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Still Life with Fossil Seafood - Royal Academy 2021

Anna Grayson originally read Geology at the University of St Andrews. It is an observational science and it was the aesthetics of the subject that drew her into it - the natural sculptures of fossils, crystals and landforms. After a great deal of hard graft however, she could not get a decent job as a geologist because of her gender, despite attending interviews dressed as a man...

Instead, she spent the bulk of her career working for the BBC, eventually becoming a presenter, mainly of science programmes including several dozen about geology. She won the Glaxo Welcome/ABSW award in 1999 for series of short films about British Geology and was also awarded the RH Worth Prize from the RA’s neighbours in Burlington House, the Geological Society.

In 2012, Anna took early retirement, fulfilled a life long secret ambition of going to Art School - Exeter School of Art - and has never looked back. By 2014 her work had been highly commended by the South West Academy and she had her first piece hung in the RA Summer Exhibition where it became partially obscured by red dots. This was her remake of the Arnolfini Portrait, and Anna went on to produce a whole collection of famous works of art re-imagined and updated as photographs. In 2018 two of her photographs were chosen by Grayson Perry to hang in his famous Yellow Room in the 250th anniversary RA Summer Exhibition. She has exhibited regularly with the South West Academy (and the Artizan Gallery & Words and Pictures in Devon) and has recently had a major solo show in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.

Still Life with Fossil Seafood was made as a response to Dutch still life paintings in the Wallace Collection, the National Gallery and in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. But it is more than that, as this picture has effectively been a whole lifetime in the making. Anna collected many of the specimens herself extracting them from the rock with bare hands and a geological hammer. Anna’s Mother once asked if ammonites would have been “nice to eat”, and yes they probably would. This thought lingered and the idea grew of replacing the wheels of cheese in a Dutch still life with ammonites, the red lobster with a grey fossil lobster, the glistening cut lemon with a Scottish agate, and the silverware vessels with geodes. Also one of the main themes of the classic still life is the memento mori - that reminder of the fate that awaits us all, that we’re all gonna die. The planet could die too (at least another mass extinction is on the way).You can’t really get more dead than a fossil, can you?



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