A visit to the RA Summer Exhibition 2021: Reclaiming Magic?

RA Summer Exhibition 2021

Royal Academy Burlington House, Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Last week I visited the Summer (I know it is winter, but hey! Nothing is normal in these covid times) Exhibition. The theme for this year’s show is RECLAIMING MAGIC curated by Yinka Shonibare RA. I have an RA Friend’s card that my brother gave me for my birthday, so it means I can see it for free!
Without a catalogue, it is impossible to know the artists’ names. I am without a catalogue and so I have not credited any artists. It is a shame the RA does not credit the artist alongside the works. To discover who the artists are, visit the RA website to see the online catalogue (or buy a hard copy for £3.50).

RA Summer Exhibition 2022 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

When I was young, the Royal Academy of Arts was where I wanted to exhibit my masterpieces that I dreamed of painting. I revered this art institution. Artists I admired had the letters RA after their name and hung their works here each year. I dreamt one day to exhibit alongside them. 

When I was twenty-one, I had my first exhibition at the Woodstock gallery. The gallery was in Mayfair, round the corner from the Royal Academy, just off Bond Street. It excited my naïve mind—I was a ‘proper’ artist! My first exhibition was at the centre of London’s art world! 

This year I considered entering a small work. I didn’t enter. Perhaps I am a coward, scared of rejection? I suspect, however, the real reason (apart from the high application cost) might be I don’t want to.

RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

I enjoy art exhibitions and most reward me with a sense of inspiration and uplifting of spirits.

Reclaiming Magic

I enter the first gallery and my mood sinks. The first artwork I see is a blanket hanging on the wall. It looks like what some may call a pensioners blanket.

No. 3. | Textile | Photo: Lesley Scoble

It is a nice cosy blanket and would be comfy to wrap myself in while watching TV on the sofa on a chilly evening. I wonder how they presented it to the judges for entry. Did it arrive in a bag? To be unfolded. Were there instructions describing how it should hang? I move on.

*I have since learnt in retrospect that the artist produced the textile blanket in an enterprise set up by African American women working their craft on the plantation of their enslaved ancestors. I do not have a catalogue. There is no title or artist’s name on show. Without a catalogue, you get no creator information or backstory of the artworks. Therefore, my viewpoint, comment and reaction are lacking the catalogue information and reliant only on how each piece affects me.

Voodoo Dolls, Chucky Dolls and Death Masks?

My mood doesn’t improve. In fact, I feel creeped out. The exhibition is full of creepy voodoo dolls and ‘Chucky’ type dolls and death masks.

Oh! They are not death masks? Well, some of the exhibits look like death masks to me.

RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

For some obscure reason, I am reminded of the creepy horror film Chucky.

Boris Johnson effigy with pins | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

How can the doll effigy of Boris Johnson stuck with pins lift your heart? Whatever one’s politics, or personal like or dislike opinions regarding our Prime Minister might be—can you justify this primeval practice of witchcraft of evil intent? Is this what the theme of ‘Reclaiming Magic’ means? Perhaps renaming the exhibition’s theme to Reclaiming Black Magic might be more appropriate?

Sculpture effigy with pins | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

I move on. I creep through the galleries and discover a yellow acrylic drape that won The Family Dupree Award for a woman artist.

No. 373 Winner of the Family Dupree Award for a woman artist | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Anyone need any new net curtains?

Net curtain | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

The best picture in the entire show is the mezzotint print of rose-coloured glasses by Illyria Rosselli Del Turco (apologies for poor quality photo).
My one regret being that I cannot snatch these rose-coloured glasses out of the picture frame and put them on!—perchance to see the exhibition in a new light of some small enjoyment.

Rose-coloured glasses | Mezzotint: Ilaria Roselli Del Turco | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Why is there a push-bike in the middle of the gallery? Can I get on it and pedal my way out of here?!

Push bike | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

The Naked Emperor

Is this Art? Or is it a story like The Emperor’s New Clothes? You know the story, right? The folk tale about conning, written by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1837. It’s all about duping, is it not? I want to know how to dupe! And how to fool the art experts.

Please tell me how the greatest art galleries in the land can believe a rag hanging from a nail is an outstanding work of Art? The Tate Gallery exhibits such an item. I saw such a work hanging there! The artwork was a mere lank rag of muslin hanging from a nail. Why? How?

I envy the artists (or whoever) who have this magical fairy tale power to convince the supposed learned art gallery curators that a rag is a priceless work of art. Who has this power?

Is it the naked emperor, do you think?


Does anyone remember the famous pile of bricks laid out in a block at the Tate?

The famous Tate Bricks

Was it a publicity stunt? Or did they believe it was art? Or is it that they are all having a laugh? At our expense? Well, its good to laugh, so they say! I know a fine artist, James B Woods, member of the Royal Society of Miniaturists, who painted an exquisite miniature painting of Sir Christopher Wren and St Pauls Cathedral on a brick. He walked into the Tate leaving his beautiful brick placed on top of the pile of bricks! It was his way of protesting. How long did it take the Tate to notice it, do you think? And I wonder where James B Woods’s artwork is today? Will the Tate have kept it? Or did they chuck the finely painted brick out into a skip?

Here follows a tiny clip of me in my critical mode (many moons ago!) at the Tate Gallery when the BBC asked my opinion on the so called work of art. I fear such works are displayed to provoke such a reaction. And I played along—right into their hands.

“I’ve never seen anything so stupid in my life”

This image of a painting that just about sums this exhibition up!

Yacht Cub shit painting | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Moving on, I sit down on a slab of granite as heavy as my heart (no idea if the slab of granite is an artwork, but I don’t care any more).

I sit on a slab of granite as heavy as my heart | Visit to the RA 2021 | iPhone photo: T. Scoble

It would sadden my younger me, starting out with an ambition to exhibit my ‘painterly masterpieces’ in these once hallowed walls. The RA has held an exhibition every year since 1769! Even the wars and covid haven’t stopped it!

The ambitious desire and aspiration of my teenage years would stay quieted today by what is now displayed on the metaphorical crumbling walls of this artistic institution. I walk towards the exit with a disappointed disillusioned soul. Such as one feels when your idol falls off the pedestal you once placed it upon.

However, it is not all doom! On my way to the exit, I glance up and see… high up, almost out of sight… I see a puffin.

Penguin | RA Summer Exhibition 2021 | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Thank goodness for the puffin.

Ruskin Spear RA

As I make my way home from the Royal Academy, I remember the good old days when I saw the fine paintings of my art mentor Ruskin Spear RA hanging in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibitions alongside the likes of William Bowyer RA and all the artists with letters of RA placed after their illustrious names. I once had a dream to paint like them and perhaps exhibit here.

Harold Wilson by Ruskin Spear RA

I pop into a pub to avoid travelling in the rush hour on the Tube. And over a glass of ale my thoughts meander back to the time when I knew Ruskin Spear Royal Academician…
I reminisce and recall one of my last conversations with him. He was my art tutor and mentor and we would meet in our local The Carpenters Arms in Chiswick, West London.

Our Last Chat

I was working as a professional dancer on a popular television pop music programme SHANG-a-LANG. We were chatting at the bar and he said, “Miss Scoble, (he always called me Miss Scoble) What are you doing wasting your time prancing around on television when you should paint!”
I asked, “Why are you watching the Bay City Rollers on children’s TV instead of painting?”
I think that was a fair riposte, don’t you?
I took his remark as a tremendous compliment in respect that he thought so much of my emerging painterly talent that I ought to focus more on it!

He went on to liken my painting to Sir John Everett Milais. I thought, ’Who?’
Later, I went to the National Gallery to find out. When I saw the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. I gasped! Ruskin Spears thinks I paint like them? Wow!

Mr Spear’s mentorship and encouragement later led to an exhibition of my work at a Mayfair art gallery.

Here is a note I kept when he saved a drink for me behind the bar.

A note from Ruskin

A note to me from Ruskin Spear RA

A note from Ruskin
Ruskin Spear bought me a beer!
(that rhymes doesn’t it?).

Ruskin Spear RA

My art mentor Ruskin Spear RA

Mr. Spear, I am saddened you are no longer with us. I will always remember you with respect and fondness and miss those times when we discussed art. I should so love to hear your opinion on this year’s RA Summer Exhibition!

I am privileged to have known you Ruskin Spear – the next round is on me!

Old Newspaper Cutting
This cutting mentions Ruskin Spear’s encouragement for my painting and refers to my forthcoming art exhibition in Mayfair.

Newspaper cutting (edited) | In my early twenties I called myself Lisa—don’t ask why!

*I am referred to in the cutting as Lisa! In my early twenties I changed my stage name to Lisa for some unknown crazy reason!
Name change
Why did I change my name? It was just something I did! Who knows why? Such is the folly of youth!
I was in the theatrical world where name changes were common.
I think I read an article somewhere about Engelbert Humperdinck (remember him?) how changing his name changed his fortune. I was out of work. Perhaps changing my name was the way to success too? I thought I would give it a go! It was years later before I realised how silly this was! And so reverted to the name my loving parents gave me. The following quote tells me it doesn’t matter what name you have—you are still a rose is a rose is a rose!

”A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 1594

Anyone care to follow Ruskin Spear’s precedent—and leave a drink for me behind the bar?🍺😁👩‍🎨

Make a one-time donation

Choose an amount (I drink half pints £3 is plenty! Anymore might cause me to over indulge! *I haven’t worked out how to edit the other sums out of this block!)


Cheers! I shall raise a glass to your health! Merry Christmas!

Mine’s a pint!

I found this donation button in my WordPress Block Editor and thought I’d give it a go! I have no idea whether it works or not…

The next round is on me!

Merry Festive Season one and all!
Keep safe and well 🙂

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2021 closes on the 2nd January 2022.

Late Constable

Since writing this blog I have returned to the RA to see the LATE CONSTABLE exhibition. Well done, Royal Academy! You have redeemed yourself. It is a wonderful exhibition—and one I want to return to!

Detail of the stag in the Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds 1833-36 by John Constable | Photo: Lesley Scoble

4 responses to “A visit to the RA Summer Exhibition 2021: Reclaiming Magic?”

  1. A lovely walk through the exhibition, though I’m like you – I prefer ‘proper’ art! I’ve only ever been to one exhibition at the RA, way back in my uni days, around 1974 I think. It was the works of Monet, and it was fabulous. It was curated – and the brochure written – by my favourite lecturer. He, of course, encouraged us all to go, and negotiated a discounted rate for those of us he put on his ‘guest list.’ Had to pay full price for the brochure, though!

    Hope you’re well and looking forward to a good Christmas 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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