With just over a week to go until it closes, we’ve rounded up some of our highlights from the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2019.
This year, British painter Jock McFadyen RA took the mantle from Grayson Perry to co-ordinate the 251st Summer Exhibition. From colossal prints and a menagerie of works to art by the likes of Tracey Emin, Banksy and Anselm Kiefer, the Summer Exhibition 2019 has delivered a fascinating selection of art. However, it is not just star names that adorn the walls of the Royal Academy.
The Summer Exhibition is so popular because it provides a unique artistic landscape that welcomes a whole host of artists. Over 1500 works are displayed from artists across the globe and this year the committee even selected two of ten-year-old Alfie Griffiths’ works to hang on the famous walls, making him one of the youngest to ever be selected. Read on to see our highlights from the show.
1. Reflecting the World
When asked what he wanted the Summer Exhibition to look like, Jock McFadyen responded, ‘Well, I want to show art that describes the world’.
McFadyen’s interest is born out of his deep involvement with paint and this provides a useful springboard for how the exhibition is curated: ‘People think I’m a figurative artist but I see myself as an abstract painter, someone concerned first and foremost with paint.’
He expounds this by drawing on the work of Trevor Sutton, an artist who creates striking abstracts based on landscapes in Ireland.
Sutton’s work circles around a mindful engagement with the physical world, without being tethered to it. Through colour, shape and place, Sutton creates philosophical paintings and prints with mathematical precision, resulting in work with tranquil texture and tone.
This space takes the previous idea of the relationship between paint and the world even further – for the first time at the Summer Exhibition there is a room dedicated to art that’s about the environment.
Given that the government this year declared a climate emergency, it’s only too right that art should be dealing with the challenges facing the planet. Arguments about the environment and politics simply cannot be ignored and McFadyen leaves no stone unturned. Paint still takes centre stage in Gallery III, where each wall is anchored around a large work that reflects the world in a different way.
McFadyen gives his own verdict with Poor Mother, a large unframed oil painting that hangs idly like the sunken, burnt-out sun on his canvas.
The work shows a marred landscape blotted with misery and only a few splashes of colour – even the greens of the once luscious looking palms are faded, blotted and sad.
Anselm Kiefer follows suit with his colossal 4-metre work – arguably one of the most striking of the entire exhibition. Kiefer (b. 1945) is known for invoking the war-ravaged landscapes that shaped his youth in post-war Donaueschingen, Germany.
This work is no different – it is haunting and desolate and we see how Kiefer combines history, landscape and heavily textured materials to induce the horrors of human experience. The work employs his characteristic texture through the liberal application of thick paint and found organic matter, resulting in an imposing physicality.
Gallery IV’s curator, Barbara Rae RA, was deeply affected by her recent trips to the Arctic and this spills out into her selection. In particular, the centre of the space is occupied by Ken Currie’s painting Thaw, which is both luminous and haunting. Nicholas Jones’ acrylic painting An Austere Beauty, Iceberg Off Cape Mercy, Baffin Island [below, centre right] sits opposite and depicts a seemingly pristine Arctic landscape, providing a stark and unsettling comparison.
Gill Rocca’s Figment XXX quietly stands out here. Her still and subdued landscapes capture a lost sense of place, suspending onlookers with a fixed gaze of melancholy and displacement. Small beacons of light prompt speculation about our place amongst such atmospheric and unmoving landscapes.
There are a number of brilliant prints at the Summer Exhibition this year – one of the most impressive is Emma Stibbon RA’s monumental woodcut print in Gallery V, inspired by the effect produced by a collapsing volcano.
She witnessed this phenomenon during her 2016 residency with the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where primaeval light from the magma illuminated the mist through a rainforest.
Angel Heart is a beautiful large scale print on porcelain panels. It is comprised of 96 hand-rolled and litho printed porcelain panels, individually stitched and presented into a bespoke linen and oak frame.
Bronwen Sleigh’s Nile Avenue Study I is also worth a closer look. Sleigh takes inspiration from industrial architecture and unused and forgotten urban spaces, translating their edges and shapes into her own visual language.
The process of printmaking is itself very much part of her subject. The marks which animate the surface borrow the aesthetic of the industrial and the weathered – the print mirrors the tired, pitted and abraded surfaces of the buildings which inspired the imagery.
5. A Surreal Panorama of Paradise Lost
Shuffling through the Academy’s halls each summer is somewhat of a pilgrimage for British art lovers, and sometimes a little light relief from hard-hitting topics is welcome.
Claire Douglass’s The Garden of Earthly Delights does just that. Amidst swathes of serious political commentary it provides a gentle jest and mockery of the current climate, playing with Hieronymus Bosch’s original and toying with moral warnings against sexual indulgence and life’s temptations.
It’s easy to get lost in the canvas and Douglass does a fantastic job of pointing out and questioning some of the obscurities of modern-day life.
Should you pay it a visit?
Following last years dazzling 250th Summer Exhibition was always going to be a difficult feat. This year’s exhibition steps up to the plate convincingly and tackles topical debates head-on. There’s outstanding work on show and as usual visitors simply love to walk among the rooms, engaging with unknown works, guessing the prices, mediums, artists…
It truly is a British summertime spectacle and it continues to deliver something for everyone, from bright neon and sober impressionism to graffiti, still life, sculpture and photography.
Make sure to pay it a visit before the last day, the 12th of August, and remember – it’s not too early to start thinking about submitting artwork for next year’s Summer Exhibition.