The RA Schools Show is an annual summer exhibition showcasing the diverse final projects of its emerging artists. Held in the contemporary studios hidden deep inside the very core of this most historic institution, the show is a rare opportunity for members of the public to encounter works of Britain’s next generation of artists at the genus of their creation.
Founded in 1769, the Royal Academy was the first established art school in Britain. As such, it sets a precedent for consistently producing some of the world’s most famous artists; from J. M. W. Turner to John Constable and more recently, the likes of Richard Hamilton and Anthony Caro. As the only school in Europe to offer a three-year postgraduate programme – without the burden of fees or a curriculum for that matter – to just 17 artists, the RA Schools sets itself apart from others of contemporary fine art in the UK.
From sculpture and painting to video and live installation, this year’s class of 2015 demonstrates the versatility of media and approaches atypical of the ‘contemporary art’ rubric. Held in tandem with the RA’s Summer Show, the world’s oldest open-submission exhibition, the famous juxtaposition of amateur and professional artists’ work can often condition the beholding visitor’s opinion on what designates ‘high’ or ‘low’ art. Downstairs, a similar sort of conditioning occurs in the RA Schools Show. Distinct from the RA gallery as an arena of learning and development, it is very easy for viewers to enter this exhibition – and other grad shows alike – with a somewhat churlish disposition.
With each of the seventeen rooms offering a self-contained display, we encounter a truly beguiling array of their individual visions of contemporary art. In Studio 14 Evelyn O’Connor presents objects derivative of a technicolour wasteland. Constructed from materials such as ketchup, strawberry syrup and polystyrene beads, the various depressed and erect forms are akin to prehistoric stalagmites; daring the viewer to touch but not without some trepidation of their toxic appearance.
Installation view of works by Caroline Abbots, Studio 5
In Studio 5 Caroline Abbots offers a similarly scientific-looking presentation of work, though with a distinct lofty eeriness. Transience is very much the modus operandi of this display with the use of large blue-toned silver gelatin prints exposed to moonlight. An accompanying blurb tells us that the use of iron in silver gelatin produces a blue hue, sensitising the surface to UV light which will eventually darken and turn to black. With each print for sale, this process-based style of form instigates an interesting dialogue on its very impermanence and how this affects its collectibility as art.
Installation view of works by Evelyn O’Connor (main Top Photo) , Studio 14.More ‘traditional’ artistic approaches are offered in Studios 1 and 2 by Sean Steadman and Declan Jenkins, respectively. The former presents a surreal collection of tactile multi-media paintings recalling the ‘soft’ and multi-dimensional constructions of Salvador Dali and the surreal photo-collages of David Hockney; while Jenkins’ selection of monochromatic woodcut prints are unanimous in their inquisitive but unsettling appeal, particularly Declan observes Doglan, and Doglan observes Declan.
Installation view of work by Sean Steadman, Studio 1.
In light of the more challenging and ‘edgy’ use of sound and video elsewhere in the show (see works by Sofie Alsbo in Studio 13 and Josie Cockram in Studio 11) it is a brave endeavour for the so-called ‘next generation’ of artists to work in what some may arguably deem ‘safe’ or even ‘outmoded’ media such as painting. In this way, the white cube conditions of the RA studios illustrate a dichotomy of a very modern but also historic place and the challenges faced by its students amid this tautology. Navigating around the complex labyrinth of studios only serves to reiterate this point but therein lies its strength as a cutting-edge show. With each foot faithfully rooted in the past and the present, the totality of resulting works represent the best of an aspiring avant-garde in a world where anything can be considered art.
Installation view of work by Declan Jenkins, Studio 2.
The RA Schools Show at RA Schools Studios runs until June 28th 2015. Admission is free. Opening times: 10am – 6pm daily / 10am – 10pm on Fridays.
Featuring artists include: Sean Steadman, Declan Jenkins, Hannah Bays, Rebecca Ackroyd, Caroline Abbots, Matt Ager, Ziggy Grudzinskas, Adam Collier, Victoria Adam, Joel Wylie, Josie Cockram, Max Prus, Sofie Alsbo, Evelyn O’Connor, Maria de Lima, Laurence Owen, Henry Coleman.
Words/Photos Hannah Rosanne Poulton © Artlyst 2015
Top Photo: Installation view of works by Evelyn O’Connor, Studio 14