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