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Diversity is alive and well in London RAG artists’ show

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The Riverside Artists Group exhibition, Cavendish conference centre, London EC3. Photo: AFIS

Refreshing departures are evident in the latest appearance on the London art scene of a selection of works by members of the British capital’s Riverside Artists Group.

This west London clutch of artists exhibits once or twice a year in London and at least once a year in Spain, the latter feature a fruit of the artistic endeavours of a late member, José Suarez Varela, who passed in 2015. One of the early members of RAG, the much loved warm-hearted José earned praise for his prolific creativity and his organisational skills that produced regular shows in different cities of Spain in collaboration with private or public galleries.

The mantle of replicating many years of José Suarez Varela’s curatorial and organisational achievements in Spain is now on the shoulders of RAG member and Spanish artist Maria T Pastor, about which more follows below.

The current show at the quietly elegant Cavendish Venues centre in London’s financial district features paintings by artists working in various disciplines who pursue an eclectic mix of ideas and processes. Like this history-rich patch of London, it can be argued that most of the exhibiting artists are at various stages of discovery or fame. It was only in 1940, of course, that the Roman wall on which the modern Cavendish Venues building rests was uncovered by a World War II bombing. So momentous was the exposure of the ancient wall that, although previously named to honour King John (1166–1216), the street was renamed Crosswall. It is adjacent to 1 America Square, itself a nod to the long lost colonies (read the USA) of the British empire.

In that sense the venue’s eccentric and loaded history is a ready metaphor for the tangential nature of an average artist’s life.

Last year’s traumatic experience of a controversial British vote on leaving the European Union cut away at the aspirations of many London artists to extend and widen their horizons in continental Europe. The annual shows in Spain were and still are seen as a valuable stepping stone towards unexplored audiences on the continent. In the group’s earlier history there was indeed a show in Moscow, in 1989, but efforts to take the group beyond Spain and into more European venues were only just gaining a little traction when Brexit happened.

How the RAG would now expand outside the UK, if ever, can be anybody’s guess. The reality of post-Brexit costs of taking art works to Europe adds a new burden to the forbidding prospect of exhibiting abroad.

Be that as it may, the group soldiers on, amid hopes the multimillion pound regeneration of the erstwhile Riverside Studios, where the collective began in 1986, will miraculously restore to RAG its traditional seat. Until that happens, RAG group exhibitions must make the most of venues that accept and indulge their premise of collegiate self-curation, self-regulation and self-promotion. Again, miraculously, every now and then, all the desirable or required elements somehow click into place and new RAG shows occur with an amazing regularity and its member artists’ works on display do get bought.

After José Suarez Varela succumbed to a heart attack, poignantly soon after he moved to Spain to cap a long stint in London, it was a while before his tragedy-laden brief in RAG was picked up by Maria Pastor. Maria ‘Lola’ Pastor organised a group show in Madrid in 2016 and will do so again this year. From such unexpected happenings come unpredictable opportunities, or at least that’s what some hope.  The Madrid Teatro La Grada is a well frequented venue, and a small group of Londoners exhibiting their art in its dramatic setting no doubt is a sustainable novelty.

In the latest London show, which runs to December Christmas holidays, the variety of paths to abstraction chosen by the artists reveals how difficult, indeed pointless, it is to categorise or box either abstraction or artistic and technical innovation. Artists have used oils, acrylics, mixed media, board, canvas and wood cutouts to create upbeat, consumer friendly ‘cool’ or academic or conceptual wall-worthy works of art. The results are spirited and uplifting and indicate the group is confident of its present trajectory, imbued with a shared unspoken joy in fulfilling its purpose.

The artists in the current exhibition are: Susan Bazin; Lynne Beel; Clare Belfield; G. Calvert; Emma Davis; Brian Deighton; Josie Deighton; C. Morey de Morand; Clare Ellen; Chloe Fremantle; Máire Gartland; Saadeh George; Aude Grasset; Heather Gordon; Anton Harding; Pauline Harding; Graham High; Marianne Moore; Jane Oldfield; Maria T Pastor; Rennie Pilgrem; Romy Rey; Sajid Rizvi; Celia Toler; Greta Wakil; Marie Walshe and Stephen Williams. © Sajid Rizvi.

An Exhibition by Riverside Artists Group. April to December 2017. Cavendish Conference Centre, 1 America Square, 17 Crosswall, London EC3N 2LB. Viewing by appointment, T 4420 7706 7700 or email

Author: ACTEditor

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