Sarah Mayhew Craddock takes a look at local artists’ work showing at the Royal Academy

There are few greater accolades in an artist’s life than to gain the statement “RA” after your name, and there are few more exciting moments in an artist’s career than hearing that an artwork has been selected to go on show in the world’s largest open submission exhibition, London’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

A stalwart in the calendar of art enthusiasts around the globe, the Summer Exhibition has been held every year without interruption since 1769 and continues to play a significant part in raising funds to finance the current students of the RA Schools.

This year the Royal Academy’s Summerexhibition has been co-ordinated by the leading British artist and influential teacher Michael Craig-Martin CBE RA, this year. Turning some traditions on their heads, Craig-Martin has focused on a new layout of the Main Galleries that sees rooms characterised by vibrant colours.

However, the link between the Summer Exhibition and the RA Schools is a tradition that Craig-Martinis keen to impress the importance of upholding: “It is not always fully appreciated that the funds raised by the Summer Exhibition contribute towards the funding of the RA Schools which are the only graduate art school in England which does not charge tuition fees.”

More than 1,000 artworks are on display in the show, many of them by the famous and influential artistssuch as Jim Lambie, Liam Gillick, Tom Phillips, William Kentridge, and Conrad Shawcross. Yet there are also several works by enormously talented artists making work closer to home.

I last saw the work of Debbie Sutcliffe from Milton, in an ink-laden letterpress studio in Hurst Street, Oxford, during Oxfordshire Artweeks in May – quite a leap from East Oxford to the esteemed walls of the Royal Academy. Debbie Sutcliffe’s sexy, sultry lines describe the human figure by carving up the picture plane in a sculptural fashion and igniting the imagination through their simplicity.

Debbie Sutcliffe produces limited edition prints, mostly of the human figure and mostly drawn from life. She exhibits a monochrome linocut entitled The Dancer in the Summer Exhibition. Whilst Sutcliffe’s lines are clean and contemporary, it comes as little surprise to learn that she regularly exhibits in the annual touring exhibition organised by the Society of Wood Engravers for, as with the work of many wood engravers, there is a tremendous sense of physicality and weight to Sutcliffe’s works, a tangible relationship between the artist and the oeuvre.

“I started engraving on wood initially but switched to lino fairly quickly when I wanted to work to a larger format,” said Sutcliffe. “It has been suggested that my style is more suited to screenprinting but I am too much in love with the process of engraving to want to change.”

Jane Dowling, of Charlton-on-Otmoor, also employs an elegant, refined technique in her work. Dowling’s trademark ethereal layers of thinly-applied paint are replaced with distinctive, wispy mark-making in her intimate oil painting Beach Scene, on display in the Summer Exhibition.

Lucy Pratt’s studio is located in Hook Norton and her oil paintings, conveying the vitality and spirit of a joyous moment, are just the kind of work that one might imagine would be created there. Regardless of the palette, Pratt’s dappled paint application resembles the delightful pattern of a Cotswold stone wall. Her subject matter varies from seascapes and landscapes, the sights soaked up during overseas adventures, to London cityscapes and the quaint sights Pratt observes along Cornwall and Devon coastlines. All are united by gentle curves that instil a sense of the transient moment in Pratt’s work. Pratt has two works on display in the Summer Exhibition, Guzzling Gourmets and Ristorante Ciak, Monterosso Al Mare, that I can’t help but feel might poke a little fun at the lifestyles of Pratt’s gentrified neighbours in the quaint corners of the Cotswolds.

Also employing caricature, I was thrilled to see that the wonderful world of North Leigh’s Eleanor Clutton-Brock has made its way to the walls of the Royal Academy in the form of a small sculpture, Strictly Bull Dancing. Clutton-Brock has established a reputation for her somewhat obscure fusion of realistic and anthropomorphic paper and wire figures that bring together classical mythology and modern events that often tell stories, or comment on contemporary society. Sue Cave, of Little Tew, works out of a studio in Kirtlington Park where she paints in oils, watercolour and various drawing media. It is Cave’s exquisite pencil drawings and wood engravings that often describe various types of wooden forms that capture my imagination, and it is pleasing to see that one such work, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang... is on display in the Summer Exhibition.

Also inspired by nature and naturally occurring compositions, Printmaker Rachel Gracey takes her inspiration from the beauty of University Parks and the seasonal changes in the natural world around her. Interested in the power of line, shape and colour, Gracey works from a garden studio at her home in North Oxford, using her Victorian Mann Direct printing press she creating monumental lithographs and smaller-scale lino prints. On display in the Summer Exhibition is a striking woodcut and linocut, small scale yet evocatively large, from her University Parks series.

Ken Organ, of Steventon, is exhibiting an acrylic on canvas painting called Stubble. The painting is a beautiful, and expertly executed, bird’s eye view of scrubland that possesses a charming ponderous quality. Less charming, but Equally ponderous is the hauntingly unforgettable Colloquium by Robbie Wraith from Holton. Famed for his portraits, Robbie Wraith is, to quote Prince Charles (I jest not), “ a remarkable draughtsman…” This, of course, is the result of innumerable hours of observation and exhaustive effort to acquire the necessary skills to be able to conjure up such “magic”.

Wraith possesses a rare talent, he certainly does conjure up such “magic”, and it is no exaggeration to describe his work as exceptional.

Where & When
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
10am to 6pm daily until Sunday August 16
Tickets £13.50; under 16s free from