RA summer exhibition: Why has that man got no clothes on, Dad?

First published in The Jackdaw ♯12, October 2001

Will Harvey demonstrates how the RA Summer Exhibition performs a useful function for those who can’t get their works easily exhibited elsewhere…

Thousands of paintings are entered for the RA Summer Exhibition. A few squeeze through the jury. Fewer still get past the Hanging Committee and onto a wall. (members – RAs – may hang six works without selection. Non-members can enter three works at £18 each.) Members’ work is hung and any gaps filled from the work that got past the jury.

One aspect annoyed me this year. Space was given over for non-member celebs, like Hirst and Emin, who don’t have to struggle to get shown in major galleries. They probably didn’t pay entry fees either. If their work had been better I wouldn’t have been so annoyed.

This year, a painter friend of mine, Peter Kettle, got all three of his paintings past the jury.  One was hung and sold. Llewellyn Alexander took the two that didn’t get hung for their ‘Not the RA’ show. Both sold. Later, someone went to the RA, wrote to Peter and bought another 400 Bad Request painting. Similar things happened to him last year, and several years before. I saw the weeks of time and work he put into The Glass Bead Game (right). It’s an entirely imaginative work. Pete doesn’t construct something in his studio and then copy it. This one got finished, but he felt something wasn’t right. His

wife suggested he put a glass ball on the floor. ‘Make it look as if it had fallen out of the stone,’ she said. It works a treat and neatly illustrates how he works.  Many painters are like Pete. He’s had three one-man shows in London and two outside, with numerous group shows here and abroad. He’s won competition prizes and

400 Bad Request

completed almost a hundred commissions. He’s supported his family partly through painting for thirty years. But I bet you’ve never heard of him.

How does an artist get noticed? The answer’s depressing: don’t bother with elitist stuff like studying art history or developing painting skills. Instead, get notorious. Working with paint is corny so use maggots, piles of fat, or used colostomy bags. Some big collector might take you on if you pee on felt. You could call it exorcising your abused upbringing. Yeah man…

The Jackdaw Sept-Oct 2011