Out & About: The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2021

Out and About

The theme for this year's RA Summer Exhibition exhibition is ‘Reclaiming Magic’. Here are some pieces that stood out for us. You may even recognise a piece or two hung in our hotels after the show ends on 2nd January, 2022!

An upside to lockdown has been a huge movement towards more creativity at home (I dedicate a whole chapter to this in my new book, Design Secrets). The 253rd RA Summer Exhibition is a joyful showcase of this creativity.

Although it is feeling distinctly autumnal, the postponed Summer Exhibition did not disappoint. The return of one of the world’s most inclusive and joyful exhibitions is a welcome sign of normality. It is a celebration of contemporary art and architecture, where you can discover works by both self-taught artists and celebrated ones. Anyone can apply and it provides a platform for the artistic community to showcase their work.

The statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy, is usually garlanded with flowers during the Summer Exhibition. This year, the bronze figure in the courtyard wears a sash of Dutch wax print, the fabric of complex colonial histories that British Nigerian artist and this year’s show coordinator, Yinka Shonibare, has made his trademark.

We are long standing fans and you can find her magical pieces both in the Drawing Room at Ham Yard Hotel and outside the screening room in The Whitby Hotel, New York.

The theme for this year’s exhibition is ‘Reclaiming Magic’ – apt for the times we are living in. It encourages new ways of thinking and takes you on a journey. Your senses are hit with a kaleidoscope of ideas. It is one that you can definitely visit more than once to take it all in.

Here are some pieces that stood out for us. You may even recognise a piece or two hung in our hotels after the show ends on 2nd January, 2022!

Eileen Cooper

No Summer Exhibition would be complete without Eileen Cooper’s work and we spotted multiple pieces in different rooms.

Diptych | Joe Tilson

We couldn’t resist these two paintings by Joe Tilson. They were hung in two separate rooms, but we will reunite them to work as a pair…once our new hotel in New York is complete!

CAT | Tania Askar

I am always drawn to bold and graphic motifs that can inspire an appliqué headboard, cushion or back of chair, and this cat’s ziggedy zaggedy fur and curly whirly tail is just that. Hanging it above the graphic red and white piece below was very effective.

Visit The Whitby Hotel in the meantime, where you will find plenty of Tilson’s work.

My Make-up Quilt | Joanna Sheldon
Applique on cotton and quilted

Works in quilt, crochet and ceramic, materials which might have been dismissed as “craft” in earlier generations, are represented in this year’s display in more numbers than I have ever seen before. This piece by Joanna Sheldon demonstrates how a collection of objects can become an artwork in itself, and of course the skill required to create the piece is immense.

Three Dancing Chickens | Darren O’Brien
Acrylic on paper and board

You’ll have to look right to the top of the room to spot this one…these chickens have moves! We will be giving them a home to continue strutting their stuff.

The Kitchen | Jim Dine HON RA
Eight-colour woodcut

One of the best Jim Dine’s I have seen. I love the overlaying of colours that make up this oversized print.

I Bite & Sting | Stephen Chambers RA

Zoom in on the collection of prints hung at the bottom, each of which tell a story.

Have a closer look…

Alberti: The Hunt: After Uccello | Stephen Cox RA
Stone dust on poplar tree

The way Stephen Cox is able to transform difficult material into beautiful sculpture is incredible. Get up close to this one and you will see the detail of galloping deer in the forest. Stand further away and you will see the perspective and powerful composition as a whole.

Hung together, they remind me of our Paladino’s in Crosby Street Hotel’s Drawing Room.

Crocodiles (fuchsia on yellow) | Andy Swani
Woodcut and oil on paper

Another graphic motif – wouldn’t it be a fun fabric repeat?! This one reminds us of Keith Haring’s work.

You are greeted by three of Cox’s marble figures in the lobby of The Whitby Hotel in New York…

Momentarium (triptych) | Sir Christopher Le Brun PPRA

I am leaving you with one of my favourite paintings for the pure beauty of its colour…

This exhibition makes you think. All 1,382 exhibits, whether playful or serious, are worth looking at.

Philip Sutton RA

You will find more than one of these vibrant paintings in the exhibition and now they are on my radar! The colours make my heart sing and I love the way the frame cannot be separated from the canvas.