London 2 – The Royal Academy

The weatherman said it was going to rain so, with raincoats at the ready (it didn’t rain until teatime, but when it did rain, it RAINED!), off we went to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition. We did in fact get an invite to see the show before the hoi polloi on the Buyers’ Day but we were not able to go.

The Management and I are great fans of Norman Ackroyd, the printmaker. Sadly, neither of us are fans of Norman Ackroyd, the curator of the RA Summer Show. Usually, most of the galleries have a select number of art works by a select number of Academicians and others of the Great and Good. Affordable art is in the two Weston Rooms hung from floor to ceiling. These rooms are usually heaving as this is what people want to see as they can actually consider buying pieces. Norman chose to spread out work in all galleries and, I’m sorry to say, the overall effect was a mess. This was the initial reaction. At the end, after going round all of the exhibition, the Management opined ‘I’ve seen better!’ so it was only confirmation of the initial reaction.

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition - Lecture Room, installation view. Summer Exhibition 2013. Photo by John Bodkin

Having said that, there were a number of pieces I liked – both in their own right and as techniques and ideas to pinch for my own work. One method which is probably as old as the hills but which was new to me was to start with coloured mountboard and use a scalpel to cut back to white.


This is Deep Blue Sea 2012 by Johanna Melvin. The spots suggest that the edition of 25 was sold out. I’ve mentioned this piece at Hot Bed Press and Martin said it’s common to screen print the bits you want to cut out as it made it easier to cut along the lines with a smooth action. A piece I’d screen printed some time ago of peppers came to mind. It was originally a drawing I did on graphite paper with shadow areas in a darker pencil and the highlights done with a putty rubber. I used two screens on white paper, the first in red and then an overprint in black. I could start with red mountboard, print black and white and then cut out the dirty pinky white areas with the scalpel to reveal the clean white underneath.


On second thoughts, now that I’ve seen the stippled white highlight areas, I may need to find another image, but it’s a technique I intend exploring.

One print I did like (but not the £330 price tag – remember I’m a cheapskate collector!) was the amusing Life Imitating Art X by Mychael Barratt. I know the whole work referenced a well known piece but I can’t tell you, for life of me, which one. It has a group of artists at their easels with a life model in the centre. I think in the original the artists were identifiable as artists of the period. The version at the RA had Lucien Freud and Rembrandt in the foreground and David Hockney on the left hand side. I’m sure I could have identified more if the print had not been so high up on the wall.

Another piece I enjoyed because of its whimsy was Art History Chart by Nelly Dimitranova. She had simply used the coloured rectangles of a DIY paint chart as the basis for her quick pen sketches of famous paintings, such as Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earing and Munch’s Scream and Puberty. It was amazing how identifiable works could be rendered with a few pen strokes. It would have been fun to have been able to try and work out them all.

One of the reasons we didn’t go down for the Buyers’ Day was that we  were broke. Nevertheless we did finish up buying three prints. The Management usually gets a Norman Ackroyd but none of the ones on display grabbed her so she got one by Niamh (pronounced ‘Nave’) Clancy instead. Niamh happens to work as Norman’s assistant. I’d spotted the print earlier without realising who the artist was. The other two were cheap £100 works, one of which, The Drying Room by Geri Waddington, a ‘resingrave engraving’, had caused me to study it as the fine lines on it were white on a black background. Usually lines on etchings are white on a black background. Sean at Hot Bed explained that it was probably aquatinted (which could be the ‘resin’ bit) which would give an even all over black and then the drawing done with a pen which gives a resist before the plate is bitten with acid.


One bit I was looking forward to was the gallery with Grayson Perry’s tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences which I posted about when the exhibition opened. As a result of the post, I’d been invited to contribute to the London Evening Standard in response to Brian Sewell’s scathing review of the show. I’d declined as I hadn’t seen it. Now I have, apart from liking Perry’s work, I’m afraid I agree with the rest of Sewell’s review.

After we’d paid for our prints and been refreshed in the café, we went to see the Mexico exhibition. Some interesting photos but the only Frida Kahlo painting was the size of a postage stamp (you could see it better on the postcard in the shop!) while the only Diego Rivera was very second rate. OK, I know he mainly did muriels and you can’t transport walls around easily, but I’m sure there is a better painting from the period they could have used.

We then left the Royal Academy and …… (you’ll just have to wait for Part 3!)


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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7 Responses to London 2 – The Royal Academy

  1. oooh hurry up, I can’t wait.

  2. paperstew says:

    Oh, I do like your new print! I’m rather impressed at the sale of the 25 papercut works. That’s a lot of cutting! Very interesting idea about using screen printing to aid the process. I’ll have to remember that.

  3. At £195 each, even with commission, that’s still over £3,000. I think I could live with that!

  4. I remember going to the Royal twice and it is probably the best gallery I’ve been too. I think its just so eclectic and packed. I tried to submit a piece once but denyed. it was good tho.

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