Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: Royal Institute of Oil Painters - Annual Exhibition 2014

Last week I visited the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. This can be seen at the Mall Galleries until 1pm on the 21st December - so lots of opportunities for last minute Christmas shopping!  Who doesn't need a nice oil painting?

In previous years I've visited the exhibition on preview day but I find there's always too many people to see the paintings properly (I like to look from a distance first) and then of course I spend too much time talking to chums and not enough time looking at the exhibition! So this time I went two days later.

I've been mulling over since then what to say about it. It's something of a Curate's Egg.

The ROI has some excellent painters as members and their work is well worth seeing. It also has an Associate Membership as a route through to full membership for younger emerging artists - and those who have come to oil painting later in life - and there are some excellent younger artists now showing with the ROI

At the moment it seems to me that the ROI is on a cusp - moving from a more traditional way of operating - and painting - to becoming a more contemporary art society more rooted in the 21st century while still valuing the traditional skills of oil painting and picture making.

A very muted and symmetrical end wall 
I loved Lachlan Goudie's still life paintings (either end) - which I would have liked to see featured as a group
I very much liked the painting of the cliff by Chris Rigby
and the small landscape paintings by Tim Benson
So, for example, this is an art society which now has an active and good-looking ROI blog and a well used Facebook Page which is building 'likes'. I particularly liked the way that the exhibition was trailed via images of paintings in the exhibition in the few weeks prior to its opening.  It has also posted lots of pics of its members with their paintings on its Facebook page enabling those who can't get to the Preview to put a face to the man or woman behind the painting

Special mention must also go to the ROI for getting its exhibition prizewinners up and on the blog within two days of the announcement of the Awards!  Well done on that score!

However in my opinion, the ROI still needs to apply itself to having accurate information about its annual exhibition (dates, times, venue) front and centre on its website rather than sending people off to another link!  A special mention for the related events would not go amiss!
I also understand from the Facebook Page that the exhibition has already taken more in sales this year than it did last year - and it's not yet at the half way mark!  I'm sure that in part must be a result of better marketing online.

However, here are some observations which are a tad less positive.

  • There are a lot of very good paintings in the exhibition. However.....
    • some of the best work in the exhibition is not hung in the best (West) Gallery and 
    • some of the work being submitted by some of the members and hung by the ROI has gone beyond their best - and not in a good way. 
    • It makes for a powerful argument that the ROI should jury all works irrespective of whether or not you are a member. 
    • Or maybe jury those members who have not consistently submitted their best work and/or have failed to achieve a minimum threshold for a sales target? After all, sales help fund a society's continued wellbeing and are always important.
  • The ROI, like some of the other art societies now only partly occupy the Mall Galleries - the exhibition can be seen in large west gallery and the three smaller rooms in the North Gallery. However when they reduced the wall space available for hanging they didn't reduce the number of paintings an artist member can hang. This then effectively reduced the percentage of the exhibition which comes from the Open Entry. I'm going to comment more in the New Year about Open Exhibitions generally so I'll just leave that comment hanging - and invite you to suggest what percentage of the exhibition you think comes from the Open Entry.  No numbers are provided of the size of the entry and the number of works hung. 
  • I really don't like the pattern of behaviour which is developing amongst FBA Societies of allocating paintings by members to the large West Gallery and relegating work by AROIs and the open entries to the less esteemed North Gallery. 
    • Is this one exhibition or not? It gives an impression of it being a Members exhibition - plus an add on. Again I will comment more in the New Year
    • If the Members want their own exhibition then why not do as the RWS does and have two smaller exhibitions a year as members - and then a third which is open entry ONLY? 
  • I really didn't like parts of the Hang. It's such a marked contrast to the colour and coherence of last year's hang when the far walls really spoke to the visitor as they came down the stairs into the Gallery. Last year's colour seems to have been washed away on some walls while others were just too symmetrical for my liking while some of the Feature Walls simply did not work in terms of the balance between size and colour of the work which was hung. I can only think this was a Hang by committee with different people doing different walls - with at least one of them having an extremely strong preference for symmetry!
The feature end walls of the West Gallery seemed to be an exercise in neutrality
- compare this with the first image in my review of last year's exhibition
The ROI Young Artists - and prizewinners
Symmetrical does not always make for a good hang.
This wall works best with big works with impact
which beckon people into the gallery as they look through from the Main Gallery.

The Young Artists work might have looked better in one of the small North Galleries dedicated to their work.
a well planned wall of more contemporary figurative paintings in contemporary frames
gets the balance, colour and spacing better
This is a wall which works well with a mix of medium and small works - but not like this!
I couldn't find any rationale for the hang on this wall
- none of these works needed the "walking back to take another look space" offered by this wall
By way of contrast, the opposing wall has a much better mix of medium and small works
- although symmetry again prevails!
Adebanji Alade's work - bottom row - would have looked much better hung as a group top to bottom.
A much better hang of small works in the right place
I particularly liked the paintings by:
Brian Ryder - particularly the one used for the cover of the catalogue (top left)
Trevor Chamberlain - particularly the painting top centre
Perhaps the most serious criticism I have is that some of the paintings err towards the "chocolate boxey" and/or the conventional aesthetically pleasing - with rather too little recording of contemporary life and themes from a wider perspective.  (e.g. I counted only two paintings of the very major flooding of last winter)

As a result, quite a lot of it tends to comes across as "middle class, middle aged and middle England".  Is that what the ROI's intended identity?  On the other hand it was pleasing to see some signs of paintings on more contemporary themes and subjects now getting into the show.

I'm no great fan of contemporary painting which is inaccessible - or social comment paintings which date fast and I do like paintings which are aesthetically pleasing and nothing else. However I do see a lot of very pleasing work by younger artists in the art competitions in a range of styles - but more importantly reflecting a range of perspectives on contemporary subjects and life.

There are certainly very good younger artists showing at the ROI - but why aren't there more of them? Why I don't see more of the artists I see in art competitions in shows like the ROI Annual Exhibition. I'm wondering how many of those artists are invited to show their work with the ROI?

Does it all boil down to the balance between the work of older members and the number of paintings by new and emerging artists selected from the open entry?  Is the Young Artist Scheme enough of an effort?

To my mind there needs to be a better balance of subjects and styles if the show is to avoid being seen as "fuddy duddy" and only for older people and in future stimulate interest across the age range - for both artists and art collectors.

Do feel free to comment on anything I've said.

Exhibiting Artists

Below is a list of exhibiting artists. I'll be back later today to add in links to their websites - and some number crunching - but right now I need to go and drive 200+ miles!

[UPDATE: Links now added to one of the following: the artist's website, the ROI artist webpage, the Mall Galleries webpage]


Adebanji Alade - has a splendid suite of urban landscape paintings which did not deserve to be hung so low
Naomi Alexander
Natalia Avdeeva
Pier Luigi Baffoni
Jeremy Barlow - has a nice website!
Chris Bennett
Tim Benson (Vice President) - I was impressed by Tim's small landscape paintings included in the show
Susan Bower
Peter Brown - I love the search option on his website for people trying to find paintings of particular places.
William Carney - I really like his paintings, well worth keeping an eye on - such a pity there is no website (this is his Mall Galleries link)
Trevor Chamberlain
Richard Combes
Ian Cryer (President)
David Curtis - known to many through his wonderful painting instruction books
Roger Dellar
Roy Freer
Lachlan Goudie
Peter Graham - produces very distinctive paintings using intense colour.
Helen Hale
Alice Hall
Ken Howard
Philip James
Norma Jameson
Christopher Keays
Andrew King
Robin Mackervoy
John McCombs
Lucy McKie
Lucy McKie's traditional realism won two prizes
Out of Africa 2 by Brian Ryder
June Mendoza
Tony Merrick
Ronald Morgan
Edman O'Aivazian
Barry Peckham
David Pilgrim
Richard Price
Anna Redwood
Leanne Rutter
Brian Ryder - Brian is also the Presidents and one of the founder members of the Institute of East Anglian Artists

Liz Balkwill AFAS
Peter Barker ARSMA - I liked his Fresh snowfall by the Welland
Keith Bennett
James Bland (Winsor & Newton Young Artist 2013)
Hazel Natasha Brook
Gareth Brook
Oliver Bull
Sam Burke (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
James Burton
Francis Callaghan
Neil Carroll
Kevin Chester
Amanda Coleman
Roy Connelly
Paul Corfield
Richard Cross
Merrie Curtiss-Fuller (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Lantian D. (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Niggy D (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
John Dobbs
Miranda Ellis
Tony Feld
Madeline Fenton AUA
Roger Ferrin
Rosina Flower
Barry Freeman
Sara Gassiorek (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Dennis Gaskin
Penny German
Gerald Green
Judith Green
Snowballs by Mary Gundry
North gallery - open entry
Mary Gundry
Gerry Haplin MBE MAFA
Rachid Hanbali
Ian Hargreaves
Jane Haviland
Julie Hawkins
Tony Hines (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Jane Hodgson
Andrew Holmes
Benjamin Hope
Stuart Howitt
Tom Hughes (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Roger R. Jones
John Killens
Norman Long MAFA
David Maiden (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Rod Major
Mark McLaughlin
Hannah Merson SEA
Kieran Nash (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Karin Moorhouse
Edward Noott
"Broadway under snow" by Edward Noott RSBA
This painting was being much admired every time I passed through the small North Gallery where it was hung
Such a pity there was no grouping of paintings on the theme of snow given the season for this exhibition
Vicky Palmer
Isobel Peachey (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Gianluca Pisano
Rob Pointon (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Emily Ponsonby (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Matt Alexander Ray
Heather Raymond (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Sarah Richardson
Chris Rigby
Iryna Yermolova
Ian Sidaway RI
Tom Stevenson (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Mike Strudwick
The frame of Haidee-Jo Summers painting
is a model of balance
between traditional framing and
contemporary colour demanded by contemporary art collectors
Haidee-Jo Summers who got another fast sale
Mark Taylor
Richard Teasdale
Elizabeth Thayer (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
John Tookey
Phillip Tyler
Sven Van Dorst (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Rosalie Watkins (Winsor & Newton Young Artist)
Duo Duo Zhung


  1. Thanks for your comment on my paint 'Fresh Snow by the Welland' Katherine - the 'head's-up' is much appreciated! Best wishes, Peter


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