The opening of the 140th Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition at the Ulster Museum this autumn marks a welcome step in the gradual return to a more normal environment for the visual arts in Belfast after its curtailed run last year. Part of the exhibition’s strength lies in its diversity, and there is a good representation of new or less-familiar exhibitors as well as a number of first-time prizewinners amongst the selections made by Eimear O’Connor.
Cara Gordon was awarded the Perpetual Gold Medal for Thaw, an atmospheric depiction of Belfast’s Palm House, while Ciaran Gallagher won the silver medal for Mateusz. Photography is a strong section within this year’s exhibition and the bronze medal, given for a lens-based work, went to Peter Richards for All That Is Left Is Debris and Unreliable Narration.
Three portraits also won awards: the portrait prize was awarded to Adam Bohanna for Of What Is Past, or Passing, or To Come; Colin Murphy was awarded the Outstanding Artist Award for his engaging Small Portrait; and Fatima Hussain was the winner of the Young Artist Award with her striking equestrian self-portrait, Malka e Jahen. The sculpture prize was awarded to Sinéad Fagan and the printmaking prize to Denise Carol Griffith for her etching of a seahorse.
Bernie Masterson’s The Longest Night won the prize for a work depicting the theme of ‘Ireland’. The drawing prize was awarded to Helen McMullan, Nicola Nemec’s evocative Some Quiet Place took the Paul Henry landscape prize and Barbara Allen won the watercolour prize.
The exhibition is always a good opportunity to see recent works by members of the academy. Simon McWilliams’ densely worked Golden Tree is impressive and Hector McDonnell’s engaging conversation piece Preparing for Tea at Pickering will have great appeal. Jeffrey Morgan’s Raft – War in the Middle East is an intriguing departure for a painter probably best known for his portraits, while David Crone’s Interior 2021 is a quietly powerful and absorbing painting. As ever, the exhibition brings a great energy to these galleries.