I am just in after visiting the RWA’s annual Open Exhibition this morning. It is pouring with rain outside so a good day for a few hours at the Royal West of England Academy of Art. But I came home with very mixed feelings (and a little wet). It wasn’t because of the lovely catch up with one of my arty friends in the new cafe (must try the cake next time!), nor was it because of the great number of wonderful paintings and drawings I found inside the RWA. As always the exhibition is huge, almost too much to take in in one visit. There is a lot to see and a lot of it is really interesting, challenging, beautiful, skilful or simply fun.
A Confession First
But I must write a disclaimer first. I might be slightly biased after all. I think I am over it by now, but who knows what’s still going on in a dark corner of my mind? The RWA has selected my work for this show every year since 2011, but this year they had other ideas. I purposefully did not go and see the show too soon to make sure I would not walk around it with gritted teeth. And I didn’t. We all get refusals and we all dust ourselves off and move on. I was expecting a good show (I heard from some great artists friends they did get selected), perhaps a slight change of direction and as always a bit of a mix.
A mix it was. I must admit I aim to write an exhibition review with just positives. I am always on the side of the artists and know how delighted they must be for getting selected. So even though I might not like everything I see, I ignore those pieces and tell you about the good bits.
But I must say that the RWA is really not doing itself any favours by selecting a lot of clearly bad art. If you want art to be in the category of ‘my little sister could have done that’ (you know the type) then you must at least have one hell of a concept going on. But if there is no concept, and no skills, you really have very little left. There were simply too many art works in this exhibition that looked like school work. It’s not naive or expressionist. And it’s fooling judges.
Some Great Art Too
All that said, the 2017 Open Exhibition has a lot of wonderful art to enjoy as well, and that is what I’ll focus on. The exhibition is truly mixed in subject matter, medium and materials as well as a very mixed hang.
The two main exhibition spaces feature mostly big colourful paintings and photographs, some sculptures. Then there is the black and white room (although not restricted to drawings and prints), and another fairly colourful room with smaller pieces, and the last room might have an architectural theme, I am not sure. The black and white room works really well and has some beautiful pieces in it such as the works from Malcolm Ashman, Anthony Connolly and I am secretly in love with the cute little rabbit by Katy Shepherd.
Other works that stood out for me were the refined and delicate piece from Rosalind Robinson, the emotionally charged piece by Lisa Stokes, and (you’d guess I’d like it) Irene Jones’s large Tudor-esque work. Philippa Robbins’ piece also stood out for its wonderful play of patterns and dress.
Max Mansbridge-West’s had a very beautiful drawing on show, Ian Price and Tom Hughes had some beautiful Bristol scenes. The graphite portrait by Bill Prosser is amazing as well; the little Mickey Mouse makes me wonder who the sitter Mark is?
Although the show is let down by a number of very weak pieces and the chaotic hang, there are plenty of beautiful art works to enjoy in this show.
If ever one needs some Christmas presents this is the place to go with plenty of lower priced works available as well as large contemporary pieces for a bigger budget. Just make sure you peek around a corner, and scan around the skirting boards as otherwise you might well miss a lovely piece. The RWA shop also has an original collection of greeting cards and other products on sale which I always like. Go and see it all for your self and let me know whether you agree with me or not.
RWA Open Exhibition
1 October – 3 December 2017
Adults: £6.95 (includes a 70p donation)
Concessions: £4.95 (includes a 50p donation)
Under 16s/SGS, UoB & UWE students: FREE
National Art Pass holders: 50% discount on ticket price
Tuesday to Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 11am-5pm and bank holiday Mondays. Last entry is half an hour before closing time.
A short video: