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RHA 200 years

Several decades back, a certain art-school lecturer and artist of the Conceptual persuasion liked to wrongfoot his painting students with the question, ‘Why isn’t this picture a photograph?’

RHA 200 years
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Several decades back, a certain art-school lecturer and artist of the Conceptual persuasion liked to wrongfoot his painting students with the question, ‘Why isn’t this picture a photograph?’ Applied to much of the work in the 193rd RHA Annual Exhibition, marking 200 years of the academy, this is still a relevant query, perhaps with a refinement of the term ‘photograph’: ‘Why isn’t this visual one-liner a software-enhanced smartphone snap?’ Reassuringly, the best work on view offered a conclusive riposte, which is either that it is in fact a photograph, or that it does things with painting that could only work through painting.

The latter applies equally to the meticulously realist The Rocks of the Burren by Uri Blayer, who is a plein air painter of remarkable vision and ability, and the wonderfully lyrical, non-representational Untitled III by David Crone. An encouragingly substantial list would also include Helena Gorey, Susan Bone, Diana Copperwhite, Cian McLoughlin, Richard Gorman, Simon English, Sven Sandberg, Stephanie Deady, Miseon Lee, Sahoko Blake, Charles Tyrrell, Catherine Barron, Helen Blake, Noelle Brennan and Will O’Kane. In this company, it was gratifying to note that two veteran academicians, Carey Clarke and Anita Shelbourne, really shone.

Continuing the photographic theme, many artists in their work explored or, more often, just tuned in to the tension between digital representation and reality, with varying degrees of usefulness. And actual photographs played a convincing part, including those by Amy O’Riordan, Blaise Smith, Gary Coyle, Amelia Stein and Jeanette Lowe. AI image generation got a look in too, incidentally, if none too persuasively.

Sculpture, habitually under-represented, was at least convincingly present. Michael Quane, David Carvill, Eileen MacDonagh and Paul Harrison all contributed greatly. The comparatively recent tradition of the annual show (in Dublin, as in London) providing a showcase for the mildly outré and non-conformist was honoured. Sales were exceptional. This year’s In Memoriam wall paid tribute to three formidable artists, Pauline Bewick, Camille Souter and Jacqueline Stanley. The exhibition was, all in all, a worthy bicentenary celebration.

Aidan Dunne

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