Most years I go to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It’s like a family event that you don’t necessarily love but go to anyway; and sometimes it turns out to be surprisingly enjoyable. My feelings about it vary wildly. No doubt that’s a mixture of my mood and current interests and the particular choices of the RA hanging committee. This year’s was perhaps less exciting than last year’s: no pink walls! Sometimes, though, I just want to stroll round and enjoy myself. And there’s plenty there to be enjoyed.
Anyway, this year, to my surprise what I enjoyed most were works by established Academicians. Not that I haven’t enjoyed them in other years, but usually it’s work by lesser-known artists, even complete unknowns, that I’ve enjoyed finding. So here are my top picks.
First is this monumental work, Departure, by Hughie O’Donoghue whose large charcoal drawings which I first saw over 20 years ago inspired me to learn to draw – and we all know where that led! I continue to enjoy the bold blast of colours in his work combined with the kind of detail that really draws you into the image. It’s the angle of view that makes this picture – you are beneath the sea, with this boat looming over you.
Next is this by Jock McFadyen, Calton Hill 3. There is something satisfying about the combination of the skyline of Edinburgh (recognisable, I’m told) and the moon with a plausible topography which you feel you could just reach out and touch. It has elements of a fantasy scene which I usually dislike but somehow this works.
This small Cornelia Parker, Alter Ego (Object with Unconscious), is an echo of a much larger piece I saw last year at the Whitworth in Manchester which was like a carpet of flattened silverware. Here the jug hovers over its Jungian shadow, trying to push away the thought that one day it could end up in the same condition!
There were several Bill Jacklin pieces in the show, in typical style. This is one of a series of monotypes which exploits mark-making and colour to create evocative images.
And finally, this drawing won the Hugh Casson Drawing Prize: 9 hours in and with the Atlantic Ocean (England) by Peter Matthews. I suspect this kind of drawing is particularly attractive to people who draw and can perhaps imagine themselves spending time ‘in and with the Atlantic Ocean’, immersed in the experience.