RA Annual Summer Exhibition

Well, the last two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind and I have only settled back to work today.

It started with an email that I had to read about five times before I believed it. It was to say that my etching “Clarissa” had made it through to this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London. Then the rush was on to book flights and accommodation to attend the Varnishing Day on 5th June.

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That done, my mind was flooded with memories and events that occurred since the first time I was selected for the show… thirty years ago! In 1987 I felt confident (or just naïve) enough to attempt entering the show. I got two pieces in that year, but was totally unaware how lucky I was in managing this. Later that summer, I eventually travelled to London with Ma with her enormous suitcase to see the show.

I’m not sure what she had in it, but I think she may have been under the impression that we’d meet the Queen and had taken several outfits for the occasion. The trip was really to prove to my parents that I hadn’t wasted my time – and their money – in art college for five years (with still no prospect of a job!)

We had a great time in London, but when we returned my father complained that he didn’t feel great and hadn’t had his favourite tipple for a few days: a pint of black and a chaser. When his doctor heard this he knew it was serious, and immediately put him into hospital. Within two weeks he was dead. It was a total shock at the time. 

The following year, I was successful again and got one piece selected. This time I did go to the Varnishing Day. In the intervening years I have sent work in for selection occasionally, but without success. Then, a few years ago, the RA started to select work from an online submission; this cut out all the palaver with getting the work to London for the early selection stages; and I have got through the final stages a few times, but never got a piece into the exhibition again… until this year. So, Marcus and I went to London on Sunday, for Varnishing Day on Monday.

The day didn’t start well, as I slathered myself with what I thought was body lotion and which was, in fact, hair conditioner. After a second shower, we started out for the main event! The Varnishing Day began at 11.15am with a procession to St James’s Church, Piccadilly, and a service for the artists. We met Mick O’Dea (PRHA) on our short walk to the Church. There was beautiful singing and some readings. As I sat there, I couldn’t imagine this ever happening with the RHA, it was so solemn.

Then it was back to the Academy where a steel band were playing in the courtyard. In the exhibition there was a buffet and prosecco reception – and a mad dash to find where everyone’s work was hanging. It was a fab day, and we ended up at the Chelsea Arts Club for dinner that night.

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The following day we were travelling back to Radicondoli, and to be quite honest it was a nightmare. 
On the train to Luton Airport, after being totally drenched in the rain, there was an announcement to say that a tree had fallen on the line ahead. Not only that, it (the tree) had caught fire and there was no information as to when we could expect to continue our journey. So we sat in the train for about twenty minutes, until we were told that another train would bring us back to St Pancras. Like sheep, we got out, in the driving rain, and stood for further twenty minutes. With no sign of the promised train (and panic setting in), we decided to grab a taxi. Whatever it cost, it would be cheaper than a new flight and another hotel night in London.
Easier said than done. The storm had led to a major shortage of available cabs. Eventually we got one.


The driver was Indian and he assured us we’d be there in thirty minutes. As we drove it was obvious that the weather was taking it’s toll; driving conditions were poor. Just as he was talking about how dangerous it was, we spotted a sign flashing to say there was a lane closure ahead due to an accident! We ground to halt. As we sat in the endless tailback, our driver regaled us with different tales of his passengers missing flights and even of one elderly couple who stayed with him overnight in his “large, three-bedroomed house” where he treated them to “some lovely Indian food”! It was beginning to look as if he would be hosting us for the night, when the traffic began to move again, and we got to the airport with a few minutes to spare. 

More fun and games were to follow in the security area. I had, as usual, dressed to avoid any delays, soft shoes, no belts, buckles or jewellery. But the buzzer went off as I walked through. “No, I hadn’t anything in my pockets.” “Yes, I will take off my shoes and walk through again.” The buzzer went off again. And then I’d to stand in what looked like a shower, more beeps. Then out again to be frisked and checked over with that woo-woo scan thingy. More beeping. And then to my mortification (but my surgeon’s good work) I thought of what might be triggering what was increasingly looking like a security incident… my hip! I think by this stage security just wanted me out of their sight as there was now a backlog of raging people trying to get through.

Last night, as we sat outside in the warm Italian evening, talking with friends of our adventures over the past three days, I thought about the interval of thirty years; the people born and gone, the friends made and lost, the many people who have taught, influenced and believed in me, the various studios, and the work I’ve made. It seems a lifetime ago since I first ran around trying to spot my work at the Royal Academy in 1987 – and it’s passed in a blink.


The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition runs from 13th June to 20th August. Details are HERE. You will find MLMs piece “Clarissa” in room VI