Saturday, March 10, 2012

RBA 2012: An exhibition of Middle England?

I visited the Annual Open Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists on Thursday.  I gather a lot of people attended its Private View last week.  The exhibition finished at midday today and hence some of my comments (below) relate to how the exhibition has been received by the buying public.  Here are:
  • the names of the award winners
  • some comments on artists who impressed me, and
  • general comments about the exhibition
plus some photographs by me of the exhibition and artwork which caught my eye.

The RBA Award Winners 2012
Group of Paintings © Ann Heat
Winner of Lazlo Medal 2012
Winter Still Life
© Barbara Richardson RBA
  • The John Ingram Memorial Award - Carly Baker Group of Paintings
Nanny with Lipstick © Carly Baker
  • The Marianne von Werther Memorial Award - Lewis Hazel-Horner Rome Scholarship
  • The Windor & Newton Painting Award - Jeremy Galton RBA Breakfast
© Jeremy Galton RBA
Artists I liked

Still Life

Annie Williams RWS RE RBA can do no wrong in my eyes and I visited the exhibition on Thursday because she was giving a demonstration and this blog post was the result Annie Williams demonstrates a still life in watercolour.

Two other excellent although more conventional still life artists, whose work jumped off the walls at me, are Jeremy Galton RBA and Barbara Richardson RBA - both of whom won prizes (see above).

Landscapes / Interiors

Judith Gardener RBA NEAC's landscapes are a delight.  Grounded in observation and skilled draughtsmanship, her paintings then stretch and abstract the representational towards a more impressionistic perspective.  She works with a limited palette to great effect.

© Judith Gardener
I very much liked Malcolm Ashman RBA ROI's large painting Wye Valley from Symonds Yat

Group of works 
© Malcolm Ashman RBA ROI
I was very taken with Martin Kinnear's encaustic oil painting of the interior light in the turbine hall at Tate Modern.  It's part of a series of paintings of interiors which look like they'll make a great exhibition.  It's a small painting with a big impact and a very painterly approach.

Tate interior light
© Martin Kinnear
A couple of printmaker's attracted my attention.  I thought Austin Cole's etchings were fascinating - particularly his etching of London Fields.  I just wish they'd been hung a little higher on the walls as I don't bend too easily these days.

Etchings by Austin Cole


Miranda Halsby RBA had produced two splendid etchings (see links and below) which I was very surprised did not win an award.  She has created a neat contrast between the riots on the one hand (London Riots - The Language of the Unheard?) and the very British response to the need to get things cleaned up afterwards and the emergence of the brush brigade (London, my town and I'm going to clean it up).  I commend Miranda's website to all those who like etchings and aquatints as I do - plus you can also see them on the RBA website

Two Etchings with aquatints
of the London Riots and the aftermath

© Miranda Halsby RBA
A couple of drawings by Mark Sutherland also kept claiming my attention.  Photographs in no way do them justice

Two charcoal drawings
© Mark Sutherland
Comments on the Annual Exhibition

I thought the exhibition included some excellent art by some very accomplished artists.  The sculpture in particular was noteworthy as were the artists highlighted above and a number of others.

RBA 2012 - examples of the sculpture on display
The society can also now boast an excellent website.  It has all the members work online, every work by a member also gets a dedicated page and there's also a page devoted to the biography and artwork of every member.  It's good to see an art society making an effort to get recognition for their members' work by highlighting it online.

You can see all the art by members that was displayed on the RBA website.

However a number of thoughts occurred to me as  I toured the exhibition:
  • I found a much greater range in the standard of artwork on display than I normally expect to see at an FBA exhibition.  I see virtually all the exhibitions in this gallery by FBA societies and open art competitions.  In my view, the contrast between the calibre of some of the artwork in this exhibition and other exhibitions in this gallery was marked.
  • I was very struck by the fact that a significant number of members had failed to generate any sales at all with 48 hours to go before the exhibition was due to close.  By way of contrast, those whose work I rated were selling on average a third to a half of their work on display.
  • It's not difficult to identify reasons for why this might have happened.  For example, besides issues relating to calibre, it also occurred to me that a London audience might think that the work of some members was somewhat old fashioned and - dare I say it - parochial.  My reason for mentioning this is that it has implications for those who might otherwise apply to become a member.
Finally, the other reason why I've characterised it as an exhibition of "middle England" because there were any number of landscapes of the UK under snow - but very little social commentary.  Miranda Halsby's riot etchings were a notable exception.  Not every artist wants to do social commentary - but the nature of the exhibition had too few paintings which provided a record of life in Britain today.  Given the name of the Society this seemed to me to be somewhat ironic.


    1. Many thanks for your informative review.

    2. I thought that this could be called the "Really Boring Artist" exhibition. The same old views of Venice, landscapes and still life's, and some really boring portraits. That is till I got into the students section. Then it all came top life, much more innovative and exciting work. At least it shows that we some real young talent coming up.

    3. Whoops! You've just reminded me I forgot to mention the students section - the RBA Scholars - in the far end of the North Gallery

      I was blown away by that portrait by Carly Baker. I thought the comment in the catalogue that paintings in the student section could have won some of the mainstream awards just about nailed it! She definitely should have won one of the main awards. The one she won was just in respect of the RBA Scholars work.

      Like you I was of the same mind on the "same old same old" - you've just been a bit more forthright than me.

    4. I enjoyed your review Katherine, thank you. I was also at the exhibition on Thursday and pretty much agree with all your comments. I also liked the pieces that you have chosen to write about. I did enjoy the exhibition and as an artist / painter myself, I am always inspired - but probably more by the techniques used than the subject matter. My favourite pieces were the etchings by Austin Cole. I see that you liked them too and that you complained about the hight that they were displayed at. This is often the case in many of the exhibitions, I know members should get priority but something like these beautifully executed etchings can often be missed. They should have been displayed at eye level as there were some pretty "parochial" (as you put it) work on the same wall. Often the work in these major exhibitions is not balanced correctly and it is rather annoying. This happened to me when I had a piece accepted back in December at the ROI exhibition - only mine was placed too high. I was actually delighted at being part of the show but when I saw that my work couldn't really be appreciated is sort of took the edge off. I might write a review from an exhibition sometime in the future. Thanks again. Richard.


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