Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Royal Academy Summer Show, Cannibalism in Berlin

By , Columnist

London. Nadal won Paris. Wimbledon's coming. So it's doing its best to rain but not on the smartest art parade in the nation's capital - the annual Summer Show at The Royal Academy.

It's a major fundraising event for the Academy, and every year we hope for great things but too many paintings reflect the sorry state that the painting schools are in and the people running them.

There is hope and inspiration in the old RA guard. See in Gallery III the late Ben Levene's Table of Surprises and Anthony Eyton's Summer Flowering and Two Rock Forms. In Gallery IV, four water colours by David Remfry. They're uninhibited, vibrant and refreshing  figuratives.

Not quite old guard, I stood back in Gallery III for Per Kirkeby's passionate commitment and use of thick paint. Like some of his work, it's untitled. Two large drawings in Gallery VII stood out for their energy and boldness. Eileen Hogan's charcoal and oil on paper Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta and the other, a conte crayon from Jeanette Barnes -  Building The Shard of Glass from London Bridge Station.  Like the building work still in progress, Barnes's work is monumental. (Note to Ms Emin: this ducky is real drawing). If I had the money I'd buy them all.

Now a grump. Why do too many paintings and to some extent the photographs rely on the scale of the work rather than content or craftsmanship? This year's curator, the Academician, Christopher Le Brun tried the traditional "salon hang" in Gallery III. But Landing Light by Le Brun's fellow RA Martin Morris is hung so high that all I could see was dripping red paint on the underside of his work. 

These are the best people. Examples to the students. Too much sloppy work, untidy edges of canvas.

The architecture was crowded and interesting, the prints rather tired excepting Norman Ackroyd's moody etchings,  always popular and Morandi's Dog etching by Gillian Golding, proving dogs are not just for Christmas.

LifeunderWater2.jpgDownheartedly leaving the show there were three of my old tutor Quentin Blake's giclee prints Life Under Water casting a wink  and a chuckle to them all. My heart swelled as I went for a reviving cup of tea and scone, unlike a lot of things the RA does very well.  This week until 15 August.

All Cannibals Berlin.jpgBerlin, and curator Jeanette Zwingenberger's touring exhibition and the theme of cannibalism. Some have fainted just looking. It stretches from Goya  to Cindy Sherman drawing parallels to our excessive consumption, plus religious imagery and even organ transplants. Given Germany's current e-coli scare there should be plenty to get your teeth sunk into. Until 21 August.

Now to Florence. I'm off teaching the first of three week courses this year. Students are beginners-to-brilliant but all believers. There's something special about those first brush strokes. Pity the RA show doesn't have the same message. No RA scones in Florence, but I'll get by.  I've packed my brushes and corkscrew.

Ai Weiwei? He's still there. Who've you told?

Art Scene Quote of the week:

"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone" (Picasso)

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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