RA Summer Exhibition 2013


Burlington House draped in El Anatsui hanging sculpture.

Well, I finally made it to the 2013 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Burlington House. The building has be covered with a humungus glistening patchwork sheet made from bottle tops, printing plates, roofing sheets and copper wire, that ungulates and sparkles in the breeze. This epic tapestry (or wall sculpture) is the work of El Anatsui ‘Tsiatsia – searching for connection’ and won the main prize on offer for this year.

The tapestry theme continues inside the building with one of the rooms given over to Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’. A humours series of tapestries that describe the rise and fall on an internet wiz kid come billionaire and makes satirical social statements along the way. The series is reminiscent of the Michael Angelo tapestries that where on show in the V&A not so long ago except in these hangings religion is replaced with modern day tounge’n’cheeck humour that is stuffed into every square inch.

Inside the gallery the walls are, as usual, adorned with a smorgasbord of form and colour whist sculptures checker the floor space.

If I commented here on every work that made an impression I could be writing this all week, so I will try to narrow it down to several favourites.


My drawing of ‘Nike’ bronze coated in silver by James Butler.

A sculpture that took me by surprise was James Butler MBE RA silver plated bronze entitled NIKE. At 72 cm high I could have missed it and nearly diid dismiss the object that is like a melted hood ornament in the female form with wings. What I find mesmerising about it is how the smooth differing planes capture reflection. As I and the other visitors moved around the room the images in the sculpture shift and curl into different possessions as if in fun house mirrors. It was like looking at ever changing painting (if like me you view most things as a potential painting, which I’m sure all would be artists do.)

Another sculpture of interest in the architecture room is a slightly larger than life size armless torso which is carved for a beautiful lump of Egyptian Alabaster. Stephen Cox RA sculpture entitled ‘Figure Turning: After youth of Motya’ takes its fundamental shape from the ancient Greek armless sculpture of a strong athletic male youth known as the Motya Charioteer.

The sculpture is so awe inspiring because of the Alabaster used. The rock has natural textures, lines and sections of different hues of warm amber tones.

Texture was also what appealed to me in many of the paintings.  For instance a selection of works by the RA painter Terry Setch demonstrate how he uses encaustic wax and found media to build up a textural surface on the painting plan.

Jock McFadyen RA also uses texture as a tool. His huge 2m x 3m painting on show here entitled ‘Tate Moss’ shows a dishevelled and grifted ware house viewed from over a murky green canal that I assume to be some where in east London, but I suppose it could be any ex-industrial run down area in the U.K. From my point of view it was great to get up close to the paintings. This one seen in a book has a seemingly flat picture plane. But in the flesh, or in canvas, It is very interesting to see how the artist has built up textures through out the paining. For the many old planks clinging to the wherehouse it looks as if he has applied paint to a flat surface and mono printed it on to the canvas in thick sticky globules. This gives the illusion of cracked paint and rotting wood. The water has been painted in long straight strokes spanning the entire 3m of the canvas with a wide flat brush. Areas of sparing and flicking the paint are also evident in places such as the reeds and algy in the water.

Prof Ian McKeever has 3 125×90 cm mixed media canvas on display in a work entitled ‘Three’. It is not the texture that caught my attention with this but how they seem to ungulate and move. The three canvases make up a  triptych of Red hued abstract shapes. They are mesmerising in the way a stain glass window is when light pours through.

Another artist using light to grate effect is Ken Howard OBE RA. He had a few on show this year. My favourite and I think one of the most popular paintings on display judging from the reaction of passes by whilst I was sitting and admiring is ‘ Sarah at Oriel‘ It’s one of his studio paintings which the more you look the more intriguing it becomes. For me I loved the way he had deliberately left some of the perspective lines in. Very helpful for us inspiring artist to see the frame work underneath. It shows how although his paintings are made up often of simple dashes of light and dark colour the frame work underneath is very realistic helping the work stay together and recognisable.  I love the way the more you look the vaguer the depiction of the objects becomes. For instance the tree bottles of Wight spirit on the artist table are instantly recognisable but on closer inspection are mealy just a line of Wight and a suggestion of shadow and a label and lid.

I love this style of painting that is favoured by plein air painters. Where the lights and darks are quickly marked into the painting whilst the scene they are looking at remains the same. The effects, if correctly mastered, are beautiful and painterly. Prof Howard gives us yet another maser class on how to get it right in this painting entitled ‘Sara at Oriel’. (note to self – Get some Ken Howard books.)

His use of dark and light also fits in well with what I have been learning with the OCA at the present stage of the drawing course. It’s great that my awareness of other artist tricks is becoming stronger thanks to the course. Hopefully one day this will help in my own work.

As for the Drawings on display, Again the RA has put together and interesting mix of techniques and styles.

I was quite drawn to Tony Beven RA simple line drawing self portrait in charcoal. It shows a three quarter portrait viewed from slightly above. The mans grimacing facial lines intermingle with a ruff out line drawing of what I assume is going on inside his brain. A simple drawing yet thought provoking and intreating.

The other end of the spectrum in drawing is a painstakingly detailed drawing that shows an imagined landscape where scale is turned on its head and small every day items such as cups and pens make a towering cityscape for tiny humans to act out scenes such as cowboys and Indians and a cricket match. This highly imaginative works is drawn over many a3 pages put together side by side. Sadly I can not remember or find the name of the artist or the work so that will remain a mystery for now.

The print room offered such a broad selection of print styles, subjects and methods. Many interlay new to me. For me the stand out piece is Bella Easton ‘The Golden Arches’ 104x154cm, 24 copperplate etchings printed onto water colour, 24 carat gold and paper.

The work acts like a Rorschach Inkblot with left side echoing right. A square grid with in the etching holds small barley recognisable cityscapes. The mono tone palate is very effective and the gold lustre gives the feeling of a damp city night with neon lights eliminating the mist. I’m not sure if the title is a reference to McDonold’s?!

A work both beautiful and intriguing.

Prof Norman Ackroyd CBE RA uses a more conventional approach to etching to produce a moving image that to me looks like a fading nostalgic  memory of a coastal trip.

‘The Rumblings – Muckle Flugga – Shetlands’ 49x77cm etching on paper, Shows a large rock jutting from the sea. hundreds of seagulls are cleverly suggested by white V or M shapes against the grey skys and black cliff. Its one of those quite simple looking images that you know would be really hard to achieve and made to look so effortless. It’s so effective I think you can smell the sea spray and hear the gulls whilst viewing. The fact the edges are soft makes the hole scene look as though it is still moving.

If I could take just one work home with me it would be  ‘Maddelen’ oil on canvas 20x20cm by Anne-Marie Butlin. It shows a work dose not have to be monumental to make an impact. In fact I think it is far harder to produce a captivating smaller work. Especially in this exhibition where works compete to get your attention.


My drawing of ‘Maddelen’ oil on canvas by Anne-Marie butlin. I like how the permeant marker has come through from previous page and interacts with the drawing. Might use this in future.

This painterly desaturated offering shows the head and shoulders of a young girl. A strong emphases is put on light and dark to depict the subject rather than outlining all the features first. In fact from up close the girls face is merely a collection of shapes in perhaps no more than four different brown/red values. It’s just so exquisite and hard to put into words. You have to see to understand. It’s a style of painting I love and hope one day to achieve. The balance in this piece works so well. Some how the painter has captured what looks like a fleeting moment in one day of the life of this little girl. It doesn’t appear staged or forced. Just looks like the girl is thinking. This natural feeling apples to me also.

I would also have loved to have brought James Butlers ‘Nike’ home just so I could draw and paint it over and over again.

So to briefly summarise I think what I will take away with me from this years show is – Texture – Movement  – Light and dark planes making form.


About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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