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I recently had a brief trip to London, and managed to fit in a few visits to art galleries and exhibitions. London is, apparently, now known as the cultural centre of the world. I would not disagree, as there seems to be Art, with a capital A, everywhere. All genres, all levels, bursting upon your senses from all directions. I am English, as some of you may already know, but I have lived in Malta for almost 40 years now. I am not sure which country I would call ‘home’ now, as I have put down roots in both. I also feel like an alien in both, which can be interesting – I can look at both cultures from the outside.

I can’t see myself ever moving back to England (but then who can say ‘never’ about anything; who knows?) but I do enjoy visiting, soaking up the vibrancy and inspiration of the arts scene. I often wonder what would have happened, where I would be now, if I had followed my tutors’ encouragement to apply for the Royal College of Art to further my studies. Instead, I left home to live with the current love of my life in Hull, about 200 miles north of London.

It’s one of the very few regrets of my life. The Royal College (assuming I had been accepted of course) would have set my life as an artist on a completely different course. Not that I regret what has happened since, but still……….

may2 346lrAnyway, on this visit my daughter and I first went to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. It was bursting with colour and a huge variation of works from all over the world. Some work we fell in love with, others we couldn’t get our heads around at all. A plain white canvas? Some muddy daubs? We decided that the exhibition was a little like an haute couture fashion show; you weren’t really expected to like everything, or even want all the pieces on display. The clothes and models might be completely outlandish, challenging you to consider different points of view around clothing and appearances.

Over 12,000 works are sent in to the Royal Academy for consideration every year, and only around 800 are eventually hung. So what happens to the work that is refused? For the last 25 years an enterprising gallery, the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery in The Cut on the South Bank, has revived the traditional ‘Salon de Refuses’. Here they will only consider work that has been rejected from the Royal Academy’s rigorous selection process.

68 lrWe went along to see this exhibition, and were fascinated. The gallery is quite small and there is not room to hang even a fraction of the paintings, which are stacked everywhere. Beautiful figurative works covered the walls and we could have browsed for hours. They accepted 1,200 pieces, by 800 different artists. As paintings sell, they are replaced by new works, so the exhibition changes continually over the weeks that it is open. Many people say that the collection of works here is much more interesting and original than that of the Royal Academy.

Another day, we went to the Affordable Art Fair on Hampstead Heath. Here were a mind-boggling 113 galleries showing all genres of art from £40 – £4,000. It’s not possible to wander this fair without being seduced by a beautiful piece of original art every other minute. I fell in love so many times! Fabulous paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings were all around us. There were also practical free demonstrations, talks and workshops, but we couldn’t stay for any as our time was limited.

Jim Lambie's entrance to Royal AcademyIt’s great to know that the art scene in general is alive and booming, that so much interest and support is being poured into creativity and innovation. The atmosphere is so exciting that it’s hard not to be inspired and stimulated by it.







It’s difficult to absorb so much visual stimuli in one go, and so I hope that the photos, leaflets, books and information that I gathered will continue to inspire me in my Malta studio for weeks and months to come.