Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review 301st Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists

The 301st Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists is significantly different to previous years. The RBA have noticeably "raised their game" and are all the better for it.

I started off thinking this was a transformation of an exhibition - but in doing some homework prior to writing this post, I now realise its a complete transformation of the society as a whole.

What's different in 2018?

a view of the main galleries
The Royal Society of British Artists has:
  1. a new President - Nick Tidman
  2. new Officers - these have all changed apart from the Vice President Mick Davies
  3. new Council members - again a complete change. They also include Lewis Hazelwood-Horner who was invited to be a member after winning the Threadneedle Prize in 2016.
  4. a new Patron in Shao Wei - which looks as if it will lead to exchanges between the UK and China
  5. a very specific set of members for the Selection and Hanging Committee - rather than the "President and Council" - including three who are not members of the Council. 
  6. a new website - or rather one that's a very noticeable improvement on its previous incarnation. It looks "contemporary"- which is not a word that would immediately spring to mind in association with the RBA in the past.  "Transformed" would be another appropriate word - it's now possible to get a very good look at the artwork in the exhibition.
  7. a record number of 174 works from the open submission - which is great news after my comments last year.
  8. a much more impressive exhibition - it's got good and varied content with a diversity of styles - both traditional and contemporary - and it's well hung.  It's difficult sometimes to detect what's different - but in the last 10+ years of reviewing exhibitions at the Mall Galleries I know when a society has decided to change its image!
  9. a very good record of the RBA Awards 2018 - and associated images - on the website during the course of the exhibition. This is something a number of societies struggle with - and I can never understand why. This is the major marketing opportunity of the year and those receiving awards should ALWAYS be celebrated. So well done to the RBA for doing the decent thing by their prizewinners - and including images of their work!
  10. steady and consistent marketing of the exhibition - on Facebook. It started well before the exhibition opened and hasn't stopped. Individual images from the exhibition have been posted each day. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if they've had some really good visitor numbers. I know it was surprisingly busy when I was there on Monday of the second week.
In summary, the RBA has had a makeover and looks all the better for it!

Every now and again, an art society needs a shake-up.   It's simply not possible for the same people to be involved year after year without the society beginning to have a bit of a "same old, same old" look about it. 

It's also really hard work keeping an exhibition looking fresh - because styles and contexts change - and the exhibition looks 'old' if not reinvigorated on a regular basis. However it's a lot easier if there is a change in the people selecting the work each year - and if there is a significant injection of new perspectives from the open submission.

I think the RBA has done a really good job of thinking through what needed changing and putting resources, time and effort into getting the exhibition looking better.

About the exhibition

  • Dates: 21 March 2018 to 31 March 2018 (closing 2pm on the last day)
  • Open: Daily, 10am to 5pm during exhibitions (unless otherwise stated), including Bank Holidays.
  • Admission £4, £2.50 concessions, 50% off for National Art Pass holders, Free for Friends of Mall Galleries, RBA Friends and under 18s
This is the painting which people see as they stand at the top of the stairs
It makes a great start to the exhibition!
Autumn in Provence by Nicholas Verrall 
£11,250 but it's SOLD!

Exhibition metrics - and the Open Entry

I'm going to come back and add this in - or maybe even do a separate blog post - because I need to do some counting - and there's not been a lot of time for that this week.

The Award Winners

The Award Winners are as follows:
  • The de Lazlo Foundation Prize – Caroline Pool – ‘Here I am : Howard’ - this was a painting of her Dad
  • The Artist Magazine Award – Sarah Butterfield – ‘Cakes for Tea’ - a VERY colourful artist! Read all about her in a future edition
  • Nathan David Award for Sculpture AND The Marianne von Werther Memorial Award – Teresa Hunyadi – ‘My Pleasure’ - I loved this piece - and it had strong competition! Just amazing - I'm not in the least bit surprised it also won the Rome Scholarship. I also smiled when I saw her bio says she got her chainsaw licence last year!
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  • The Davidson Award for Oil Painting – Stuart Howitt – ‘Pandering to the Camera’ - or "Pink Panda" as I found myself calling it.
  • The Dry Red Press Award – Barbara Jackson – ‘Make Way’ - lovely cat print
  • Frinton Frames Award – Benjamin Hope – ‘St Paul’s from Cannon Street, Afternoon’
  • Hahnemühle Fine Art UK Award – Jeremy Galton RBA – ‘Michaelmas Daisies II’
  • The Michael Harding Award 1 – Renee Spierdijk – ‘Striped Dress’
  • The Michael Harding Award 2 – Lee Madgwick RBA – ‘Merry-Go-Canter’
  • The Gordon Hulson Prize – Max Mansbridge-West – ‘Self Portrait’ - he ditched his chef's knives in favour of the paintbrush two years ago and trained at LARA
  • The John Ingram Memorial Prize – Isabella Crouch – ‘The Three Lydias’
  • The LARA Prize for a Young Artist – Jessica Debba – ‘Self Portrait at Twenty-Four ( Not exhibited)
  • The Anthony J Lester Art Critic Award – Robert Truscott – ‘Operation Gericht’ - won the Visitor's Choice Awards at the Threadneedle in 2012
  • The Patron’s Prize – Cheryl Culver RBA PPPS – ‘Jumble of Rocks’
  • The Stuart Southall Print Prize – Kirsten van Schreven – ‘Airframe IV’
  • The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial Award – Jasmyn Frazer – ‘Golden Age’
  • The Winsor & Newton Painting award – Timothy Gatenby – ‘Dark Lanes’
  • The Surgeons Prize – Ruth Murray – ‘Fish Market, 100 Smirrells Road’ - strong unique style - and likes pink!

The Exhibition

Overall it gave the impression of being a little crowded. I don't have a problem with that so long as the exhibition is hung well - which this was.

Main Galleries

a view of one side of the Main Gallery
I'm beginning to think that the successors to Ken Howard in terms of scope and style - are now outpainting Ken Howard....

a view of the other side
My favourite corner of the exhibition this year is below

I loved this corner - lots to interest the eye and very detailed artworks and yet it's not too "busy"
There's some very strong monochrome work in the exhibition

Monochrome work in various media

Threadneedle Space

I really liked the rather odd paintings by John Whitehill - I like painting which engage my brain and challenge me to think and work out what's going on....

(left) St. Paul's from Cannon Street (afternoon) oil £12,000 by Benjamin Hope
(Right) Souvenir and Souvenir II oil £1,200 each by John Whitehill
I also particularly liked the sculpture on display in this room. In fact the sculpture across the whole exhibition was impressive.

The Sculpture Shelf in the Threadneedle Space

North Galleries

The North Galleries were again dominated by artworks from the Open Submission. A such they looked distinctly more contemporary than the rest of the exhibition. That's not to say there wasn't traditional elements within it.

a much more contemporary RBA

For me it included artwork which I wouldn't have expected to see in an RBA exhibition 2-3 years ago.

I liked the work on the "One and a Half Candidates' Walls" in the North Galleries.  I'm hoping to see the following as members next year:
  • Annie Boisseau - has just got something which catches the attention although I've got a niggle that this might be sometimes but not always basis. (Plus she really needs to sort out her website!)
  • Alex Callaway RBSA - has impressed me with his work in a number of recent shows. On the face of it traditional still life - but there's just something that gives it a contemporary edge. Plus he's getting selected for a good number of juried shows.
  • Susie Perring - an excellent example of an artist who produces good work as a printmaker, knows her audience and knows how to price to sell
  • Melissa Scott-Miller - Very steady painter of endless scenes of different bits of Islington. She has a major following. I think she's a really good fit - and will bring a bit of urban London - and colour - to the RBA scene.
  • Will Taylor - I'm a sucker for traditionally drawn etchings of topographical scenes drawn in a traditional but not boring way - and he does not disappoint. Or maybe I just like Rye?
Candidates Wall #1
Melissa Scott Miller, Alex Callaway, Susie Perring and Michael Harrison
Candidates Wall #2
Annie Boisseau, Will Taylor and Christopher Knox

Issues which still need to be addressed

Some of the pricing is very silly.  It doesn't help sales at the exhibition and it certainly does not help an artist's career.

I'm beginning to think there ought to be a guideline offered with the information for artists submitting via the open entry.  On the other hand some of that advice could do with being proffered to the members as well!

Some artists would do well to study who sells the most art consistently year after year after year. Annie Williams is a good example of an artist who consistently sells 75-80% of her work at most exhibitions and who has never ever been silly about prices. She knows her audience.

Annie Williams RWS RBA - count the red spots
- top seller numerically in the exhibition on Monday
Those who can price high are those who know they can price high and still sell.

For example, I have no doubt that Lewis Hazlewood-Horner will get a buyer for his very impressive LARGE painting in the Threadneedle Space. That's because he's had an exhibition in the Threadneedle Space and filled it will large paintings which sold.  He's also one of a very few painters I know who knows how to paint a group of people and create a painting with a narrative.  It's a rare skill these days....
Last Orders by Lewis Hazelwood-Horner RBA
Oil £25,000
Threadneedle Space - just to give some perspective on the above painting

My challenge to the RBA for 2019 is to at least equal the number of sales from the open submission in numerical terms!  If they get their pricing right, this should not be difficult....

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