RA Summer Exhibition 2014: meet two of the artists showcased in this year’s show

Thousands of artists enter the great RA Summer Exhibition lottery - but only a few are chosen


Nicky Carvell


30, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire 

The Summer Exhibition is unique. I remember going with school when I was a kid and I couldn’t work out what was going on because there were over a thousand pieces of work there, from all different walks of life, all different threads of culture and I just thought, “This is brilliant!”

I’m over the moon to have two pieces of work in this year’s show. I’ve been in it before – in the room reserved for students from the Royal Academy Schools – but this is the first year I’ve gone through the whole selection process.

I’ve been studying art all my life, really. As a child I used to just draw rabbits, but it’s gone a bit abstract now. I work solely in print these days – the pieces in the summer show are digital print on cut-out aluminium. Working digitally, you can get this effect of layering that you can’t get with painting. You can change the opacity of each layer or go back through and revisit previous layers. It’s a more lively way of working.

My family are from the East End of London and that’s where I take a lot of my inspiration. I’m obsessed by EastEnders – I’ve based my hair on Peggy Mitchell – and wander round London all day asking, “What’s going on?” My art is the response to that question.

Twister, one of the pieces in the RA exhibition, is about imagining how it would be if a tornado ripped through Walthamstow. The other piece in the show, Tropical Monocle is about fantasising ideal lands when you look at a holiday brochure. There’s a lens-like ellipse that you look through, as if into another world. It’s abstract, but it’s based on very strong ideas about how the world is mediated, how we see everything through screens.

I work in the Royal Academy bookshop to finance my work – everyone who works there is an artist. They won’t let me into the show for a preview but I’ve been peeking. I saw that there’s a Yinka Shonibare [Royal Academician and holder of an MBE] and it’s just such a buzz to be showing alongside someone like that.

It’s really odd when they do let you in for Varnishing Day – the private view before the show opens to the public. You don’t want to look rude, rushing around looking for your own work, ignoring everything else, but then when you do find your own piece – well, I screamed the last time and everyone stared. Maybe this time, with two pieces on show, I’ll scream double. 

Susan Bower

61, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire

I’ve submitted a painting every year since 1992. For about the first four years I was rejected, but now I get in more than I don’t get in. Being selected is like being invited to the most wonderful party. Of course, when you’re not invited it’s absolutely gutting. But I always go to the exhibition, whether I’m in it or not.

This year I submitted two oil paintings, one of two women dancing and one of a nun on a bicycle. They both got through to the final selection, but only the nun got hung. It depends very much on the personal preferences of the judges. My work is in galleries around the country and it’s nice to be able to say to the gallery owner, “I’ve got one in the Royal Academy this year”. And it was just wonderful for me, last year, to be in the same exhibition as Grayson Perry; that’s a thrill I’ll never forget.

I’ve been painting professionally for 30 years. I trained as a scientist, but I had four children and gave up work to look after them. I’d always loved drawing, then I started doing still lives and water colours and from there progressed to oils.

In my head, an “Academy picture” has to have an idea in it. With the nun painting I wanted to express the otherworldliness of the nun cycling along while we – and the cat – look on in wonderment.

As soon as I’ve submitted my pictures for one year, I’m thinking about what to do for the next. I’ve been lucky so far, but there’s an element of doggedness. I will do it till I die.


The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition runs from 9 June–17 August. Details at www.royalacademy.org.uk