Alexandra Buckle
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Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy of Arts 2011

3 June 2011

Edited 23/06/2015

Varnishing Day was one of the most wonderful experiences of my artistic career so far. To be welcomed to the Royal Academy by such famous and established artists was a real treat. The term 'Varnishing Day' comes from the tradition of the artists meeting the day before an exhibition opens to give their work a final coat of varnish. Not many of the artworks displayed these days require varnish, but the name has obviously stuck to describe the occasion.

As I arrived at the Royal Academy I could hear a jolly steel band playing, the sun was out and there were lots of people milling around in the courtyard- it was very festive. Jeff Koon's Coloring Book sculpture had pride of place in the courtyard and looked absolutely fantastic. I'd seen images of it beforehand but it was lovely to see it in real life.

I stood and soaked up the sun and the atmosphere. It said on my invite that there would be a procession to St James's Church so when it set off, led by the steel band, and everyone started to follow I joined suit. The procession actually stopped the Piccadilly traffic as we all took over the road.

The church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, I have to say, wasn't the prettiest from the outside but it was glorious inside with wonderful acoustics. The service was quite special, obviously an age old tradition itself, by St James's Revd Lucy Winckett who is relatively new to the church, working previously at St Pauls Cathedral. There was a wonderful choir, we had a few relevant readings and sang a few hymns. It was all very pleasant. St James's it seems has always been a bit of a haven for artists, at one point, the reverend was proud to announce that William Blake himself was christened in their font. And there were clearly quite a few late RAs resting there too.

Once the service was over we all strolled back to the Academy, we showed our tickets, received a lists of works booklet and were let into the Summer Exhibition. We strode on into the exhibition taking a glass of bubbly from a tray.

It was then time to find my own work. The Royal Academy is a bit of a maze if you are not overly familiar with it. The larger scale work was all hung in the larger more central rooms, but I found another room to the side which had lots of smaller works hanging and I knew I must be close to mine as the works all seemed to be prints - surely mine would be hanging with the other prints... Then as a group of artists moved I caught a glimpse of it - the colours of my print and my gold frame really stood out among the other mostly black and white etchings and woodcuts surrounding it, and it was placed in such a prominent position - right opposite the door, in the middle of the wall.

Wow! It was just amazing to see it there. It looked like it belonged there, yet I was pleased that it looked significantly different to the other work. Not at all bad for a print that was produced by hand on my dining table.

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, president of the Royal Academy was due to give his speech and announce the winners of this year's prizes at 1pm and I was getting a bit light-headed from my drink, so after I'd visited my print, I investigated the food before the speeches started. I had a delicious bowl of strawberries and cream and I was delighted to find the staff very attentive when it came to filling up my glass again!

Once the speeches and awards were over, I went to have a really good look at everything. The exhibition was excellent, a great mix of contemporary and traditional. It was fabulous to see the RA's work - they are entitled to submit 6 pieces each. As Nicholas Grimshaw was very keen to point out in his speech however, sixty percent of the work exhibited in the Summer Exhibition is by non-RA artists. I'm glad I'm going back for the Private View as it was quite a lot to take in all at once. Also I've had chance to study the exhibitors list more thoroughly and I've found a few pieces that I want to investigate further! Maybe I'll do a full review of the exhibition once I've been again for the Private View.

I did make sure I got a good look at the work in the Harry and Carol Djanogly Gallery however, the room housing my work. The prints alongside mine are wonderful, so detailed! Also, my room contains the artist's books which are rather special, not to mention opposite my work are prints by Tracy Emin RA, and to the side I noticed floral work by Dame Elizabeth Blackadder RA and abstract pieces by Gillian Ayres RA. My little print is going to be in very good company for the next ten weeks or so!


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