ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS 255th SUMMER EXHIBITION
13th JUNE - 20th AUGUST 2023
I have 3 paintings and 3 prints in this year’s show. “England’s Glory” is a new 7 colour lithograph printed at Curwen, Worton Hall. I lived in the small town of Buckingham for 20 years and got to know it’s eccentricities. When I went to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire last year, I found a similar set of extraordinary tales. Fosset’s Circus wintered there in 1939and stayed for the duration of the war. When it finally departed, one of the elephants was left behind and for years and was taken for exercise down the Main Street. My imagination was fired by the circus ‘left overs’ living in a small town, already famed for its oddness. This and many other tales about small towns are what I call “England’s Glory.”
We all know there have been a lot of changes in the last couple of years. My engraving and lithograph “Changing Deckchairs” celebrates (or commiserates) on the shenanigans of recent times. The futility of making an alteration in the seating plan when the ship is heading for disaster is in all our consciousness. In my picture, chucking out the surplus furniture and the baby with the bathwater is another attempt to save the situation.
“Theatre of the Absurd” is a painting about the follies in the theatre of life. All theatre is absurd, but some theatre is more absurd. As a child my experience of theatre was limited to my father dressing up for amateur dramatics. The oddness of my Father dressing up as a colonel(which he wasn’t) or pretending he was Henry the V111, made me question what else around me was bonkers. When I encountered the real Theatre of the Absurd (Ionesco etc) I took to it like a duck to water. Dig a little deeper into anything and you will start to find absurdities. My “Theatre of the Absurd” grew out of drawings I did after seeing Ken Dodd do one of his legendary 4 hour stand up performances. Ken is not in the picture, but his spirit is.
“Ship” is a new painting. For me boats and ships have always been important subjects. My very successful etching “The small Titanic” of 1995, (my Diploma work for entry into the Royal Academy) had its origins in a trip as a10 year old across the Channel on an overnight ferry. My cut away drawings of all the goings on (influenced a little bit by those wonderful Eagle Comic double page spreads) led to many “opening the doll’s house door” ideas. “Ship” comes from this tradition but owes something to Plato’s Ship of State and Ship of Fools expounded in his “Republic”. Voyages are always risky and inside ships there are many twists and turns of power and fate. Who would have believed a year ago that Britain would now be dropping the Pilot and changing deckchairs?
Distinctly different is my painting “Beirut2022”. Made from a rooftop in downtown Beirut last year. I wanted to make a painting about this complex, beautiful and tragic place through directly recording the cityscape. The view is towards the port where the dreadful explosion took place in 2020. I wanted the painting to be calm but containing a hidden dark story. Beirut was once known as the Paris of the Middle East. Now it is the centre of a failed state with rampant inflation, limited basic services and an agonising gulf between rich and poor.
‘Circle Shuffle’. “Ring a ring o roses, a pocket full of posies” may be about the 1665 Great Plague of London, but dancing around in a circle holding hands and singing must go back to the earliest periods of human history. The circle communicates unity of experience and purpose. The equality of a circle makes everybody united, and mutual touching bonds the participants together. I started a series of drawings where a mixture of characters dance in a circle. The direct purpose is not stated. Rhythm, indrawing figures is a compositional necessity. Human bodies naturally dance. I have to choreograph my characters. In my print there are circles within circles within circles. And then there are half circles waiting to be completed. With the humans it’s easy, but do animals ever dance collectively? Murmurations of starlings or a pack of wolves come to mind.
I have an exhibition of new work with the Jill George at the Coningsby Gallery 30 Tottenham Street London W1T 4RJ from October 16th to 28th 2023. Watch this space for more information.
As always, you are very welcome to visit my studio in Battersea by appointment to view and buy the whole range of my work. I am continuing to post regularly on Instagram @chrisorrra
Chris Orr Summer 2023