Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Review - Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2019

There are 514 artworks in total in the 2019 Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists. They comprise paintings, fine art prints, drawings, sculpture, ceramics and other 3D work in all kinds of media and but mainly (but not exclusively) a figurative / representative style - and you can see them at the Mall Galleries until Sunday 14th July.

This post covers:
  • About the Exhibition - what you need to know
  • Exhibition Metrics and the Open Entry
  • Prizes and awards
  • Artwork I liked

Strong paintings and 3D work in the Threadneedle Space

I turned right on entering and encountered a very impressive hang in the Threadneedle Space. Lots of variety in terms of style, size and media - and some very eye-catching work

A view of the Threadneedle Space

In fact my first reaction to the very first paintings I saw was "Proper paintings - this is going to be a good one" - which is a pretty good way of influencing somebody who is going to review a exhibition!

This is an exhibition which has packed in the artwork - and some might say that it looks crowded. However I much prefer to see good art - the only time I'll complain about crowded walls is when some of the artwork should have been weeded out!

In general I liked the hang - except for the end wall in the Main Gallery which to me seemed to lack the type of "look at me" pieces that the wall demands. A woman in skimpy clothing in front of a bulls eye does not rate as "look at me" in my eyes - quite the reverse.

One odd thing I noticed is that it's a bit of a cats and dogs exhibition - I spied many more cats and dogs than I normally do - and they seem (as I also note at the RA Summer Exhibition - to be very popular!)

While there is a some variation in quality between artworks - with some outstanding pieces - the overall standard of the exhibition is good to very good. The RBA continues to maintain its improvement in exhibition standards of recent years

Works on the mezzanine level (above the stairs) to the right of the entrance
- made me think there was more good work to see beyond!

About the exhibition

View of part of the RBS Annual Exhibition 2019 in the Main Gallery

  • Venue: Mall Galleries - The Mall, St. James's, London SW1, UK (link is to Google Maps)
  • Dates: 4th - Sunday 14th July (closing 1pm on the last day)
  • Open: Daily, 10am to 5pm during exhibitions (unless otherwise stated)
  • Admission £4, £2.50 concessions, 50% off for National Art Pass holders, Free for Friends of Mall Galleries, RBA Friends and under 25 year olds

View images online

If you don't visit the exhibition you can also view images online
What's different this year is that the annual exhibition is three months later than in 2018.  Maybe this will be the RBA's new annual slot?

Work by some well-established RBA members and an invited artist

Exhibition metrics - and the Open Entry

I've made it a point, for the benefit of all artists who enter open exhibitions, to comment on the exhibition metrics.

Small and medium sized work - mainly landscapes - on the mezzanine wall below the bookshop

The exhibition of 514 artworks comprises the Main Exhibition - with screens over windows in the North Galleries to get them all hung (First time I've seen both windows screened) and every bit of ledge space used in the Threadneedle for the small sculptures!

a lot of small 3D works in the Threadneedle Space - this is emphatically an exhibition for aspiring sculptors

Of the 514 artworks
  • 485 works are part of the Main Exhibition and 
  • the remainder are 
    • works by the RBA Star Students from schools and colleges across the country and 
    • works by invited artists
I've never ever been convinced of the point or value of:
  • "invited artists" whose work is already well known. If invitations are going to be offered then I'd much prefer to see the work of artists who do not exhibit often and/or do not normally exhibit in this country.  How about developing link-ups with other national art societies which offer scope for reciprocating the invitation to RBA members to exhibit overseas - which then represents a mutual and real benefit for all concerned?
  • inviting artists to become Honorary Members. I very much prefer art societies which make their reputation on the strength of the quality of the artwork by their "proper" elected members rather than any "add-ons" for effect - or even "a centrepiece" for the exhibition. 

The centrepiece of the exhibition in the Main Gallery was by an invited artist
- who was becoming an Honorary member. It felt rather like an alien had landed.

In the main exhibition, the split between members and open entries is respectable.
  • 316 works (65%) are by Members of the RBA
  • 169 artworks (35%) were selected from the Open Entry - out of c.1800 submissions - which is an increase from the 127 selected in 2017.  Numbers are going in the right direction.
Which means around 9.3% of the artwork submitted via the Open Entry was selected for the Annual Exhibition.

A query about this exhibition which remains unanswered - was raised last year - is pricing. Since then I've been raising the issue on a rather more generic bases - so I'll be interested to see how the sales materialise.

    Some striking colourful and monochrome work on this feature wall in the North Gallery
    More artwork in the North Gallery - including the display case of silver 3D objects by Hilary Frew

    There is a wall in the exhibition (below) where you can see artwork by artists who are candidates for membership of the RBA.

    North Gallery: Work by Candidates for Members of the RBA. 
    As you can see some have more work selected than others.

    Michael Harrison - one of the candidates (he's a regular exhibitor with the RBA)
    with his paintings Winter Coast (top) and South Downs Way (bottom)

    Prizes and Awards

    The Mall Galleries has started doing a detailed round-up of those who win prizes and awards so I'll refer you to the relevant page to see ALL the images of the artworks winning a prize - and something about the artist - and list below the main awards and prizes - with a few pics!

    Sculpture on Portland Stone (back and right) and Bronze (Left) by
    Whistler Award Winner Hilary Frew RBA

    The Whistler Award 2018/19 was awarded to Hilary Frew RBA a respected member of the RBA. This prestigious prize is voted for by fellow artists.  I've always realised really liked her people sculptures in Portland Stone or Bronze. What I didn;t realise is that she works in silver and this year she also had a display case full of the sterling silver work - and this also has a two page display spread in the catalogue.

    Cash Prizes

    • The de Laszlo Foundation Prize (£1,500) - Yu Fan for Running Whippet Bronze, 30 x 35 x 15cm, £8,500. He apparently is a 34-year-old sculptor living in Los Angeles but he has the same name (I think) as a Chinese contemporary sculptor who commands high prices living and working in Beijing.
    • The Gordon Hulson Memorial Prize (£250) - Sarah Spackman for The Pear Between Oil, 37 x 42cm, £950
    • Hahnemuhle Fine Art UK Award (£250) - Brett Hudson for Dark Lines Watercolours, 70 x 90cm, £3,600
    • The Stuart Southall Print Prize (£250) - Martin Langford for Puppet Master Etching 87 x 73cm, £460 (£390 unframed)
    • Nathan David Award for Sculpture (£150) - Clive Duncan RBA for Vespasian's Game 2 Stone & Steel, £3,000
    • The Davison Award for Oil Painting (£100) - Henry Jabbour for
    • The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial Award (£100) - Owain Hunt for Painter's Dog Resting Oil 90 x 65cm, £8,500

    Henry Jabbour's two prizewinning paintings
    - bottom for The Davison Award and top for the Winsor & Newton Painting Award

    Educational Awards

    Tara Versey was Winner of the Rome Scholarship

    • The Arts Society Star Student Award (£100 worth of art shop vouchers) - Meg Burridge for a triptych of three paintings of sunlight on a terrace

    Terrace Sunlight Oil, 30 x 42cm each, NFS by Meg Burridge

    • The LARA Prize for a Young Artist (Free short course at LARA in London) Bethany Whell

    Window Light Graphite Pencil, 31 x 23cm, SOLD by Bethany Whell

    Art Materials & Other Awards

    • The Michael Harding Award (£500 worth of art materials) - Benjamin Hope NEAC PS ARSMA for Southwark Bridge Road Oil, 48 x 37cm, £1,500
    • The Winsor & Newton Painting Award (£500 worth of art materials) - Henry Jabbour 
    • Frinton Frames Award (£200 worth of framing) - David Sawyer RBA for Campanile Sant'Ignazio all'Olivella, Palermo Oil, 73 x 38cm, £2,500
    • The Dry Red Press Award (work published as a greeting card + royalties from sales) - Holly Gallant for Bobby
    Awarded for the first time to an RBA Rising Star, Holly is studying at Suffolk One Sixth Form College in Ipswich.
    What's the colour combination for getting really important things noticed? Black on yellow! Well done Holly for spotting an obvious winning combination!

    Bobby Oil, 70 x 70cm, SOLD by Holly Gallant 

    • The Artist Magazine Award (feature in the magazine) - Annie Boisseau RBA for
      Red Earth, Sky Blue Oil, 55 x 55cm, £1,475

    Artwork I liked

    Next a few of the artworks I liked.

    I'm a fan of diptychs and triptychs and love looking at the various ways people find to divide up an image to create the desired effect.  The formality of two bay trees in classic pots seemed to me to me to be both slightly anarchic and at the same time the sort of arrangement which might be snapped up by people who have bay trees in pots!  The gradated yellow background stops it from looking like a botanical.

    The painter, Carol Griffin, is essentially a still life painter - who upgraded the size and dimensions of her still life! She's also giving a watercolour workshop on Working in watercolour on a still life at the Mall galleries tomorrow.

    "The Unlimited Cannot Be Bound I and II" Shantananda Saraswati (diptych x 2) by Carole Griffin RBA

    Watercolour, 95 x 69 cm each, £1,490 for each diptych

    I loved the idea of a couple creating an image of themselves "creating at home" and I'm also a big fan of anybody who attempts a realistic portrait of more than one person in a painting. 

    Peter Layzell's painting is very well executed as an oil painting in terms of design, interest within the composition and painting of both colour and tone within a raking light set-up. Clever! The gaze of the couple looking out at me engaged straight away - despite the fact it was hung on the top row of a triple row wall. However Peter needs to get himself a proper website and stop depending on third party sites!

    Me and the Mrs by Peter Layzell
    Oil, 65 x 85 cm, SOLD
    You can find it in the top row on the right hand wall as you walk into the North Gallery (but on the left in the photo below)

    North Gallery - First Room
    I've looked very hard at the next one twice now and I'm so very tempted to phone and reserve a copy of Mrs Hokusai's hairdo by Mick Davies, the Vice President of the RBA - EXCEPT I can't because it's not listed on either the RBA or Mall galleries websites!

    I absolutely loves Mick's work which always demonstrates exemplary draughtsmanship and humour.

    Mrs Hokusai's hairdo by Mick Davies VPRBA
    handcoloured etching (edition of 
    I very much liked this landscape - and having taken a look at his Tim Woodcock-Jones's website I can see it's typical of his landscapes of English countryside. There's certainly a lot to like in other landscapes he paints and he seems to have a particular perspective on how to capture it.

    Pitstone Hill by Tim Woodcock-Jones
    oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches
    There was lots to like in the sculpture - but this one in Jesmonite by John Williams bounced off my iMac screen when I looked at my photos of the exhibition. For the uninitiated Jesmonite is not a real rock - it's a gypsum-based material in an acrylic resin.  You can see more of his work on his website

    Self Portrait by John Williams
    White marble Jesmonite, 55 x 28 x 27 cm, £4,769

    Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibitions

    These are my previous reviews of the annual exhibition - PLUS this year's call for Entries

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