we are nearly there.
Lets dismiss two eminent RA's in a couple of lines shall we Barbara Rae (above left) who usually does large canvases this year did smaller prints but I still like her abstracts. Very different from Bernard Dunstan with his soft focus purpley people morphing out of an indistinct background. They have a nice dreamy aspect to them. I was sad to discover when writing this blog that Bernard died this year. I wish I'd known that going into the show. Presumably he won't be in next year which is a shame as he consistently makes my list of favourites.
John Maine produced what one might called a series. There were a trio of grey and white simple but intriguing pictures of arches. Then around them were sculptures of the self same pictures. I am not sure which I prefer the sculptures or the drawings. Actually you want them both as the compliment each other very well.
A sure bet for pictures in the Summer exhibition is there will be at least one picture of a lonely caravan looking ominous in some countryside. Actually sometimes cliches can be good and Louise Wallace's picture (above) I like very much. I like the light, I like the grass in the foreground. This, I think, is a good painting. She mostly paints on copper which I think gives some of the distinct style.
Nik Pollard does wildlife mainly but also does a fine line in salt marshes. I like the way these are produced with quick washes of paint highlighted with that black. I particularly like the walkway in the right hand picture. Liminal spaces marshland, its my new word, liminal, and they make for good subjects. Sense of desolation, creeping destruction, kibble Philip K Dick calls it. All good stuff. Probably my favourite paintings these (all though this is something I change my mind about frequently).
FInishing up with two RA's. RA's dominate my list. I often don't realise until I look them up afterwards as the exhibition only has catalogue numbers by the paintings and unless you recognise the painter (which I do sometimes, like with Barbara Rae). Then when I look them up on the website afterwards. The one on the left is by Alison Wilding and called Simian Drawing. Has a sort of Japanese feel to it, simply red black and white, ominous colours in the wrong hands.
The right hand painting is by Mick Moon. I like it when people produce art that seems to take a very simple idea but one that no one has done before. So taking wood and using the natural grain of the wood to create a sea scape. Very nice.
Finally my favourite sculpture.
Simple things can be excellent and I love stuff like this. Metal and lit perspex is what it looks like but in fact concrete and rubber. It is by Christina Seilern who is in fact an architect. I really like this piece, it is very tactile and appealing.
What has been interesting in writing this blog is how much better many of the pieces look in the online catalogue than they did in the show. This is partly that the work is overwhelmed in the show but also the skill of the photography.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.