Friday, December 09, 2016

Review: Royal Institute of Oil Painters 124th Annual Exhibition 2016

I went to see the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) at the Mall Galleries last Friday.  There was a demonstration in the gallery and a tour of the exhibition.

Tour of the Exhibition by Peter Graham ROI whose painting is on the catalogue cover
- in the Main Gallery
The exhibition has
  • 269 paintings in the main exhibition and 
  • 27 paintings in the the section devoted to the Winsor & Newton Young Artist Awards (for artists aged 35 and under)

Threadneedle Space
The exhibition is across all the galleries - so looks bigger than last year - opened on 30 November and closes at 1pm on Saturday 11th December.
"The ROI has a proud and independent tradition of providing a vehicle for working artists to gather and exhibit their work, without the need for state patronage or the temptation to submit to the whims of a few big money collectors and dealers"
extract from the President's Foreword in the catalogue 
Below is my review and LOTS of photos of the exhibition. First some comments and then who won which prize.

"Exclusively oil painting"

The ROI describes itself as being "the only national art society devoted exclusively to oil painting" whereas the reality is that it also includes quite a lot of painting in acrylic. It occurs to me that I also probably see as many (if not more) paintings in oil at other annual exhibitions of some national art societies.

That said if you cast an eye over the catalogue there's a LOT more oil paintings this year than there have been in the past.

I must confess I have a bit of a "niggle" about media-based art societies which describe themselves in one way when actually they do another. I'm particularly fed up with the infiltration of acrylic across both oil and watercolour societies when it's neither!  We seem to have arrived at definitions of a media based society which revolves around "looks like" rather than "really is". Why the acrylic painters can't get their act together to create a credible national art society of their own is totally beyond me!

How about a rule for ROI members and non-members of ONLY oil paintings in the exhibition next year?

What hangs where

The ROI is also a society which continues to follow what I think of as a 'bad habit' which used to be standard practice amongst those art societies exhibiting at the Mall Galleries but is also one which is now changing (slowly) over time.  What happens is that:
  • the majority of members' paintings are in the main gallery 
  • the majority of paintings selected from the open entry are in the North Gallery. 
  • Interestingly this year the Threadneedle Space (which wasn't in use last year) had a good mix of the two. 
I simply cannot find any justification for only hanging five members works in the North Gallery (I counted!)

I've observed in other exhibitions that it's emphatically NOT the location of the paintings which helps sell the work, it's the quality of the work. Thus I've seen some exhibitions (not by this society) with very boring entries from members in the main gallery and a north gallery absolutely packed with people wanting to view the more interesting/exciting artwork from non-members.

Perspective on the exhibition

Frankly this exhibition did not excite me much - as previous exhibitions have done. It lacked "zing" and I came away with a curious deflated feeling - which is partly why it's taken so long to write this review. In part I didn't want to influence whether or not people turned out to view it.

Maybe I didn't respond well to the hang? I know I often come out of exhibitions feeling odd when the hang doesn't feel right - but that didn't seem to be the principle reason this time.

It 'felt' a very masculine exhibition. I know that's an odd things to say but I am reminded that this is a very masculine society in terms of the ratio of male to female artists.

Maybe what I've said so far is another way of saying I found quite a lot of the exhibition of members' work to be quite traditional, middle aged and a bit "staid".......

Very traditional still life paintings by Lucy McKie
(I feel like I'm being very unfair to Lucy here - whose skill I admire - but the fact is I simply didn't photograph much that failed to grab my attention).

At times there can be a tad too much muted colour, wintery weather and 'rain' on the walls - although I guess these work well for people who like rooms in muted neutral colours?

Paintings by Peter Brown
....although there also some very definite bright spots of work by individual members in the mix as well.

I liked the still life paintings by Chris Bennett ROI - even if they were painted in acrylic. I'm not in the least bit surprised that he was one of the two painters who won The Stanley Grimm Prize - at last year's exhibition - for work that receives the most votes from visitors to the exhibition. If you look back at my review of last year's exhibition, you can see he came first in the section of "the art I most wanted to take home"!

Two lovely still life paintings by Chris Bennett - but I wish he's painted them in oil!

I love the painterly oil paintings and colours of the seasons - particularly of snow, allotments and sheds - produced by Haidee-Jo Summers AROI.

Paintings by Haidee-Jo Summers AROI
Here's Haidee-Jo demonstrating in the main gallery. (I came away with her delightful snowy greenhouse Christmas cards from the Mall Galleries shop!). I was surprised there were so few demonstrations in the gallery during the exhibition.  Maybe I'm just too used to art societies dominated by women members who make sure there are people demonstrating every day for the duration of the exhibition!

Haidee-Jo Summers at the end of her demonstration
I particularly liked the tighter but still painterly paintings of "Summer Shadows" by Adebanji Alade ROI - particularly because of the masterful handling of crowds of people and the light associated with trees in sunlight. However he does need to update his website so we can see more of his more recent paintings!

(top) Summer Shadows, Duke of York square £1,115
(bottom) Summer Shadows, South Bank £1,115
by Adebanji Alade ROI
I absolutely loved the two paintings by non-member Adam Ralston of northern seaside holidays in the North Gallery. Here is someone who can draw in oil as well as paint - without trying to look like Ken Howard! Mind you Blackpool is not Cornwall!

(Left) Central Beach Blackpool (oil 32 x 37cm) £450
(right) Hottest Day of the Year (39 x 47cm) £450
by Adam Ralston
Plus you can always rely on Linda Alexander to brighten up a wall. This was the only painting in the entire exhibition where I heard somebody spontaneously admire it out loud.

Still Life with Peonies (£4,950) by Linda Alexander 
oil, 57 x 110cm

Prizes and Awards

Below you can find out who won the awards and what their paintings looked like. I do this in a strictly hierarchical way - biggest money prizes come first!

The Phyllis Roberts Award (£2,000) is given to to encourage and support young painters and only oil painters under the age of 35 are eligible. It's hung in the North Gallery.  The winner this year was Rosalie Watkins.

California Still Life by Rosalie Watkins 

The Alan Gourley Memorial Award (£1,000) awarded for a painting of outstanding merit was won by Vice President Tim Benson VPROI

Bernie by Tim Benson VPROI
Winsor & Newton Oil Painters Awards (for artists aged 35 or under)

Winsor & Newton Young Artist Awards 2016
in the Threadneedle Space
  • First Prize: £1,000 
  • Second Prize: £600 
  • Third Prize: £400 worth of Winsor & Newton Fine Art Materials
Canoes on the Dordogne (SOLD)
Alice Boggis-Rolfe

I greatly enjoyed seeing this painting (in the Threadneedle Space). Not only is it a lovely painting but I've also drawn the exact same view - also with canoes. I had a lovely conversation on Facebook with Alice Boggis-Rolfe the painter as we compared notes about the location - which, incidentally, is Domme - looking towards the Cingle de Montfort.  Do take a look at her website (the link is in the name).

I then found that I also knew the view of the second prize painting....

Second Prize
The Red Door, Montmartre by Rob Pointon
but I've never been to Beer!

Third Prize
Beer, Devon by Tom Stevenson
The Dartington Crystal Chalice was awarded to June Mendoza for her painting of her daughter Kim. It's presented annually to a member of the Institute in recognition of outstanding service and contribution.

Kim by June Mendoza
The Menena Joy Schwabe Memorial Award (£250) for an outstanding oil painter was awarded to Bill Dean ROI

Winner of the The Menena Joy Schwabe Memorial Award – £250
Group of Work Bill Dean

Winsor & Newton Non-Member Award (£150 worth of Winsor & Newton Fine Art Materials) for the most outstanding painting in the exhibition by a non-member was won by Dennis Spicer. I'm a big fan of Dennis's still life paintings (there are two both hung in the North Gallery). I like the way he plays with perspective, angles and juxtapositions of both colours and objects in and around the sweet spots. Plus I also love the title of this one

I must get him to explain how the cold wax figures in his technique. (This is his Facebook Page)

Three Lemons, Three Figs (and a Horse)
oil and cold wax, 80 x 70cm
by Dennis Spicer
The Dry Red Press Award – The winning work will be published as a greeting card in the Dry Red Press ‘Prize Winners’ range, with royalties from the sale of the cards going to the artist.

Personally I found the legs and feet of the dancer on the left to be impossibly long which is odd given the fact many ballet dancers are small. It reminded me of some of the paintings of John Singer Sargent who flattered some of his patrons by elongating their limbs to make them appear more elegant.

Add caption
One painting - What Now? by Anna Redwood ROI won two prizes:
In 2013 Anna spent time in Afghanistan as a war artist based at Camp Bastion. It struck me that this was maybe the only painting in the exhibition which displayed any social comment.

What Now? by Anna Redwood ROI

The Le Clerc Fowle Medal - for a group of paintings - was won by Tony Merrick ROI

Two Paintings by Tony Merrick ROI
You've already seen the winner of the Frank Herring Easel Award (the winner gets an easel) - see Adam Ralston above. However here it is again (below) and larger this time. It's one of those paintings where you really need to see it in person to appreciate some of the mark-making within it.  You can however see a better digital image on his website - and I very definitely commend the portfolio on his website to you.

Winner of the Frank Herring Award
Hottest Day of the Year (39 x 47cm) £450
by Adam Ralston

ROI Annual Exhibition 2017

The dates for next year's exhibition are as follows:
  • Call for Entries - you can submit your work online between 22 May and 25 August 2017
  • The Private View will be held on 29 November 2017
  • The Exhibition is open until 10 December 2017

Previous Exhibitions

You can find links to my previous reviews of exhibitions below.

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