I attended this exhibition through a Radio Times private viewing event, and enjoyed a glass of wine and an informative talk, before taking in the artwork. It was through the Radio Times I experienced my first foray into this historic event, my other two attendances being facilitated by the Royal Society of Chemistry Summer Party. Having indulged in “private viewing only” nights, I can’t face the idea of mixing with the general public now.
On entering the Wohl Central Hall it was clear the displays were hung a little differently, and during the talk we were told this year’s pieces were hung in a more traditional way, reflecting the early days of the Summer Exhibition so “skying” was very evident, with many smaller pictures being placed high up in clusters. Quite a bit of standing back and craning the neck was required as a result, but I still managed to locate some beauties I’d noted. My overall favourite was displayed in this way, 103 Feline Focus a stunning acrylic painting of a lynx (I think), by Susan McWhinnie.
Two years ago I discovered (after the event) that the exhibition pieces could be viewed online. So for 2018 & 2019 I did my homework and reviewed the artwork beforehand, and this helped enormously in enjoying the experience. I had an idea what to expect, knew where to find some favourites, and generally felt a lot less overwhelmed by the whole thing. But the highlight of the evening had little to do with the art on display; it was meeting and having a chat with Alison Graham the Radio Times TV editor.
I had read a couple of critic reviews online that were polar opposites in opinion, one loved it, and one loathed it. But both agreed there was a general theme going on, one that reflected today’s society with its environmental concerns and political issues. Frankly, as I said to Alison Graham, we are beaten over the head enough about this when you read the paper, switch on the TV or radio, I don’t need it hammered home in art installations as well! I admit though, that if the Summer Exhibition is ever meant to reflect the era it was created in, several pieces certainly lived up to that expectation. Many obviously said something about the state of British policy today, some examples being:
39 KEEP OU with a rat hammering a padlocked shutter with the T by Banksy created from a customs arch salvaged from Heathrow Airport
522 We Are All Immigrant Scum by Jeremy Deller a textile banner that says so much
36 Blinkered a white horse with a union flag face, walking alone through a seemingly darkened forest, I guessed had a Brexit affiliation.
979 Rule Britannia Etc… a pencil drawing by Liam Walker was haunting as it depicted a destitute woman on her knees, above her a distinct woman’s leg with stiletto heel about to stamp down hard. It wasn’t hard to fathom whose leg it might be, though the heel was too long!
But the most disturbing piece of all was a crow installation 938 Parliament (The Voices In your Head) by Tim Shaw, which was accompanied by the Donald Rumsfeld known/unknown dialogue. The combination was quite terrifying; I dodged past the artwork as quickly as I could and refused to listen to the sound bite. Environmental issues were themed, in my opinion, through animals pictured in their death throes, several skeletons (extinction) and emaciated looking polar bears (endangered species), which I found upsetting.
A few pieces reminded me of the styles of Edward Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein and I really enjoyed seeing them. Hopper has an evocative feel to his work and frequently shows people clearly in a world of their own, lonely gas stations and buildings-733 Overly Excited About Oil by Tim Goffe. Lichtenstein with his pop art displays clean lines and great colour giving a poster type quality just like an advert-448 Graffiti Standard With Socket by Jason Barron.
Give me some whimsy, beauty or nostalgia any day, something that makes you appreciate living in this multi-faceted world and brings you joy. So I clung to wonderful depictions of animals, fantastic scenic views, art with great pops of colour, tactile looking sculpture, and pieces that either made me think of something in particular, or garnered a sigh of utter contentment. For fun, I like to pick out pieces I’m particularly attracted to, and create a hypothetical arty shopping list. Having viewed around half the exhibition over the couple of hours I was there, and despite the “agenda” pieces I ruefully passed by, I managed to find 46 pieces that would cost around a minimum of £297, 013. Two items were not for sale and two piece were “poa-price on application” so far too expensive anyway. But compared to my 2017 blog tally, I had 11 more items and saved almost half a million pounds. I’ve noted some of my hit list here:
18 Freddie (bullfinch) & 19 Bob (robin) were small but intricately beautiful needlepoint and stumpwork pieces by Stella Knight. (£795 each)
124 The Owl Is Wisest… Because The More It Sees The Less It Talks oil on linen painting by Jane Eva Cooper. The best owl spotted (I adore these birds); the others seen were hideous/disconcerting. (£700)
132 Easy Tiger-Mach Brothers a resin and foil sculpture of a very lifelike looking tiger, although his stripes were created using red & silver Tea Cake wrappers (non Tunnocks ones but M&S!). Pure nostalgia and the sculpture was brilliantly done too. (£57,600)
213 Young Hokusai Meets Old Hokusai In Middle Age a fun beautiful watercolour by Chris Orr. I have a real soft spot for Hokusai, so this was special to see. (£8,500)
227 Glasgow Subway by Paul Crook acrylic painting that made me think of Lichtenstein and my home city. (£3,800)
270 My Birthday Flowers by David Tindle a simple understated yet lovely acrylic painting of flowers on a window ledge that made me smile and sigh contentedly. (£10,000)
753 That Severe Frontier, Meta Incognita Peninsula, Baffin Landscape by Nicholas Jones a simple, beautiful landscape acrylic painting. Sigh. (£11,000)
856 Eye Test by Sir Michael Craig-Martin a great fun pictorial test that is more one of memory to name the items. Pure whimsy that really got me thinking “what’s that again” (£10,300)
868 Mallaig stunning piece showing a huge moon hanging above the tiny dimly lit town by Jock McFadyen. I’m instantly attracted to moon pictures and find them incredibly evocative (£1,275). Digital pint was much cheaper than its big brother (350) at a whopping £55,000.
1213 Early Light a linoleum relief print by Joseph Winkelman, gorgeous moonlit trees. Sigh (£350)
1257 Cameras (linocut) by Hannah Forward as I love photography this couldn’t fail to please me, pure nostalgia. (£750)
1353 PC From Venice San Trovaso (acrylic on canvas on wood relief) by Joe Tilson shows a postcard poking out of an airmail envelope. This made me fondly remember writing abroad to relatives and pen pals in my younger years. And I recalled a piece of art work I did in first year English for something related to the book we were studying, and the teacher thought it was good enough for the headmaster to see it. I never got it back, it was a once only hand drawn effort, but I remember EXACTLY what I did, and in some ways my idea wasn’t too dissimilar to this piece. As I chortled, I wondered if my effort made on a larger scale could earn me £45,000 today!
For posterity I’m going to list all my 46 hit list pieces by number, for although the exhibition has finished now, you can still see them online using the Royal Academy Explorer.
18; 19; 30; 31; 43; 54; 103; 124; 132; 136; 213; 215; 227; 241; 244; 270; 274; 277; 281; 337; 362; 448; 458; 733; 736; 753; 797; 821; 856; 868; 873; 890; 911; 1037; 1091; 1133; 1153; 1182; 1209; 1213; 1222; 1257; 1353; 1377; 1445; 1573
When Rob and I left the venue we were both given a rather nice goodie bag which contained a Radio Times magazine, tea-towel, postcard and marker pens, a small high-brand bar of chocolate & discount voucher, flower seeds and a Sherlock Holmes book. It put the finishing touch on a very pleasant evening.