RA Summer Exhibition 2014 – The prints have it!

The title of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is ‘Discover the new. Discover the now.’, which if you stop to think for a moment sums up the approach to ‘art’ for about the last 100 years! Well, what do we have for the new and now of 2014, it would appear that the digital print has certainly come of age. That is not just framing an arty photograph hot off the home inkjet, but the skilful manipulation of images both at the screen level and the print production end too.

RA summer 2014
This poster for the RA Summer Exhibition 2014 uses part of ‘The Shoreless Flower’ by Güler Ates (photograph)

There were quite a few c-type prints. These are digital photographic prints made by exposing light onto light-sensitive, colour photographic paper, and produced using traditional colour photography chemistry. This is done with large professional, continuous tone laser printers that print with a high density giving very saturated colour. (I guess it’s all rather complicated under the bonnet/hood with all that chromogenic chemistry and laser interaction – I couldn’t find a proper, clear explanation so if anyone could enlighten me I would be very grateful!).

Printing a c-type print.
Printing a c-type print.

Then there were the giclée prints also from a digital printer. Ink (pigment) is simply sprayed directly onto the surface of the paper in halftones (using a type of inkjet printer). These printers can handle a wider range of papers and produce larger prints than c-types. An artist might choose a giclée print for an image if they wanted to achieve a ‘watercolour’ feel to their work.

Printing a Giclée print.
Printing a Giclée print.

Then there were all the traditional types of prints, woodcuts, collagraphs, screenprints, etchings, often with a hand-finished component. I’m discussing prints and photography because after spending a couple of hours working my way through the rooms very few of the traditional drawings/paintings in any medium were particularly interesting.

Gallery Two RA Summer Exhibition 2014
Gallery Two RA Summer Exhibition 2014

The most memorable image for me was ‘The Shoreless Flower’by Güler Ates which has been partly used in one of the exhibition posters (top of this post) and can be seen in above top right and more in the middle in picture below. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photograph, but a whole collection of her amazing, dramatic work can be seen at Güler Ates Solo Exhibition.

"The Shoreless Flower" is in the middle of this selection.
“The Shoreless Flower” is in the middle of this selection.

As usual there was a wide and varied range of work and this year I noticed at least four textile pieces – that is weaving, embroidery and even a cloth sculpture, ‘The Bisto kids gone wrong’ by Tim Shaw RA. This was a figurative group in red made of stitched fabric onto steel armature.

The Small Weston Room was not only densely hung (on purpose in salon style), but was also densely populated on my visit and so seeing any of the smaller entries was rather awkward. I am a fan of ‘salon style’ hangs, but it does need some coherence otherwise it can end up looking a random, muddy mess.

The Lecture Room - RA Summer Exhibition 2014 Photo credit - Benedict Johnson
The Lecture Room – RA Summer Exhibition 2014
Photo credit – Benedict Johnson

A calmer space, almost an antidote to the rest of the exhibition, was the Lecture Room curated by Cornelia Parker OBE RA. A room full of black and white exhibits it felt spacious, and invited you to attend more to each single exhibit in comparison to the overwrought atmosphere of the densely packed rooms. In this quieter environment I found ‘La dérive 1’ by Omar Ba both powerful yet poignant. I think it summed up my random route through the Exhibition, the art works that had engaged my attention and how I felt at the end of my visit.

Omar Ba
‘La dérive 1’ by Omar Ba
Oil, crayon, acrylic and Indian ink on corrugated board

A Little Extra – The Grayson Perry Tapestries at the RA

In a previous post I mentioned in passing that at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition you could also see a sequence of tapestries by Grayson Perry.

NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. Photography © Stephen White. Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image on Pinterest.

Of course Grayson Perry is well-known for ceramics (his pots) for which he won the Turner Prize in 2003, but these tapestries are a change of medium rather than content. They exhibit a continuation of his challenging often acidic, social commentary in a visual form. I loved them. I had already seen the television programmes ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ that documented his artistic process and I was thrilled to see the finished tapestries. In these works he is visually dissecting the relationship between people’s taste and their class.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From www.artfund.org
The Adoration of the Cage Fighters. NFS. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 200 x 400cm. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry. From http://www.artfund.org

The series called ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, is hanging round Room X at the Royal Academy. We see six large tapestries that make a clear reference to Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’- indeed, the protagonist in Perry’s work is called Tim Rakewell. The concept, research, working sketches and the final production of the tapestries form the four part television series.

Detail from 'The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal'.
Detail from ‘The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal’.

The size of tapestries (two metres by four metres), their vibrant colour, together with the exquisite detail and totemic elements included for each depiction of the ‘progress’, were both visually stunning and frequently amusing – well they do say the British are obsessed with class. It is quite a few centuries (despite the sincere efforts of William Morris) since tapestry was considered to be ‘the’ medium for conspicuous consumption and that of itself is precisely why this series, in this woven form, is so acute.

If you can’t get to the RA then . . .

In The Best Possible Taste on Channel 4.

Alternatively or additionally the Arts Council Collection has launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. This is Grayson Perry’s first app and gives users the chance to see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility. The digital guide, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available from Apple’s iTunes Store (£1.99).

And, finally, Grayson Perry is to give this year’s Reith Lectures. The lectures will be broadcast in October and November as part of BBC Radio 4’s celebration of arts and culture in 2013.

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2013 – hmm

Last weekend I was in London and had time to visit this year’s Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy. I’ve been a few times before, but not recently and it was heartening to see they don’t seem to have crammed in the work quite so ferociously as they did in the deep dark past.RA-SummerExhib13

But still some rooms have such densely packed walls that it is difficult to extract the wheat from the chaff.

A tricky hanging - balancing very differing content.
A tricky hanging – balancing very differing content.

With the usual restrictions on photographing exhibitions I have found that The Economist’s Culture Blog has a small gallery of the show which gives a good overall impression.

Now, it is very easy to be swept along by other people’s views especially where ‘art’ is concerned, but in the end you are the only viewer in your head and so your personal opinion is your personal opinion. WorkNotesI make a point of not reading reviews before I go to an exhibition, a performance or even a film – I try to go in a state of openness to a new experience, but I am also aware that I bring my own prejudices. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to avoid the great and the good giving us the benefit of their wisdom when an event is endlessly trailed and heavily promoted. However, this time I’d missed all the usual fuss associated with Summer Exhibition and arrived early with catalogue and pen ready.

TateMoss-with- space

First impressions, well lit, light in feel and light in content. This painting bucked the trend. Neither of these photographs do the central picture justice. It is a striking oil by Jock McFadyen RA called Tate Moss. It is quite large, it even felt large in a spacious gallery room, and shows a derelict, industrial warehouse with graffiti. Despite its sombre theme the blues and green lighten the impression and I could see it gracing the boardroom of a FTSE 100 Company to remind the directors of their own business mortality.

Jock McFadyen
No.76 Tate Moss Jock McFadyen. £55,000. Oil. 200 x 300cm. © Jock McFadyen; Photograph courtesy the artist from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

I don’t normally speak to strangers (I am very English), but I had just written a brief note about a grouped set of canvasses when I heard the stern comment ‘Derivative’ as the man in front of me turned to his companion. He glanced at me seeing my smile and I explained I’ve literally just noted ‘quite derivative’. “Absolutely” he barked and left for the next room, thinking about it I hope he wasn’t the artist, a well-known RA, – he did look the right age.

Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate.
Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate visually.

Don’t you think that a work of art selected for such a prestigious show as the Summer Exhibition should step out from the banal and the mundane and agitate some kind of response in the viewer? Maybe more of these pieces achieve this when viewed alone or in a less art-filled environment. I thought this ‘Little Blue Pinocchio’ stepped out (actually almost out of the frame) despite being hung high on the top row – also visible in the second photo above.

£7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
No.211 Little Blue Pinocchio Jim Dine. £7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.

Walking through the galleries I was struck by the overall paleness/monochrome nature of the show as if the low key presentation was attuned to the general art mood (there have been many cuts to art organisations’ budgets). The most striking of the monochrome works was a series of large ink drawings consisting of three studies of Icelandic geological features, by Emma Stibbon RA. Again, the photograph does not do justice to the work as in real life the scale and detail combine to generate an intense yet restrained visual impact.

£4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.
No.57 Hverir, Iceland. Emma Stibbon RA. £4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

But as usual, and it is always the way, the most stunning and interesting work – the one for me anyway – (other than the splendid Grayson Perry tapestries) had no reproductions available. It was No.580 an acrylic with gloss by Gulcehre Ciplak called ‘The Long List, You Are On It Too!’. It depicts a dining table with unused, empty plates and three turkeys wearing collars and ties staring indignantly directly out at you. The direct gaze is challenging and seems to say ‘What are YOU going to do about this?’

OCTOBER 2013 – update if you want to see Gulcehre Ciplak’s fascinating painting she has now uploaded a photo to her website

If you are in London and have a spare couple of hours then I recommend a visit not least to see the grand finale of the Grayson Perry tapestries. The exhibition is on until 18 August 2013.