Review: 184th Annual Exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy

The Royal Hibernian Academy’s Annual Exhibition is Ireland’s largest open submission exhibition. Over half of the works were selected from more than 2,300 entries, which are shown with work by RHA members and invited artists. With 567 works by 354 artists, it showcases an impressive array of media, styles and artists. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs are all featured, ranging in style from traditional to modern. The exhibition is typically composed of work by living artists, however there are a selection of works displayed in memory of the late Patrick Scott HRHA including a work from his 2007 series Meditations, which makes use of embossing techniques and gold foil, and follows on from the contemplative themes seen in his earlier works.

The works of emerging artists are exhibited alongside those by familiar names such as RHA member Pauline Bewick. Bewick has four works in the exhibition. Three of these are large canvases in her distinctively linear and fantastical style, but the fourth piece is quite different and not immediately recognisable as her work. Old Woman Remembering is a collage, combining a portrait of an old woman in ink and watercolour with lacework, a doily, drawings, text and postage stamps. The effect is charming, and in a way echoes the dreamlike quality of Bewick’s paintings. Other established artists exhibiting this year include Maeve McCarthy RHA, who has several small nocturnal scenes on display, and Eilis O’Connell RHA (whose sculpture Apples and Atoms was recently installed in Trinity College Dublin) has a number of works on paper in the exhibition. The space guaranteed for Academy members who wish to exhibit can be a contentious issue, especially when an artist works on a large scale. However, the chance to exhibit alongside prestigious artists is an important one and offers status to the newer artists whose work is on show.

Prints on display include At The Stroke of Midnight by Ann McKenna, an evocative and eerie Cinderella image that echoes Harry Clarke’s style. Her etchings often use fairy tale themes, and have an illustrative quality. Esther Breslin’s Snow Blanket Silence makes striking use of a panorama format. The colour changes across the image, moving from blues and whites to warmer pinks and a yellow glow emanating from a cabin. As with the other media on display, the prints show great variety. Jean Bardon, who has exhibited in previous RHA exhibitions,is represented by  The Garden of Perfect Splendour, Peonies which is typical of Bardon’s stylein the use of a gold leaf background, panels and floral motifs, also reflecting the influence of Japanese folding screens.

In terms of photography, there are works from Abigail O’Brien RHA’s With Bread exhibition from 2013. These images, taken at bakeries around Ireland, are named after different female artists whose work O’Brien has linked with the patterns in her photographs. Another striking work is Stephen Tierney’s The Weather in Delft in which the artist has taken Vermeer’s A Lady Writing A Letter With Her Maid, and removed the figures leaving an enigmatic and curiously empty image of a seventeenth century Dutch interior.

A combination of media can be seen in Kenneth Lambert’s art. His works behind domed glass have a nostalgic feel with the use of fighter plane motifs. They combine sculpture and painting, and the narrative element reflects his experience as an animator. Sculptures on display are in a variety of media — including Colm Lawton’s The Great Palindrome, which received The ESB Moran Award for Outstanding Sculpture, a clay-based work with astonishing attention to detail in its spiralling colonnades.

This year 14 awards were given, with a total prize fund of over €41,500. One such award is The Arthur Gibney Award for Architectural Content in any Medium. This was awarded to Terry Markey’s Constructed Action, a towering structure composed of planks of wood. Its rough textures and sharp angles provide visual interest, and it dominates the centre of the gallery in which it has been placed. The De Veres Art Award – for a work of distinction – was given to Ed Milano’s Prelude, a beautiful composition of 15 small panels with images of trees with yellow leaves in a silvery light. Alan Freney’s And Once I Was So Strong was awarded the prestigious Hennessy Craig Scholarship (prize fund €10,000), open to artists under the age of 35 who have studied in Ireland and are exhibiting in that year’s exhibition.

The works mentioned above are only a small number of those on display. The RHA Annual Exhibition offers an overview of contemporary Irish art, offering a diverse selection of media, subject matter and style. From the traditional to the experimental, it offers real variety and is an exhibition that is well worth several visits due to the sheer amount of works on show.

The 184th RHA Annual Exhibition runs until the 9th of August 2014 in the RHA Gallery, Ely Place, Dublin. Free Admission.

Review originally published on tn2 magazine’s website, see the original article for some images from the exhibition.

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