Northbound artworks

Highlights of the Royal Academy of Art's Summer Exhibition are heading to the Zillah Bell Gallery in Thirsk next month. Yvette Huddleston reports.
SUMMER EXHIBITION: Includes Byblos by Gillian Ayre.SUMMER EXHIBITION: Includes Byblos by Gillian Ayre.
SUMMER EXHIBITION: Includes Byblos by Gillian Ayre.

The Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhbition – the largest open submission contemporary art show in the world – is one of the cultural highlights of the year, but as it takes place in London it’s not necessarily accessible to many art lovers in the North.

However, that has been remedied over the past few years by The Zillah Bell Gallery in Thirsk which, after the exhibition in Burlington House is taken down, brings a number of the artists’ works up to the small North Yorkshire market town.

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The Original Print Show, now in its fourth year, gives people the opportunity to enjoy – and perhaps buy – new works in print by established and emerging artists. Every genre of printmaking is represented including etchings, engravings, lithographs and screen-prints.

The works on show in Thirsk have been selected by renowned landscape artist Norman Ackroyd. Yorkshire-born and a Royal Academician for over 25 years, Ackroyd has chosen his favourite pieces from the print rooms in the 2017 Summer Exhibition.

“It’s a very simple and personal process,” he says. “I just go in and have a really good look at the exhibition a few times and the ones that really stand out are the ones I choose. The rooms at the Royal Academy are probably the best print rooms in the whole of Europe. It has become a really important centre for prints.”

Of the 4,000 submissions to the Summer Exhibition, around 450 are hung in the print rooms and Ackroyd has made his selection from those – around 60 works from 45 artists. “It is not difficult,” he smiles. “I really like everything I have chosen. It is fun as well as something really worth doing.”

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Among the work on display in Thirsk will be pieces by some of the mostly highly regarded artists working in the UK today including Tracey Emin, Cornelia Parker, Christopher Orr, Gillian Ayres, Stephen Chambers, Eileen Cooper and Michael Craig-Martin. Their work will hang alongside prints by some of the most exciting young artists coming on to the UK art scene.

“There is some really good stuff going on in the print world at present,” says Ackroyd. “Of the prints I have chosen for Thirsk probably half of them are by academicians, but others are by artists I have never even heard of – I just like their work. There are always emerging artists, people coming up behind you – it is a continual evolution, that is the beauty of it.”

Buying original prints is a good way to begin an art collection, says Ackroyd, as it is an affordable way to acquire the work of nationally or internationally known artists which would otherwise be out of most people’s price range.

“People buy prints to start with and then they might buy a watercolour or a painting,” says Ackroyd. “It gets people started.”

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Ackroyd has been exhibiting his own work at Zillah Bell Gallery for more than a quarter of a century and will be bringing new work to the gallery again in December.

“The thing about Thirsk is that it’s accessible from the North, South, East and West. When we do the preview of the exhibition at the gallery we artists coming from all over the place,” says Ackroyd. “I think it is great that people from all over Europe and even further afield end up in Thirsk – that is quite magical.”

The Original Print Show curated by Norman Ackroyd at Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, September 9-October 14.