175 years of the RCA

In 1837, the world’s first publicly funded design school opened in Somerset House on the Strand in London. Later, the Government School of Design was to change its name to the somewhat more grandiose Royal College of Art, change its location, and, just for good measure, change the world. A major new exhibition shows how

In 1837, the world’s first publicly funded design school opened in Somerset House on the Strand in London. Later, the Government School of Design was to change its name to the somewhat more grandiose Royal College of Art, change its location, and, just for good measure, change the world. A major new exhibition shows how

To celebrate its 175th anniversary, the RCA is staging The Perfect Place to Grow: 175 Years of the Royal College of Art, an exhibition of the work of its distinguished former students and staff (past and present) which opens to the public today. And it’s quite a show.


Composition (Thrust), David Hockney, 1962, Mixed media on board, © Royal College of Art Collection, painted while Hockney was a RCA student, and as it appears in the show (below left)

Hockneys (above) jostle with Hepworths and Rileys with Rhodes. Could any other institution put together such a star-studded accumulation of alumni?


Underground Roundel from Westminster Station, Edward Johnston, c.1930, © TfL, from the collection of London Transport Museum [Calligraphy staff 1901-39]

Originally, the School of Design was set up in order to train young craftsmen and artisans for work in the ceramics, textiles and ornamental crafts of Britain’s manufacturing industries. The show (co-curated by Dr Paul Thompson, Rector of the RCA and Robert Upstone of the Fine Art Society) is split into four sections, one of which, Art and Industry, examines these links and the tension they came under due to the emergence of fine art at the institution.


The Politial Expression section of the show features Bladerunner, directed by former student Ridley Scott


Stop the War campaign, David Gentleman, 2003, © David Gentleman [Graphic Design student 1950-53] and, below, as it appears in the show, alongside work from Jonathan Barnbrook



The Victorian notion of art in service to industry is contrasted by a Personal Expression section which looks at how those ideas were challenged in the 20th century. Political Expression (above) covers artists and designers whose work is overtly aligned to causes, including work by suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst who was jailed while a student at the RCA. The fourth section of the show, Public Purpose (below), concentrates on the RCA’s role in transforming Britain’s health, transport and built environments.

The Public Purpose section of the show features posters by Abram Games and Kinneir Calvert’s road signs (far wall)

Why Not Associates’ Sensation poster sits alongside its Comedy Carpet project and posters by RCA professor of illustration Andrzej Klimowski


Rolling Stones logo screenprint by John Pasche, who was commissioned by the band while still an RCA student


Ilustrations by Ian Dury (right) alongside work by Sir Peter Blake


Dany Bubbles, Ian Dury, 1966, Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, Courtesy of The Dury Family © Estate of the artist

Tracy Emin installation

The exhibition was designed by Casson Mann and Research Studios. An accompanying book, also designed by Research Studios, is published by Abrams & Chronicle

The Perfect Place to Grow is at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU until January 3, rca.ac.uk.

Exhibition photography supplied by the RCA



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