RCA Summer Exhibition 2019

Picture of Natasha Searls-Punter

Natasha Searls-Punter

The Royal Academy’s prestigious Summer Exhibition is back once again and this time with a lot to live up to. The Exhibition saw a record number of visitors for its 250th Anniversary curated by Grayson Perry CBE, known for his bold tapestries and ceramics that critique British culture, class and politics. This year the gallery took a sharp turn towards a showcase that although included it’s usual wit and parody, also seemed to dwell in safe and conventional political territory covering themes such as climate change and Brexit.

The Exhibition has been held annually at the Royal Academy since 1769 and is the world’s oldest open submission exhibition. This is an incredibly important event for the art sphere which is often labelled as elitist and untouchable. It gives amateur artists the chance to have their aspirations realised and step into the world of professional artistry many can only dream of.

Pictures (from left to right); Macaw – Christopher James, Swaying Trees – Annabel Harrison, Peacock Tree Frog – Sandra Cockayne

On entering the exhibition in Wohl Central Hall you are met with a mass of exciting paintings, photographs and sculptures that hang in abundance on the walls. The hall has become a safari teeming with exotic, mythical beasts that juxtapose artists tame depictions of their beloved pets. Whilst this zoo of misfits is enough to overwhelm the spectator, when looking further you can see the meaning behind the art. Pressure is being put on the public to address the impact humans are having on our environment and in this case there has never been a more poignant time for this discourse within the creative industry.

A popular technique amongst the exhibitors was lithography. It has been used to depict nature as well as the human figure within it and this age old monochrome printing technique allows for detailed depictions by the artists. There was also a noticeable shift towards pastels and charcoal materials being used to create abstract illustrations of landscapes. This year there was unsurprisingly less textile art than previous exhibitions, perhaps this is just a comparison to its predecessor Grayson Perry. Perry works often with tapestry and his interests are entrenched in our British heritage, the textile industry being an essential part of this English Tradition. Nethertheless, Jock Mcfadyen’s paintings are acutely textured and this interest is transferred onto the walls of this years exhibition.

Pictures (From left to right): Tamatoa – Becca Cameron, Easy Tiger – David Mach

The first gallery you enter, next to Wohl Hall is that curated by the co-ordinator of this years show, Jock McFadyen. It is a pick and mix of photography, painting and sculpture but it all has a naturalistic feel and neutral colour palette which is reflective of McFadyen’s style.

Gallery 2 was put together by Richard Wilson RA and on writing about this gallery the Royal Academy has described Wilson as focusing on art with a strong sense of idea without referencing the human figure.

Jane and Louise Wilson were responsible for multiple rooms in this years exhibition and in Gallery 1 the twins delve deeper into political subject matter. With themes exploring immigration and identity the audience is suddenly hit with a more serious and thoughtful tone.

In the recent history of the Summer Exhibition there has been a room amongst the galleries that has been solely dedicated to the celebration of new architecture, presenting architects ideas and realities. This celebration can be found in the Large Weston Room produced by Spencer de Grey. Of course the focus for this year had to be on sustainable architecture and these environmentally friendly buildings all echo the concerns raised consistently throughout the exhibition. The room is filled with towering wooden models filled with miniatures, a doll-house lovers dream. The sustainable, eco-friendly buildings display what look to be utopian societies. This room is sure to unleash the inner child from even the most serious spectator.

Curator of gallery 4,+ Barbara Rae recently took a trip to the Arctic and this inspired her to put together a gallery filled with soft yet chilling neutrals that provide discourse yet again on the effects humans are having on our planet.

Pictures (from left to right): An Austere Beauty, Iceberg of Cape Mercy, Baffin Island – Nicholas Jones, Bear from Dump Circus – Nicholas Hicks

One of the most intriguing galleries was sorted by artists Barbara Rae and Hughie O’Donoghue, once again this room is centered on nature, many of the paintings are filled with natural beauty however there is an underlying message in a multitude of the paintings contained within this room, perhaps the best example of these hard-hitting pieces are Richard Devonshire’s Artificial Intelligence and The language of Bees, as well as Michael Canning’s Digitalis 1 and 3.

Pictures (from left to right): Artificial Intelligence – Richard Devonshire, The Language of Bees – Richard Devonshire, Digitalis 1 – Michael Canning, Digitalis 2 – Michael Canning

Altogether this years exhibition standouts included the mass display of animals and the natural world as well as the darker mood created by the exploration into how humans were destroying this. It is a circus of delirium depicted through the wildness of nature.

The Summer Exhibition never fails to showcase some of the best artwork this country has to offer, whether you are gazing upon the sculpture of an established celebrity artist or the portrait painted by your next door neighbour these artworks mesh together seamlessly and deliver a fun and reflective experience that is well worth a visit every time. With such an abundance of inspiration contained within these walls this is a playground for creatives of every generation, background and discipline.

By Flo Sargent

Exhibition Information:

RA: Summer Exhibition 2019

Dates: 10th June – 12th August 2019

Location: Royal Academy of Arts,

Burlington House,




For further details and to purchase tickets see website: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/summer-exhibition-2019

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