I had a passing interested in Ron Arad's 21st century big brother statement piece that chases you across the forecourt of Burlington House. The vast mechanised steel structure does pursue you in a random fashion and will video you, if you stand still long enough to be zoned in on. The entrance is not a par on the celebration of all things colour, that was last year though. Michael Craig Martin's 2015 hang was very imposing and such vivid and brave colour pallets did pose questions I have never seen in the show before. Last year did feel more of a 'show' in a circus tent kind of way, almost like the RA had turned into a big brother contestant shouting 'look at me!' So this year was always going to be different. The difference was that the hang was the same confusing miss match as years gone by so at least I could focus on what was important, the art. Fred Cuming appeared very early on and has many paintings in this years show, the first three of which were in Gallery III. Stormy Sea, Dawn Sea and Evening Sea as a set are exactly where I am as a painter at the moment.
Fred Cuming: Dawn Sea, Ol on Canvas
These paintings quite aggressively divide the picture into back-ground, mid-ground and fore-ground, each equal in size and reading vertically from the back-ground at the top to foreground at the bottom. Seems all very traditional yes? However, what is striking is that as the back-ground sky gives way to an almost geometrically constructed waves a shift from the figurative to slight abstraction appears, so much so that the final foreground band is then completely abstract. I like this and this use of bands could be something I take forward into my own work. What was evident also was that Cuming seems to have used heavily applied paint in an array of expressive mark making techniques. This technique is repeated often with his work this year and one stand out painting is Tennyson Down, Evening Light. An oil painting of large proportions, but different to the previous, with the composition broken up by vertical planes of white and detailed rock. This painting fascinated me the most. It felt almost like a collage, with the highly detailed rendering in areas that feel almost cut and glued onto the picture surface. The sky is much more stylised and colours harmonious, apart from the rocks, with glow against an almost flat white back-ground. The more you loo the more you see and while the painting puzzled me, due to the nature of it being so different to Cumings other work, it has again inspired me to continue to pursue the abstract v figurative elements thats are so clear here, but are also becoming more important in my own work.
Fred Cuming, Tennyson Down, Evening Light, Oil on Canvas
Mark Rochester, Towards Smoothlands, Late Afternoon, Late October, Acrylic and Coloured Pencil on Paper
Mark Rochester has also used these figurative v abstract languages in his work, yet I feel his work had a freshness about it. This is partly due to the medium, acrylic and coloured pencil, but also the looseness of the composition and pattern work. It is the patterning that really strikes a cord with me. The bottom right section of the painting becomes dots, dashes and broad brush marks, over areas of wash or untouched paper surface. This painting is loose in its appearance but meticulous in its planning. Love it!
Anselm Kiefer is also a favourite of mine, but I have shied away from his work recently. I found the recent major RA show hard to take in, with that amount of inner angst too much in one siting. However this is a seriously uplifting breath of fresh air. The heavy tonal values and body of the paint in his piece lifted by colourful blobby interventions that almost float onto the surface. Kiefer must have had a good week!
Anselm Kiefer, Bose Blumen, mixed media on lead
El Anatsui Avocado Coconut Egg, Aluminium and Copper Wire
The next piece to impress me was El Anatsui's large aluminium and copper wire wall hanging. A stunning construction of recycled aluminium cans that are placed into patterns reminiscent of Kente cloth. So maybe pattern is the theme for me this year! Once again the use of pattern is obviously key to the piece, but its structure is only realised in the whole and the individual patterns could be seen as random when placed next to the opposite areas of weave.
What you can expect at the Summer Show is a collection of Norman Ackroyd's that make you stop and look and once again this year did not disappoint. The wow factor with Ackyrod is that nature seems to have been harnessed in the most simple and subtle of the pieces. No mark is not thought of and that print makers process adds to an almost zen like understanding of the connection between nature and art.
Norman Ackroyd, A Wiltshire Skyline, Etching
The etching 'A Wiltshire Skyline' is testament to this process of simplicity. The weather sweeps in and from right the left leaving drifting wisps of delicate cloud rendered in soft grey tones, but this is again abstract with just a tree line the only figurative element that keeps the composition together.
Overall I did like the summer show 2016 and left happy and conent, not confused and tiered like years before. So thats a good thing. I think that I have become used to taking from this show what I want though and not worrying about its concept or construction and thats the key. Just walk around, look at the work and go, taking with you only the inspiration of single pieces.