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Exhibition has an important purpose

Back in the 1920s, three judges sat in contemplation of the submissions of a wide range of amateur artists. One was Sir Kenneth Clark, the great art historian, and together they unanimously awarded first prize to 'a picture of a red house in the sunlight with snow on the roof, painted with great vigour'.

The winner was Winston Churchill, and it is interesting to note that his success was entirely independent of his own, by then already established, public reputation - the competition entries had been anonymous.

Churchill was, during his lifetime, a prodigious artist. His work includes pictures painted during active service in the First World War as well as landscapes from a wide variety of settings across the world - portraits, pictures of buildings, and still life.

Any of these paintings would today be of enormous value because of their authorship, but what is revealed by the story above is that Churchill was, in his own right and quite independent of his political career, an artist of outstanding quality. He was also an outstanding journalist. He wrote drama. And, surprisingly, despite being one of the most prodigious historians of this century, Sir Winston also enjoyed building walls - he was in fact a very capable 'brickie'.

What interests me in all this is not so much the diversity of his skills, and the energy of the man, but what motivated him to work in all these creative fields.

I suppose bricklaying was pure release and relaxation, while his work as a journalist and historian was respectively the source of his early and later livelihood. But his creative writing and painting were motivated by entirely different needs. Certainly, as with bricklaying, there was relaxation but I suspect that he found that the medium of painting enabled, on the one hand, a unique form of expression and, on the other, a powerful mode of contemplation.

In this age of increasing specialisation, where relaxation and entertainment are ever more commodities that are routinely packaged and delivered as service industries, it is impressive to see people who are committed - for whatever reason - to creative leisure pursuits, especially when these involve the arts, and where the pursuit informs and underpins their professional life.

And this is why the annual exhibition of architects' paintings held at the RIBA is so interesting. I visited this year's show a few weeks ago (as always, ably organised by the Society of Architect Artists) and was again amazed by the enormous variety and often outstanding quality of exhibits.

Among a rich array of contributions by unknown architects, there was also work by established figures such as AJ cartoonist Louis Hellman, who exhibited six collages, Leonard Manasseh, and David Rock, whose Pentel and watercolour works included several delightful French scenes.

But above all, what is important is that here is rich evidence of architects (and the occasional Honorary Fellow of the Institute such as Ben Johnson) who still find time and reward in such creative work despite the ever-increasing tendency for contractual and administrative pressures to overwhelm our professional lives.

Albeit a small item on the Institute's calendar, it is truly marvellous to see the annual exhibition of architects' art in such good health. Long may it continue.

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