Royal Academy 2024

Clarinet: Lines and Spaces (ROYAL ACADEMY 2024)
In 2024 my linocut “Clarinet - Lines and spaces” was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
This is the story of its journey.
Lets start at the very beginning, as according to Julie Andrews it's a very good place to start.
Not long after I started my printmaking career I attended a reduction printing workshop led by the talented Alexandra Buckle. During that workshop she mentioned that her work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. At that time I was blissfully unaware of the existence of the world’s largest, oldest (since1769) open submission exhibition and what it might mean to exhibit at it. Alexandra told me that she had achieved success with one of her very early linocuts and I listened to this news with eyes wide like saucers - how could I fail to be inspired?
I went home from the workshop with some great prints, a head buzzing with new knowledge but also crucially (and turns out mistakenly) the notion that Royal Academy success awaited just round the corner for me.

That summer I took a trip to London to see for myself what the Summer Exhibition was all about and to get a feel for what I was aiming at. There was so much on display: different genres, subjects, mediums, sizes. The amazing, the good, the bad, the indifferent, the over-priced, the bizarre - quite overwhelming -16000 initial entries whittled down to around 2000 on display.
When January 2017 came round I paid for two entries and set about printing and selecting what would go in. Fast forward to quite a bit of shenanigans trying to photograph my work accurately and getting a bit tied up in knots with dpi and pixels and the entry was done.
When the shortlist decision date in March came around, I was genuinely deflated to find that I hadn't got in and then realisation dawned - it wasn't going to be that easy.

In 2018 I repeated the process…
Entry - Print - Hope - Disappointment.

And then the next year 2019, something different - my print "Three Fine Fellows" (below) was shortlisted. Celebrations and excitement!
Three fine fellows

I was required to bring the print to London for judging in person by the selection committee. I got the print framed and spent a jolly day in London handing it in combined with a spot of shopping. Then a couple of weeks later I had to reverse the process, as it was rejected - surplus to requirements. I needed to collect it again which meant another trip to London, this time for the walk of shame. Ah well, nothing ventured nothing gained. My small dream of exhibiting with the chosen few had lasted a little longer than usual, but I was nonetheless back to square one.

The next years followed a familiar pattern.
Entry - Print - Hope - Disappointment.

Then in 2024 when January rolled around I bought two entries as usual and then set about deciding on and printing them. The theme of the exhibition was “making space” (although to be honest I don’t think being on point with the theme makes a whole lot of difference but I decided what the hell, it might give me a slight edge).

The spaces we call home
Entry one was a single colour print of various creatures and the underground spaces they inhabit titled “spaces we call home”

Feeding time
Entry two was a print of bluetits crowding round a bird feeder which was going to be titled something like “make space for me” or “space on the feeder” l say “was” going to be because when the print was finished, it just didn’t work. The colours were washed out and I wasn’t happy. Being a reduction print it was too late to make any changes to the final the print so it was discarded.

I had no time to start again so I looked at what else I might enter. One print that I had made just before Christmas was of a clarinet. I had made it for a birthday present for my good friend Anne who is a clarinettist and saxophonist, Anne had number 1/17 but I still had the rest of the edition. I quickly realised that it could actually work with the theme. I tweaked the title to included reference to spaces, so it became Clarinet: lines and spaces - a reference that worked on more than one level: the lines and spaces of the musical stave EGBDF FACE, the physical arrangement of the clarinet in the print in lines with spaces in between, and also the structural rods (lines) and finger holes (spaces) on the clarinet.
Decision made! Photography done, forms filled in and fingers firmly crossed.

When I received notification that it had been shortlisted it was good news, cautious jubilation - I’d been down this road before.
A trip up to London to deliver the print in person and fingers crossed again.
When I received the news a couple of weeks later that it had got in I was thrilled and slightly stunned ( we're talking bucket list territory here)
Me outside the RA

There was also an invitation to “Varnishing day” where traditionally it is the point at which paintings were finished off with varnish and then were deemed complete and ready for public viewing.
The day started with a steel band procession to St James’s church Piccadilly where there was a service of thanks for the artists and the exhibition. One genuinely moving moment was when Rev Lepine asked for a round of applause for those exhibiting for the first time. What started with polite clapping ended with a joyous wave of cheering and riotous applause for us first timers.
We then proceeded to the Royal Academy at Burlington House for the main event where all everyone wanted to do was a) to have a glass of bubbly and b) find out where they were hung, so it was a case of hunt the waiter and hunt the exhibit. I had the guide catalogue which told me which room my print was in but it took me a while to get my first glimpse of it. I had been warned that some exhibits are hung so high that you’d need binoculars to appreciate them (apparently this is called skying - who knew?), so I was relieved to find that mine was very much at waist level.
Me and my clarinet at the RA

The room is painted a fabulous bright blue and is curated by Cornelia Parker.
Rhapsody in blue!
Everyone was pretty much doing the same thing, getting a picture of themselves pointing at their work with a big grin on their face, and I was no exception. After downing my glass and a quick scoot round the crowded exhibition rooms I decided it was probably time to move on. I knew I'd be returning with friends and family later in the summer so I would leave the more considered viewing until a day when it was hopefully less busy. All I can say is it felt totally brilliant to be a part of the exhibition this year.
If you get a chance to visit it's a splendid riot of colour and spectacle and you won’t be disappointed. Don't listen to critics who say it’s not as good as previous years, they always say that and it’s a cheap dig. It is always going to be a huge melting pot of something for everyone, go with an open mind and pick your favourite artwork, I'll guarantee it represents someone's hopes and dreams - the artist will be as delighted to be exhibiting there as I am.
You can find my print on display in the bright blue Large Weston Room at the Royal Academy of Arts for the duration of the Summer Exhibition, June 18th - August 18th 2024 or in Anne’s front room (permanent installation but more exclusive).