Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020

The online catalogue of the Annual Exhibition 2020 of the Royal Society of British Artists promises that it might be a good exhibition. I viewed it today and the actual exhibition more than lives up to what's online - although the stronger works are predominantly in the Main Gallery and Threadneedle Space.
You can get free entry for two people (value £10) by saying you're there having seen it on "Making A Mark" at the reception desk.

Annual Exhibition 2020

The Royal Society of British Artists has been through something of a rejuvenation in the last three years. 

It's certainly come a VERY long way from the 2012 exhibition which is etched in my memory (See RBA 2012: An exhibition of Middle England?). I remember identifying a lot of work I liked and then felt absolutely compelled to comment to the effect that I was less than impressed by some of the artwork in the competition - that it felt old fashioned and parochial. Thereafter I stopped taking the RBA seriously and, for me, it became an "also ran" art society for me.

Back in 2016 I was still perturbed by it and wrote
My own feeling is that the artworks which have been juried in from the open entry (i.e. from non-members) out perform a number of the artworks submitted by members - which are NOT juried - by some margin. From my perspective that's just not right.
However it's now a society which is almost unrecognisable given the change in content - it's diverse in subject matter, media, style, and it's strong on colour, monochrome and 3D.

I LOVE the prints featured on the end wall

It's very definitely an art society to take very seriously. Indeed despite the aspiration of many of those wanting to advance their art careers to apply to NEAC, I'd very much recommend the RBA as a much better bet for those entering via the open exhibition.

Particular aspects which are noteworthy in this exhibition this year are:
  • the fine art prints - which are simply STUNNING. This exhibition is worth visiting just for the prints alone!
  • the 3d work and sculpture which is numerous and very varied.  The range of media and diversity of approaches is amazing.  Definitely an exhibition to enter if you an aspiring 3D artist (Most of the sculpture is in the Threadneedle Space)

  • The diversity of styles and media used for drawings and paintings.  While some is still traditional, the diversity of styles mean that this exhibition has well and truly lost the air of "fuddy duddy" which it had in 2012.
  • the introduction of a theme - "Inspired by Trees" is an excellent idea. It hung as a continuous theme in two different galleries - with a very strong monochrome section in the Main Gallery

Inspired by Trees in the Main Gallery

Inspired by Trees - the monochrome section

  • the hang which is excellent - a huge exhibition remains accessible (apart from the labels - see the end). I very much appreciated the theming of different works - the still life at the entrance, the trees in two different places within the exhibition etc.
  • the size of the exhibition. They've selected 500 works in total - of which 20 relate to their RBA Star Students.  Some of the paintings are hung in 3 rows - but they can cope with it as all remain accessible

    Still Life near the entrance - including the excellent and much admired Annie Williams (I'm a fan!)

    • one of the reasons it is large is because of the very many smaller works which have been selected.

    Small works on the mezzanine and next to the cafe - there's even more to the left!

    • There's a better mix of works between members and those selected from the Open Entry across the three galleries - which was pleasing to see.

    North Gallery

    The RBA is also a society I regularly recommend to young artists given:
    • the breadth of its scope for media
    • the size of its exhibition
    • the number of prizes
    • the respectable split between members and non-members in terms of work hung
    The Open Entry generated 1,699 entries for this year's exhibition
    • of which 186 works were selected for the exhibition (11%) 
    • thus the open entry represents 38% of the total works hung in the main part of the exhibition 
    • while members work represents 62% of the artwork hung.

    Work I particularly liked

    There were lots of works to like - and below I'm singling out people I've not highlighted before.
    One of the most original artworks I saw in the exhibition was this one by Lesley Hilling"Manhattan" is hanging on the wall - and yet it is very much a 3D work made out of salvaged wood of different colours and characters (there's a ruler in there towards the bottom!). I was hugely impressed by it.  She made me want to look at more on her website and to go and see an exhibition of her work!

    The artist trained and worked for many years as a graphic designer but is a self taught artist who now works solely with recycled materials.  For me she is emblematic of the way in which art can embrace the bigger wider themes of society today - particularly those of an urban character.

    I am in no way surprised it sold at the Private View. My only surprise is that it didn't win an award. How about an award for art about the contemporary urban space? (with a veto on all pretty paintings of Venice!)

    Manhattan by Lesley Hilling
    salvaged wood
    I love the etchings with watercolour on Indian themes by Meg Dutton VPRBA. This is not the best of photos - but the artwork was just joyous.

    Etchings and watercolour by Meg Dutton
    A fascination with pattern and detail in the natural and man made world form the basis of the drawings, paintings and etchings she produces. She has a particular love of Moorish architecture. She uses watercolour on some of her etchings and often makes collages from collections of drawings and photographs taken from different sources to construct the images for her printing plates.

    Richenda Court's linocut of The Human Ocean which was very, very impressive in terms of treatment of the topic, design, cutting and mark making and its overall impact - including excellent presentation. Plus one of my favourite colours - which always helps!!

    The Stuart Southall Print PrizeBehind the Human Ocean by Richenda Court
    Linocut, 125 x 103 cm,
    £1,400 (£1,100 u/f)

    I was also hugely impressed by the woodblock prints of waves in a Japanese style by Rod Nelson. I just wish they'd been hung together.  However you can see Red Sand and Tide Race on the Mall Galleries website. I look forward to seeing his work again next year - and hope he enters the open!


    I think the RBA might just win the prize for the most prizes at an annual exhibition!  I can't remember the last time I saw this many.

    The number of prizes also make for a jolly good reason to enter this exhibition as you've got a much better chance of winning a prize!

    The awards are listed below - together with the names of artists that won them.

    You can see the images of the artwork which won each in the Mall galleries blog posts listed below

    Monetary Awards

    The de Laszlo Foundation PrizeChiara by Charles Pickard
    charcoal and chalk
    £1,200 SOLD
    • The de Laszlo Foundation Prize - £1,500 will be awarded to the artist under 35 for the best painting from life - Charles Pickard - a VERY impressive large classical life drawing in charocal and chalk
    • The Whistler Medal - A member of the Society, who has been chosen by his or her peers, receives the medal, £500 and a double page spread in next year’s catalogue - Ronald Morgan RBA ROI - for his works in last year's exhibition
    • The Patron’s Prize of £500 - Jon Pryke RBA
    • The Surgeon's Prize £500 Tara Versey
    • The Davison Award for Oil Painting - £100 - Michael Riddle - a small but impressive painting which commands attention
    • The Stuart Southall Print Prize - £250 - Richenda Court - an amazing linocut which was as impressive as it was topical
    • The Nathan David Award for Sculpture £150 - David Sprakes RBA

    The Davison Award for Oil Painting Lucy by Michael Riddle

    Memorial Awards

    The Peter Kelly Commemorative Award 
    Notre Dame de Paris - by Stuart Robertson
    Watercolour & gouache, 89 x 74 cm,
    • The Peter Kelly Commemorative Award for £300 - Stuart Robertson - nice to see somebody making a record of a building we nearly lost last year - and its architectural theme would have been one much appreciated by Peter Kelly!
    • The Ronald Morgan Memorial Award for £250 - Pauline Hazelwood
    • The Gordon Hulson Memorial Prize - A prize of £250 for draughtsmanship, variety and exploration - Daisy Sims-Hilditch
    • The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial Award - £100 - Will Taylor RBA - a splendid print

    The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial AwardWaterloo Sands by Will Taylor

    Art Manufacturers / Suppliers Awards

    • The Michael Harding Award (1) £500 worth of Michael Harding art materials and 10 painting starter set Chris Aggs RBA - for a very tiny painting
    • The Michael Harding Award (ii) £500 worth of Michael Harding art materials and 10 painting starter sets - Anthony Yates RBA
    • The Winsor & Newton Painting Award - Art materials to the value of £500 - Mark Fennell
    • Frinton Frames Award - £200 of picture framing at Frinton Frames bespoke handfinished picture frame makers - Nicholas Verrall RBA ROI

    Publication Awards

    • The Artist Magazine Award - The winner will be interviewed in The Artist magazine, print and digital version - John Martin RBA
    • The Dry Red Press Award - Bess Harding

    Education Awards

    • Rome Scholarship - for a young artist
    • The LARA Prize for a Young Artist
    There are a number of events during the course of the exhibition which you can find listed on the Mall Galleries website.

    Things to ponder on

    In the past, I've regularly made recommendations of things I think might be improved on a regular basis for ALL open exhibitions/competitions I view. Much to my delight quite a few of them are acted on!

    So, based on my experience today, here goes....

    Things I'd like to see change before next year:
    • Catalogue Improvements:
      • a much bigger font for the listed works in the catalogue. The font is ABSOLUTELY TINY and almost unreadable even with my reading glasses on!
      • dimensions on all the artwork - in the catalogue ( it's on the website - so why not the catalogue)  
      • feedback for those entering the open about: how many entered and what number and percentage were selected for the exhibition. Doubtless something was said at the PV yesterday - but it not everybody goes and it needs to be information routinely provided in the catalogue.
    • a better way of viewing details about the artwork on the wall - I found that putting the labels under the artwork meant that it was in shadow and much more difficult to read,. Putting the label underneath on the bottom row meant it was totally inaccessible by those of us who might well fall over if we leaned down to read it.  (This I would add is a perennial problem - but it was voiced today by a fellow stick user who, like me, wants to read info on the wall rather than from the catalogue - which is why I'm highlighting it again)
    • an easy way of accessing artwork in the exhibition by a named artist - on both websites.  Sometimes you just want to find an artist quickly....
    • better advice on pricing for international artists - it's notable that those works which seem to me to be priced excessively high are almost all by international artists. I think it would be a kindness to all artists who have attached a high price tag to 
      • ask them whether or not they are used to selling at this level and/or to also 
      • point out that this is not  gallery in Cork Street!
      • I'm a big fan of the late David Sheppard's approach to pricing the "wildlife artist of the year competition" - where those who were pricing unrealistically high had the option of having their work priced more realistically or removed from the exhibition. His exhibitions all sold extremely well as a result!

    One final query. I'm wondering where the online catalogue on Issuu is. Has it not been uploaded yet?

    More about Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibitions

    This was the Call for Entries - Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020

    These are my previous reviews of the annual exhibition

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