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Around the galleries

NEAC – Contemporary art in a traditional mould

— December 2012

Associated media

The NEAC open exhibition at the Mall Galleries, with tables set for the Critics' Lunch

The New English Art Club’s annual show is a treat for lovers of representational art

Where would you see drawings by HRH The Prince of Wales close by work by some of Britain’s most famous living artists – Diana Armfield, Ken Howard and Anthony Green, for instance – as well as paintings by new artists just starting out? The New English Art Club’s Annual Open Exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries is full of varied and interesting work but everything shown here has one thing in common – it is representational art created from observation. If you want conceptual art created from theory, this is not the place to find it. That said, the work here is highly varied – and so are the prices, most of it being for sale (not HRH’s!).

As this is a selling exhibition, I have given prices for the paintings discussed below. These vary greatly, largely depending on the ‘pulling power’ of the artist concerned. By no means are the less expensive works inferior to those at higher prices – indeed, some of my favourites fell into the former camp. A great point with the Mall Galleries is that they do have a scheme for payment by instalments, which will render these works more affordable for many people.

A number of NEAC members are also Royal Academicians but here you can see their work without the overcrowding so often found at the RA Summer Exhibition. Diana Armfield RA is showing First Flush, Camellias in the Studio (oil, £7,000) and the charming small painting The Dogs in Rome (oil, £5000), in which two dogs play or scrap in the foreground of a picture dominated by a parkland and a classical building – possibly the Tempietto.

Night Life (oil, £14,850), a rather dark painting of a church at night, by Saied Dai, looms over the viewer – surely the title is ironic? It is certainly atmospheric – and a complete contrast to the sunshine-filled, precisely delineated scenes of Parisian roofscapes by Benjamin Sullivan, such as Towards le Moulin de la Galette (oil, £3,400).

Richard Pikesley’s work is more impressionistic – for instance, the gentle atmospheric colouring his very large (47 x 55 inches) canvas Sheep Crossing  Stream, Axe Valley (oil, £6,200). The impressionist style is also seen in works by Ken Howard RA such as Sarah at Oriel (oil, £15,000) and The Loggia at Udine (oil, £12,500). Very different in its effects is the positively ‘technicolor’ work of Melissa Scott-Miller, whose Regent Canal at Angel (oil, barges on this north London canal) and North London Summer (oil, a view from above over adjoining suburban back gardens) (each £5500) seem to burst out of the canvas.

I have to admit something of a weakness for thick impasto paint – it has an almost edible quality that makes me want to sink my fingers into it. So I have to resist the urge to touch Peter Clossick’s work. Close up, his Sophia (oil, £4200) is a great yummy mass of paint, which resolves itself, as one steps back, into a seated figure of a woman. His large painting, Emily (oil, £7,900), has a similar effect.

For 30 years, William Bowyer RA was President of NEAC; now his son Jason holds that position. William Bowyer’s wife Vera Small is a sculptor and the couple’s other son, Francis, is a painter. Works by father and sons are all included in the show. William Bowyer shows works in both oil and watercolour. The Three Counties: Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire (watercolour, £3,500) gives a real feeling for open landscape while the expressionistic The Boat Cradle (oil, £5000) homes in on a rural working scene.

By contrast, Francis Bowyer’s Blue Studio (oil, £5,000) is almost abstract, the walls, sloping ceiling and skylight seeming almost to dissolve in the eponymous colour. Jason Bowyer moves from the great outdoors in scenes such as Figures at Low Tide (oil, £2,800) – three tiny figures are dominated by the sea around them, which in turn is dominated by the sky – to interior scenes such as Workshop Movement (oil, £5,500), with its almost claustrophobic, enclosed and cluttered space.

Judith Gardner RBA is showing some lovely atmospheric landscapes that capture the feeling of limitless space that characterizes some parts of the countryside. Not surprisingly the very small (13 x 13 ins) Snowscape Bright Light (oil, £300) was already sold on day one but the stunning and very large (40 x 45 ins) Hopfields Evening Light (oil, £3500) was still unsold when I was there.

The work on show in this exhibition includes portraits, landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, town and country scenes, nudes and interiors. You will find it hard not to be tempted by at least one picture. The show is on until 9 December.


Frances Follin
Independent art historian

Background info

To see other work by the artists mentioned and by other NEAC members go to the NEAC website.
Admission to the NEAC Annual Open Exhibition is £2.50 or £1.50 for concessions. Free to Art Fund members (National Art Pass holders) and Friends of the Federation of British Artists.  There is absolutely no pressure to purchase. A catalogue is available price £5. The last day is Sunday 9 December.
The Mall Galleries are open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the exhibition is on. For location in The Mall see the Galleries’ website.
If you would like to support the work of NEAC (a registered charity that provides training for artists in observational drawing – no longer taught at most art schools), you can become a Friend of  NEAC. Visit the NEAC website for details.  See also our Art News section.

Margaret Thomas NEAC has been a working artist for nearly 80 years. A section of the current show is devoted to her work. See our Art News November

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