The RSA 185th Annual Exhibition

May 2011

Publication: The Times

Last year the RSA broke with tradition by presenting the work of members alongside invited artists in a curated show. The longstanding open submission takes place later in the year. Last year’s curator, Ian McCulloch presented a variety of vivid, powerful expressionism,  reflecting his own practice and approach. This year Victoria Crowe, adopts a similar approach by inviting artists and architects who echo her own aesthetic. So, generally  – the work  is measured, contemplative and less frenetic. This a welcome policy as it clearly allows for the airing of different voices and currents.


The show is subtitled Hidden Aspects of the Artist’s Work – Inspiration and Process so adjacent to work by Andrew Mackenzie, Stuart Duffin, Will Maclean, Iain Stewart, Anne Bevan, Bridget Steed and Philip Reeves, are a number ‘research cases’ containing sketchbooks, implements, tools, paint, photographs and a host of other items used by the artists as they edge their way towards a completed work.


Ken Currie came to prominence in the 1980s as one of a number of Glasgow-based artists working in a figurative tradition; his worked has developed and evolved over the intervening years until the point where his style is now unmistakable. Fascinated by the human face, in particular, Currie presents what at first appears to be an unrelentingly bleak vision of humanity. Bloodless, mean and strained these images seem to come from a netherworld of nightmare. Here, his enormous canvas ‘A Hunting Lodge’ conflates Victorian Scotland with Soviet Stalinism. Instead of inebriated, tweed-clad aristocrats and industrialists, various apparatchiks appear coldly sober, fatigued by their roles as interrogators and torturers – it’s easy to miss the tell-tale pliers protruding from the back pocket of one goon.


Elsewhere, returning to a more grounded solidity, Lorna McIntosh’s considerable body of work evokes 16th and 17th century emblem books. Mottos, epigrams and text from these eminently collectable publications supply the titles for McIntosh’s geologically-derived studies; thus the audience is left to ponder the nature of the relationship between the words of a title such as ‘Whose veil is removed I’ and the form of its subject matter: a study in deep umber reds, like blood-stained soil.


There’s a host of talent here and despite the enormous stylistic range this show feels unified, and thematically coherent. Linkages and connections are everywhere: from the tusk above the mantelpiece in Currie’s painting and Bridget Steed’s contemporary scrimshaw (decorated whale’s teeth), to the intense, small-scale focus on landscape adopted by McIntosh and Briony Anderson. Anderson concentrates on a philosophical approach to her subject interspersing a studio-made book of her works with texts. In the overall context one, in particular, seems apposite: “the invitation to look at a view is a suggestion to look at nothing – or more precisely to look at looking itself.”