The Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) Annual Exhibition, just opened in London, has something for everyone. It boasts hundreds of works, from near photo-realistic portraits such as the exquisite one above by Chinese artist Chuanxing Zeng, through representational landscapes, impressionist scenes, to semi-abstract and fully abstract designs.
The variety extends through genres to technique too. Zeng’s portrait, for example, with its wonderful depiction of detail and light, uses thinned down paint with many glazes. You wait for one colour to dry and then repeat over and over finally adding more linseed oil at the end to give it more appeal. Everything is blended so that you see no brush strokes. By contrast, other portraits and landscapes on show comprise thick impasto sweeps of the brush where the paint itself is very much in focus, sometimes almost ladled on with a palette knife.
Linda Alexander’s work falls into the near-photo realist category. Being an architect by training may explain the precision in her work. Like a photograph, she manages to render the background petals out of focus. “I use wet on wet, it’s very hard”, she tells me.
Alexander has five works in the exhibition. The way it works is that each full member of the Institute can enter five works which go through a selection panel of 15 of their peers. If 12 give it the thumbs up, you’re in. This process is to ensure that high standards are maintained. There are about 70 members in all. Non-members can enter six works but can only have up to four accepted.
Peter Graham is a graduate from the Glasgow School of Art whose style is purely impressionistic. He’s noted for his bold colours and is less concerned with detail. In Cassis Roses, above, the blaze of red and orange colours unify the painting with the darker colours providing the balancing contrasts. He never uses photography to aid his work, saying that this is how to get to the heart of it.
Brian Ryder’s work is similarly expressionistic but consists mainly of landscapes and urban scenes. He has been a professional painter for almost four decades and holds the accolade of never having had a work rejected by the ROI. The scene in Venice, above, is notable for its soft edges. Every transition between one element and another, be it between the back building and the tree or the tree against the figure, he has softened. As ROI’s Vice-President Adebanji Alade comments, “The difference between what he’s able to harden and what he’s able to soften brings out the beauty in his work.” There are high contrasts too. The painting seems to radiate heat.
Among the abstract painters, Helen Hale is particularly notable. She uses textures, shapes and colour to make bold statements to convey a certain feeling or mood. Her main strengths are colour and balance. “She’s thinking how she can work within a space and bring out the elements of line, contrast, texture and dominance,” says Alade.
If I had to pick a favourite at this year’s exhibition it would be Peter Wileman’s Cobalt Drift. A former ROI president and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, his more representational, impressionistic style has loosened up in recent times to become semi-abstract. In particular, he is fascinated by seascapes. He has added an oil bar and used some splattering in breaking down the scene. His use of contrasting but vivid colours and the sense of infinity and darkening mood it engenders is a real joy.
You can visit the exhibition at the Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1 until 9 December 2018 from 10am – 5pm. All works are for sale.
The images are courtesy of the gallery, the ROI and the artists.