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Exhibiting in the RWA

Back in September of 2022, I was very pleased to hear that one of two pieces I had entered into the Royal West of England's Annual Open had been accepted to be exhibited and put up for sale. As someone who had only exhibited in shows I had a personal hand in hanging or working on, this was equal parts exciting and daunting!

RWA's 169th Annual Open (8 Oct 2022 - 8 Jan 2023)

The RWA is a stunning building. Bristol's first art gallery, it was recently refurbished under 'The Light and Inspiration Project'. The building was constructed in 1858, with the Academy starting just before that. Since 1844, the Academy has held an Annual Open, with only few breaks for unforeseen events like WW2 and the Covid Pandemic. This year, 2022, marks their 169th Annual Open.

I entered two pieces in the open and was happy to find I was successful with my woodcut reduction 'Parrot Vision 2022'. This piece was created in late January of 2022 suring a time when I had started to explore more unusual, mutated birds. The print was created using hardwood plywood I had bought in bulk from a DIY shop and a reduction print method, printing using a rolling relief press. The piece of wood I used was one of my larger slices, as I had cut the large sheet down into various random pieces. Therefore, I was challenged with creating a piece I thought would best fill the wood without wasting any. I had been playing with the imagery of birds with multiple eyes (or at least more than the usual two) and had drawn a piece in my sketchbook of a parrot silhouette with many watching eyes. Playing with the idea of being watched by a domesticated bird pet was interesting to me and I found the shape of the bird striking. The piece ended up being five colour layers not including the white of the paper, which was a lovely Canaletto. The colours I used were all mixed from the same base elements in order to ensure a sense of progression and make sure it was cohesive, except the blue-black final layer which was designed to be a tad colder and harsher to create the contrast and shadow.

Upon hearing my piece, 'Parrot Vision 2022' had made it into the exhibition I had a few things to do in order to get it there. First, a frame was needed. Luckily, I knew of the perfect place to get one made. I took my woodcut down to a framer in Falmouth, Eat Art. Without sounding like an ad, I've greatly enjoyed all the frames Mark and Eat Art have been able to make for me, usually with short notice, and the amazing advice they've given. I am not a detail orientated person... Well, that's a small lie, but I'm not good at displaying my own work. I'm very much exemplified by the phrase 'slap-dash', if I can put a bit of tape and whack something on a wall, in most cases I will. However, I am also aware that the way a piece is hung and framed can do a lot to its interpretation and visual. Choosing simply between a light and dark frame can drastically change a piece and the focus of it. For this piece in particular Mark advised me on getting a frame that would work well with the marks within the piece, thus a dark burnt-oak frame was commissioned and created. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't get a close or detailed picture of the piece in its frame; a great shame, for the dark tones and wood grain used worked exceptionally well against the marks of the piece.

After getting the piece framed, I had to rely on friends to help me transport it, for which I am eternally grateful to Georgie and Emily. Luckily, I didn't have to arrange a road trip all the way to Bristol and, instead, was able to drop off the framed piece in Penzance. Then came some much-adored admin (read: torture) and finally the piece was out of my hands and into the world.

The opening of the RWA's Open was split into three events, a private view/opening night in two time slots to allow for a lot of indoor foot traffic while being covid-cautious and the 'Varnishing Day' that would be hosted only for exhibiting artists and just a tad earlier. I attended the Varnishing Day however was unable to stay for the later opening. A Varnishing Day is a term used to describe the day artists would come into a gallery and put the final coat of varnish on their work before exhibition. In this case it became a wonderful couple of hours where one could get a 'sneak peek' at all the work and mingle amongst other exhibitors. I was more than eager to wander around the gallery and listen to different people talking about their work and processes. That day I was able to spot some really fantastic pieces and brushed shoulders with some truly lovely people.

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful high ceiling and well-lit historic building, a gallery space. Now fill it, throw art everywhere, line the walls with hundreds of pieces. This is what confronted me when I walked in, pieces were everywhere, hung in conversation and complexity. The rooms had themes ebbing and flowing across the wall. My favourite was (surprise, surprise) the wall of woodcut and printmaking focused practices, though there were various other paintings, tapestries and sculptures that I enjoyed. Hanging work in this manner is known as 'salon style hanging' or 'Royal Academy' style hanging and is something that has hugely appealed to me.

I've always found, hanging work in crowds (or flocks, haha) allows for really interesting juxtapositions and conversations between pieces. This is, of course, just one style of hanging and not always the most appropriate but it is something I have dabbled with during my graduate show at Falmouth University. One advantage of such a hang is that you can display a lot more work, and, with around 600 pieces this year, this was a necessity. Furthermore, it creates bridges and links between work, exploring similarities of theme or technique. It is a fantastic, sometimes overwhelming, method of hanging. However, this style is not without flaws, for example, some pieces might display better less surrounded, or one might struggle to see a piece hung further away or in a more crowded position.

Now, I'll be direct; I walked around the exhibition, split between four distinct gallery spaces, at least four times before finding my own piece. This was both fantastic and nerve-wracking, allowing me to really look at other pieces and appreciate my peers work; it forced to me on a sort-of 'Where's Wally?'-eaque hunt. As I began to worry my work had actually been rejected in the last minute, I looked up and there it was. 'Parrot Vision 2022', with its seven eyes staring back at me. Hanging on the dark red walls of the Methuen Gallery, quite high up, my woodcut looks over the scope of the room. It sits within a flock of figurative pieces. And there it will stay until January 8th. So, if you happen to be in the Bristol area and feel like seeing a frankly ludicrous amount of art head to the RWA!

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