The theme of this year’s Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, the world’s oldest open submission exhibition, is “Only Connect,” taken from the famous quote in Howards End by E.M. Forster:
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”
“I began thinking about what “only connect” meant to me,” says Fiona Carvell. “I had been working on a series of still life pieces that have physical reflective properties. This often resulted in the finished piece containing at least one distorted self-portrait although it may be somewhat hidden. The teapot series was a development of this but became much more than simply reflecting the artist.
“Tea is never just about tea. It’s about listening, sharing, supporting, and putting the world to rights. It’s a national obsession, a daily routine, and rooted deep within our culture.
“I put out a call to my local community for teapots. The brief was simple – one teapot per household. It was to be their choice; I had no idea what would turn up, I just had to deal with it.
“The response was amazing.
“As well as familiar faces and friends, I had complete strangers turning up on my doorstep, telling me their life stories, memories of family, and living in the local area. Some pots were precious, some handmade, some from community groups. Over the course of two months, I painted five teapot pictures in soft pastel. Each features three or four pots, brought together in one picture to reflect the community and the spirit of what it means to share.
“I entered Tea and Sympathy for the Summer Exhibition. It features Rosie’s rather splendid, highly decorative teapot which belonged to her grandmother. Rosie recalled cleaning it very carefully as a child and it now has a special place in her home, kept in a display cabinet.
“The pink teapot was handmade by Susan. Susan and I went to art college together and she is a very dear friend. The metal teapots came from St. Cuthbert’s church hall in Shotley Bridge. These are used for Christenings, weddings, coffee mornings, and the like, so have served hundreds, possibly thousands of cups of tea over the years.
Go from feeling afraid to show off your pastel paintings to being proud of your skills in just three days. Join Fiona Carvell at Pastel Live, August 17-19, 2023.
“This picture means a great deal to me because it’s about my local community and the connections between us. I first started teaching drawing classes in the church hall, so it’s wonderful to have that acknowledgment within the picture. If you look closely, there is also the smallest self-portrait I have ever painted.
“I have been fortunate in being accepted by several prestigious exhibitions in recent years, but I have to admit, being accepted for the RA is something I only ever dreamt about and I feel hugely honored! My work is hung in Room 6, which has been curated by Clare Woods RA and painted in the most fabulous green. Woods has arranged the display to follow in color and tone, starting with monochrome and subdued tones, which gradually build to a full riot of deep, rich color as you move around the room from left to right across the four walls.
“My piece is hung amongst the transitional stage from monochrome to color. It is a stunningly beautiful, opulent display. I could have stayed there all day, just soaking it up, feeling very thankful and just a bit emotional, especially as a red dot had appeared to indicate it had been sold.”
Held at the Royal Academy of Arts at Piccadilly in London, the 255th Summer Exhibition runs through August 20, 2023.