IMG_20180808_145651861‘Expanded Narcissistic Envelope’, Toby Ziegler

Only a week left to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is the best I have ever seen. It was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry and reflects his wit, irony, topical interests and attention to the vernacular. The older generation, exhibiting for fifty years, are there – Hockney, Tilson, Allen Jones, Antony Green and others – and there is the usual sprinkling of amateurs, some of whom have almost no artistic ability.  Among the clever and the weird there are conventional paintings that might have been exhibited a hundred years ago.

This is the largest ever summer exhibition, the selectors considering 20,000 submitted works and choosing almost 1,400. They are spread throughout Burlington House, including the recent development which allows you into the RA Schools. All the exhibits are online, but this is my personal selection.

228 Scream‘Scream’, Sophie Jansson

artwork_52026_1_disp‘The Bored Horse’, Henry Bateman.
Who chose this?  Indeed – who bought it?

artwork_66637_1_full farage - 260‘Nigel Farage MEP’, David Griffiths.
Devotional but does not capture the subject.

artwork_67067_1_full fortitude parkhouse‘Fortitude’, Sarah Parkhouse.
Hung high in the gallery but the first work you see.

franz hals embodiment - anastasia belous‘Franz Hals Embodiment’, Anastasia Belous.
One of the works in the show that make you wonder, what is the point of art?

Gallery IIIGallery III, hung by Grayson Perry.

Gloria Neave - Mrs Margaret Neave”Mrs Margaret Neave’, Gloria Neave.
Another of the traditional portraits in the show.

grayson perrriesA selection of the many, less conventional, portraits of Grayson Perry.

Heather Nevay - The Party‘The Party’, Heather Nevay.
Reminiscent of Richard Dadd and the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Creepy.

IMG_20180808_150046949_BURST000_COVER_TOP‘Untitled (Triste), Charles Avery

IMG_20180808_154419075‘Libby Heart’, Sophie Dury

IMG_20180808_150158552‘Star Cluster’, John Maine

unasfhsg‘Unfaffordable Housing’, Carl Godfrey. ‘The All-Seeing’, Richard C. Smith

artwork_63438_1_full okun‘A Man and a Woman’, Sasha Okun

IMG_20180808_155045162‘The Inspection: Kim Jong Un & Kim Jong Il Inspecting Lady Gaga’s Homage to Duchamp Urinal’, David Axtell

john wragg girl in the black dress‘Girl in the Black Dress’, John Wragg

len grey - no 222
‘Good Morning, Mr Corbyn. How are the Speed Trials Going?’ Len Grey

mach burlington ho‘The Battle of Burlington House’, David Mach

mark denton rollers‘Rollers’, Mark Denton.
A subversion of Tretchikoff’s ‘Balinese Girl’, now collectable because of its kitchiness.

martin cox afternoon at the angel‘Afternoon at the Angel’, Martin Cox

peter jones bunny‘Bunny’, Peter Jones.
Something always unnerving about dolls and pictures of bunny rabbits.

sharon wilson cabinet membersYet Sooty glove puppets are not in the slightest bit unnerving.
‘Cabinet Members’, Sharon Wilson.

taxonomy‘The Taxonomy of the Cornflake’,  Anne Griffiths.
A bizarrely autistic classification of cornflakes, accompanied by a text that analyses size, shape, edge formation, make, and so on.

rego - human cargo - detail‘Human Cargo’ (detail), Paula Rego.
One panel of a triptych, the most powerful and serious work in the show.


British curators want to say something new new about Picasso, about whom so much has been said already,  so they  don’t put on general exhibitions of his work any more, only shows with an angle. Tate Liverpool put on Picasso: Peace and Freedom in 2010; Tate Modern put on Matisse/Picasso in 2002; the Royal Academy put on Picasso: Painter and Sculptor in Clay in 1998; and the Tate put on On Classic Ground: Picasso, Leger, De Chirico and the New Classicism in 1990. This exhibition at Tate Britain covers Picasso’s reception in Britain and his influence on British art. To some extent, it is an art historian’s exhibition, detailing past Picasso exhibitions, his dealers and journal articles about him. A similar exhibition, Picasso and American Art, was put by the Whitney Museum, New York, in 2006.  A general exhibition of works from the Picasso Museum in Paris is currently touring the USA, Australia and Canada, but otherwise you will have to visit the permanent exhibitions of his work at the Musée National Picasso (Paris), the Museu Picasso (Barcelona) or the Museo Picasso (Malaga).

Picasso’s reputation in Britain is so big now that it is surprising to discover that it was uncertain here until he was almost eighty. It was not established until 1960, when the Arts Council put on a retrospective of 270 works at the Tate Gallery, including his series Las Meninas, based on Velasquez. It attracted 500,000 visitors. It was the first significant art exhibition I ever went to.

This exhibition concentrates on Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Moore did not draw attention to Picasso’s influence until his own work was recognized; David Hockney is more open about it. The exhibition is noteworthy for Francis Bacon’s Picassoesque paintings from the 1930s. Bacon destroyed most of his early work and these are not often shown. Of course, many lesser artists were influenced by him as well. (I have talked about William Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette here.)

This is not a review of the exhibition and I just want to talk about three pictures that fired me up.

Picasso’s use of colour in Nude Woman in a Red Armchair (1923) (top) is arresting. Most of the painting is monochrome, but parts are brilliant red, dark green and pastel shades of green, blue and yellow, some with black outlines. The combination of monochrome, strong colour, pastel shades with sparing use of line is bold and novel. One cannot say that anything Picasso did was arbitrary, but the colour combinations in this work will never be found in any designer’s scheme. Despite making a formal analysis of this work, I have to say that Picasso was not a formalist. There is always something humane, erotic, historicist, mythic or autobiographical in his work – sometimes all five in one. The gallery note says of Nude Woman in a Red Armchair that it depicts his lover Marie-Therèse Walter. “She is presented as a sequence of sensuous curves and her face is made up of two profiles, the sitter’s own and that of her secret lover whose lips kiss hers.”

I was attracted to the work by Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson’s work in the early 1930s owes a debt to Picasso, but it was original. You can be influenced by other artists and be original at the same time. In fact, if you are not influenced by others, you are not original, you are illiterate.

The exhibition has three paintings from this period: 1933 (Coin and musical instrument) (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art) (left), 1933 (Musical Instruments) (from Kettle’s Yard) and 1933 (St Remy, Provence) (from a private collection). As an artist, I am interested in the way these paintings were made. In 1933 (Coin and Musical instruments) a dark ground of browns and blacks has outlines scratched through to the white canvas and there are textures made by the use of a dry brush of one colour over another, none of this visible in the reproduction. Nicholson’s adaptations of Picasso’s style and methods were formal and his formalist trajectory took him to the white-on-white constructions of his later period, a long way from Picasso.

Finally, Picasso’s Portrait of Emilie Marguerite Walter (1939) (left).  This is a deconstructed Picasso portrait of the type that generated so much mockery. Two things are now clear about such portraits. The first is that they are not arbitrary, as you will discover if you try to make such a portrait and arrange the features in an arbitrary way. David Hockney did some in homage, and there is a similar portrait of Christopher Isherwood, a good one, in this exhibition.  The second is that, although Picasso could make aggressive pictures like his weeping woman series, this picture of his lover’s mother is affectionate.

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