RA Now

Christopher Lebrun, recently appointed President of the RA, writes that by ‘showcasing work from current Royal Academicians, RA Now reads like a who’s-who of contemporary art and architecture: Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Zaha Hadid and Cindy Sherman to name a few’.

Describing it as ‘RAs from Anish to Zaha’ gives it a desirable international gloss, in a way that the less sexy but more accurate  ‘RAs from Ackroyd to Wragg’ could not. There is an element of over claiming here: if it’s a ‘who’s who’, there are certainly some obvious omissions: Riley, Auerbach, Hirst, Doig, Offili…

On the other hand it covers a much broader range than ever before and shows the RA finally reaching parts of the national (if not international) art scene it had previously failed to do. There is some strong British work by, among others, Tony Bevan (left), Stephen Chambers, Basil Beattie, Hughie O’Donoghue, Tess Jaray, and Maurice Cockrill, which have room to breathe in these galleries in a way they never do in the summer shows.

 

However, because the work has been donated to raise much needed funds, the quality is uneven, with some insubstantial pieces (from Hockney Emin, and Kapoor for example) appearing tokenistic. By trying to combine a survey with a sale also has the unintended effect of divorcing quality from value. Are visitors to conclude that Jenny Savile (£100,000 for pencil drawing) is a much more important artist than Hughie O’Donoghue or Basil Beattie (right), whose paintings range from £8000 to £12000?

RA Now, Royal Academy London, 11 October to 11 November 2012

Tony Bevan

Tony Bevan's new paintings (showing at Ben Brown Fine Arts until 5.11.08) are monumental and direct. Yet his vertiginous towers of charcoal and pigment are not simply studio constructions: they are buildings of the mind, muscular expressions of a desire to rescue order from chaos. If his blackened marks, deeply embedded in the soft weave of the canvas, accumulate with repetitive power, they also serve to reveal the fragile apparatus of the psyche.

Like the red bridge in his most striking picture, they are held together by the empty expanse of canvas which surrounds and contains them, projecting into space a concentrated presence reminiscent of the approach adopted by Francis Bacon and Philip Guston.

Elsewhere in the show  there is a noticeably lighter mood, particularly in his spare Chinese landscape forms, where a bodily presence is more playfully suggested. A carefully delineated hillside for example turns out to be the back view of a giant Buddha, his head - in contrast to the troubled and scarred visages of  some of Bevan’s earlier paintings - serenely turned away from the artist’s (and our own) remorseless gaze.