Monday, 9 July 2012

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2012

*** update 24/7/2012

Prof Whitestick in reflective mood by
From Landscape to Portrait
Chris Wilkinson RA
Royal Academy courtyard
20 July 2012

On the evening of the 20 July I had another chance to visit the Summer Exhibition.  On this occasion it was at 9 pm with subdued lighting in the galleries.  It's amazing the difference lighting makes.  There was much less definition of the colour, but greater definition of the lines and shapes of some of the art works, especially the sculpture.  Many seemed quite different and a sighted friend thought some of my earlier descriptions were in another world, though it's always worth taking a second look at this exhibition.  We went round with an artist and were soon discussing pigments used in painting and useful colour descriptive terms.

*** end of update

I used to go to the Summer Exhibition regularly in the 1990s.  It was part of corporate culture then and I can remember serious champagne drinking, canapĂ© eating and there still being a smokers’ area!  These were private views and were part of a company season of entertaining and were always enjoyable events.  However, I had not been since I lost my sight, so I contacted Kate Horbury at the Royal Academy Access and Learning department, who arranged for Sylvia one of the RA’s team of volunteers to meet me and take me round. (

In the courtyard at Burlington House there is a huge installation by Chris Wilkinson RA of what appears to be large frames, arranged in a curve which gradually comes down to head level. (,376,RAMA.html )  On one side of the installation there is a mirror effect due to reflective metal and peering in and out causes a strange image which moves.  On the matt side of the reflecting side there are people sitting.  Having a camera with me, I asked someone to take a few photos:

Prof Whitestick inspecting installation at RA
5 July 2012
© Prof Whitestick
Prof Whitestick in the frame
RA, London
5 July 2012
© Prof Whitestick

Sylvia met me at the information desk and we started our tour.  Sylvia double checked that I did not need Braille Guides to take away (I would have taken them if anyone had wanted them but they are available on request.  Kate had also given me details of accessing pdf files “which could be downloaded on your iPad”,1420,AR.html. )

Sylvia discussed our plan and found what I could make out.  She had been to the Hockney exhibition 23 times and on comparing notes, were in agreement regarding how much we had enjoyed this exhibition.  I thought it might be an idea for Sylvia to tick a mini guide of items which I liked and I could show these to friends so that they could keep an eye out for them and discuss what we found.  Sylvia also wrote down some comments after we had discussed the individual pieces.

RA Summer exhibition

Portrait of a man standing
Leonard McComb RA

reflections of colour and movement

2nd lake, Sheffield Park Garden, Sussex Weald, late summer
The late Adrian Berg

dripping lines, reflections

Series ‘Ghirlanda Continua’ after Latvia No. 4 Letter E
Jennifer Durrant RA

3 yellow lines, brown/pink; silver, pink, lilac circles

I enjoyed this work and as one moved around we both wondered about the textile finish which appeared on the paint surface. 

Dressing for work (from ‘a day in the life of a jihadi gangster’ series)
Digital print on dibond
Aman Mojadidi


Sylvia directed me to this piece at the end of a gallery. It portrays a jihadi dressed in headgear but in short sleeves with tattoos on arms.  The man is wearing a gold necklace and a gold revolver round his neck.  There is a gun lodged in line with his groin.  I could make out the lower half of this piece but relied on Sylvia to describe the top part.  I told Sylvia about the forbidding of men wearing gold in the Quran and also about tattooing the body.  Hence my asking for ‘oxymoron’ to be attached to this challenging work which we both admired while not really liking it. 

Oil, acrylic, steel, pastel and charcoal
Anselm Kiefer Hon RA

admire artistry, but rifle rather spoils it

This work was awarded a prize and portrays Hebron at the top with Gaza at the bottom.  It is well crafted but spoiled by having a (real) rifle, emblazoned with Samson, across the horizontal line.  If it was making a statement it probably failed.

Peg Painting
Watercolour and wooden pegs
Annie Morris

fun - next to chicken bone
chair, horizontal and vertical lines

I really loved this almost tapestry effect peg paint flat piece.  The lines appealed to me and it was imaginatively placed next to the chair.  Both works enhanced the other and I would gladly have both at home. The texture of the peg paint resembled a beaded piece of cloth. 

Chicken Chair
Animal bones
Olu Shobowale

Cut Ground Grey red
Oil on aluminium
Sean Scully

eye catching – plum/red differentiation

Sylvia and I disagreed about this one.  Sylvia felt the colour rules had been flouted.  I proved to Sylvia that my colour perception was poor with plum/red differentiation, but I could detect a vertical line.  Sylvia peered closer and noted a very thin yellow line (o.5cm?).  As a result, we probably got too close to this work and attracted the attention of a guard who reminded us not to get so close!  (In the gift shop there is a post card of this which Sylvia found for me, but I’m not sure I convinced Sylvia about the work)

Series ‘Ghirlanda Continua’: Luce
Jennifer Durrant RA

very pleasing
another piece by this artist that we both liked it.

‘No. 283’
Paint on mild steel.
Rana Begum

pleasing colours – red, yellow, black, white, transparent

This piece is large and hangs on the wall almost alone. The metal fins obscure the colours as one moves past it.  I liked this a lot.

Portrait of Justin Mcleod (The man without a face)
Eugene Nyee Macki


This was a talking point.  Kate had told me that there was a chocolate head in the exhibition, so when Sylvia suggested I might like to sniff this sculpture I guessed it had a chocolate aroma.  We laughed.

Tocco – Praik
Ana Genoves

reminds me of David Nash

This is a large piece, about the size of an old red telephone kiosk, which had been hacked away.  It made me think of David Nash RA and his wooden sculptures in Kew Gardens.  At this point we engaged with a couple who were not impressed by this piece and went regularly to Kew Gardens.

Southern Shade 1
Nigel Hall RA

circles, want it

Alexandra Harley


General Comments:

Sylvia had guided me up the stairs and we entered the central area and spent some time on the first two items.  She has guided other visually impaired and blind people and soon worked out what I could make out and what needed to be described with a view to completing the “picture”.

The mini guide and price guide is pocket sized and Sylvia marked some exhibits which we more or less nodded through.  There are some obvious talking points and the start can be a bottleneck though we experienced few crowds.  The hanging is mainly double hanging in a wavy line which makes part of the exhibition appear less cluttered with so many genres. 

In the central showing area (The Octagon) there is a bronze statue gleaming with a kinetic effect on the red Matisse painting themed works.  As you move round it, it seems to pulsate with veins, arteries, muscles and tissue.  This is caused by the movement of others. 

We then moved to the Sheffield Park Landscape where a Hockney piece had been hanging.  We compared and contrasted.  This is a big painting in 4 panels.  The trees are partially reflected in the lower part though some tricks come into mind.  I had created a Hockney Woldgate effect and we wondered how the artist had done it. 


This was a thoroughly enjoyable social occasion.  Sylvia made the 2 hours pass so quickly and though we had some differing likes and dislikes, I really enjoyed the chance to engage with her on so many topics.  Many thanks to Kate, Sylvia and the Royal Academy for making this exhibition accessible to me.  


Royal Academy related posts:

My posts on the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy can be found on:

My post on the Zoffany exhibition at the RA can be found on:

Prof Whitestick starting tour of Summer Exhibition
RA, London
5 July 2012
© Prof Whitestick