Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review of RBA Annual Exhibition 2021

It was a bit odd stepping into the Mall Galleries to see an exhibition - having not been there since last October. 

Nevertheless the numbers in the gallery for the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists at the Mall Galleries suggested pre-pandemic days were over and life was back to normal.

West Gallery

However that was only if I ignored 
  • the need to book in advance and 
  • then follow the feet stickers on the floor suggesting the recommended route around the gallery 
  • plus a lot of people with masks on!! :) 
I'm going to do something a bit different with this review.  Below I'll offer general comment about the exhibition - and then highlight some of the artworks which jumped off the wall for me. 

My first two posts covered all the other information of relevance

East gallery

General Comments

The RBA Exhibition in 2020 was the last of the "normal" exhibitions at the Mall Galleries before lockdown. It seems very appropriate for it to be the first of those to start the 2021 year of more exhibitions by the FBA Societies.

There are 466 artworks in this show. The range and scope of the exhibition is amazing. (You can see my photos of the exhibition here)

It includes:
  • paintings in different media 
  • drawings using in many different media. I think I saw more pastels and works in charcoal than I've seen in a long time
  • fine art prints - which are very high quality and look amazing when hung together
  • sculpture of the most amazing diversity in terms of theme, media and construction. Most is in the East Gallery
I LOVED the Print Wall - in the centre of the West Gallery. The RBA is fortunate to have some very accomplished fine art printmakers exhibiting in their show - and a number of them are members.

Print wall (left)

Print wall (right)

As always I'm grateful for feedback on the comments I made the previous year
  • the labels are now at the side of the artwork and NOT underneath and hence hidden by the shadow of the frame (Yay for those of us who struggle with having the right glasses on at times!) - and as such are MUCH easier to see
  • entries from younger artists have increased. I gather from the President that my comments last year about the exhibition being one I always recommend to young artists has seen an uplift in the number of entries from younger artists - and for me that's very much reflected in the artwork in the exhibition!
I think this year's annual exhibition of the RBA would be almost unrecognisable compared to those which used to be held not that long ago.  (see reviews at the end). Parts of it look like a commercial contemporary art gallery!

There was MUCH MORE new artwork and new-looking artwork this year - of which more below (after reservations)

Some reservations / suggestions for improvements

If I were to strike a critical note, I'd suggest that:
  • there is still some artwork which I would personally have pruned - member or not. I hasten to add there's relatively few such artworks - but enough to make the comment. 
    • Members cannot rest on their laurels when non-members outshine them
    • I very much approve of those national art societies which are now making their members' artwork pass the same scrutiny as the open entry - to keep members on their toes and make sure that it measures up to the standards of artwork submitted via the open entry. 
  • Some of the frames are overly "ornate", very traditional or too big / too heavy. My rule of thumb is if you find yourself noticing the frame more than the artwork, it's in the wrong frame! I can never work out whether such frames are used because 
    • they are expensive frames and keep being rotated until they contain an artwork which sells?
    • the artist uses them because their gallery think that's what collectors want? 
    • this is what people think sells? Anybody who does should read Do frames help to sell art? when I counted and classified frames of all the sold art. That was five years ago - maybe it's time to do this again.
    • see my previous blog post - Framing your artwork - a summary
In relation to online sales, it did occur to me that all the images on the Mall Galleries website ONLY include the artwork - and NOT what the artist is buying - which, of course, includes the frame too!!

I do think every artwork being sold online needs 
  • to reflect EXACTLY what is being sold i.e. including the frame. 
  • to show the size in relation to a standard room
  • i.e. all the standard features of most online websites selling art online.
The reality is that framing has moved on - and nobody wants the additional expense of replacing a frame which does not fit with their home. 

That said I was very pleased to see one artist who has been one of the main 'culprits' of the "old-fashioned frames" brigade - has changed his frame and gone for something much more simple and contemporary - and now I see the artwork and not the frame.

Artwork I liked

I went round the exhibition looking to see what jumped out at me.  I do a number of circuits. The first I just look at the art and nothing else. It's always interesting to see what appeals to my visual senses.

Best Portrait


The best portrait in the exhibition for me was this oil painting by up and coming artist Tedi LenaI just loved the detailed realism expressed in a very painterly way. His understanding of light is astounding in particular in terms of how it influences both composition and palette without being obtrusive in any way.  His characterisation of Adele and inclusion of all the usual paraphernalia of young lives makes this a very natural portrait of a young woman - with presence.

Adele in the Studio by Tedi Lena
oil, 120cm x 100cm, £4,500

Tedi Lena (Instagram)
  • born 1996 (age 25). He's deaf and communicates silently using sign language. (Read this article for more about the impact of hearing deficit on Tedi's visual acuity)
  • graduated with a BA (Hons) degree from the Sir John Cass School of Architecture and Design at the London Metropolitan University and was was awarded the Owen Rowley Prize, 2018.
  • also attended short courses at Hampstead School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts. 
  • previously selected for the BP Portrait Award 2019 - with a great portrait of Frank Bowling.
PS I didn;t know any of this when I chose this painting!

He's certainly an artist I expect to see featuring in future prestigious exhibitions of portraiture in London.

Best Lockdown Painting


I think this was my best painting representing lockdown and the challenges of the last year. I was a little surprised not to see more paintings which took our changed lives as a theme.

In between Meetings by Verity Child just has that "all zoomed out" look about it!  Plus the details are all there - the dining table with the eternal bowl of brekkies or soup, the headphones, the phone and the dressing gown etc!

Oil, 60 x 90 cm, £1,450

Verity Child is also exhibiting as part of the RBA RISING STARS exhibition at the ROSL – 2021.

Best Urban Landscape

Pont Street Rain SE19 by Roger Cromwell
33 x 49 cm (50 x 66 cm framed)


I love artists who find paintings in the most unlikely places - in this case a wet pavement in Knightsbridge. The pavement positively glistened, the colours were also absolutely splendid - and I'm amazed at anybody who can paint upside down paintings and maintain the perspective!

Roger Cromwell also won an award for another painting of his in the exhibition called Storm Passing.

The Best "Almost a Drawing" 

I love this work and it was ideally placed - at the end of the West Gallery so you could see it from afar - and then get behind it and see all the rest of the exhibition through it. Plus I'm a big fan of artworks which look like real women!

Don’t Look Back by Gabrielle Bradshaw
Forged and welded metal 39.5 x 45.5 cm £2,200

I found Gabrielle Bradshaw's website and surprise, surprise - this is a woman who loves drawing! She also works in charcoal, pastels and watercolour and likes drawing figures. I think her sculpture is very original, contemporary and accessible. Very simple and very effective.

In terms of background:
  • She studied at Camberwell School of Art - and was awarded a First Class Honours degree in Fine Art Sculpture. 
  • While still at college she:
    • won the SOGAT award for an installation at the South London Gallery 
    • created site specific work for the Barbican Arts Centre. 
    • Her degree piece was exhibited with the London Group at the Royal College.
  • She's worked as a welder and set builder at the Royal National Theatre in London. 
  • Her work has also been exhibited and auctioned at Sotheby's.
  • She's also worked as a television artist, writer, and presenter across all the main channels including five series of the BBC1 children's art programme Hartbeat with Tony Hart.

Best Sculpture 


I really liked the puzzle aspect of this piece. It's intriguing. It's made of wood - but constructed in lots and lots of small parts which reminded me of Jenga. It has different facets which contain object. I wondered why it started dark at the bottom and lightens as it gets to the top - and what was the link with a war.

The Soldier by Lesley Hilling
Mixed media 185 x 83 x 120 cm £5,500

Lesley Hilling is a self taught artist working solely with recycled materials - creating assemblies from recycled wood and found objects. I think she has to to be into puzzles as well as I remember identifying one of her assemblages last year as work which stood out for me as being both original and interesting.

This is a video about the work.


Best Printmaker

 
I saw Miranda Halsby's Etchings with aquatints in different locations within the exhibition and liked ALL of them - without realising they were all by the same artist. I genuinely stopped and looked at each independently. (I never look at names in my first round of the gallery - I only ever look at the art. I only ever look at labels on my second 'go-round'.)

She displays exquisite draughtsmanship and sensitive use of colour - and something about the composition and colour palettes of each one which made them look different even if they were views of familiar scenes - including ones I've drawn myself.

This was my favourite - which is tucked away in an unobtrusive location in the North Gallery.


View of the Grand Canal by Miranda Halsby
Medium: Etching With Aquatint | Edition of 50 (39 Available)  | Size: 43 x 40 cm
£300 (£230 unframed)

A bit of background about Miranda Halsby
  • born in London in 1948
  • went to Kingston and Hornsey Colleges of Art.
  • trained and practised as an Occupational Therapist using Art and Craft as treatment in hospitals.
  • ran Highgate Gallery with her husband for 10 years
  • has shown with the RBA since 1997, winning the St. Cuthberts Mill Award in 2001 when she was also elected a member of the RBA
  • has exhibited widely

Best Group of Paintings

I was very surprised to see this group of three large almost traditional paintings by Chinese artist Huaicun Zhang. (Instagram) She is an artist and an author of children's literature. She is Tu Ethnic Minority people, British Chinese, a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Chinese Writers Association.

Three Ink paintings by Huaicun Zhang
- each priced at £10000

I hope the Mall Galleries are up to speed with the new money laundering regulations (blog post coming soon!) - because they're going to have to be if they sell any of these paintings! 


Links to reviews of previous RBA Annual Exhibitions


These are my previous reviews of the annual exhibition

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