RWA Open Exhibition 2018

The 166th RWA Open Exhibition is on again in Bristol, UK. This annual exhibition has been going strong for so many years it is a fixture in the art diary of the UK. This is my 7th time exhibiting with them and I am pleased to see my drawing has been given a top spot on the wall. The exhibition is large, varied and a candy store for collectors! All works are for sale, and prices ranging from £35 to £65,000. This year is similar to other years: there is a lot of figurative work on display, many with a conceptual twist. 

I love this exhibition, although I don't always love the works selected (I do love that they consistently select one of mine though! 😉 ). I love that this is a regional art institution that delivers fantastic shows, courses, and lectures without it having any provincial flavour to it at all. Sometimes it feels like 'everything' is always happening in London but the RWA is a heavy-weight in proving the opposite. They consistently deliver events that are interesting and full of content.

The annual open exhibition attracts thousands of submission from all over the country. This year 3232 works were submitted and a jury of experts selected 634 pieces to exhibit (which you can browse and buy online).

The Jury

Most of the jury changes every year and this year consisted of Stewart Geddes PRWAStephen Jacobson VPRWAFiona Robinson RWAElizabeth Turrell RWA and Chris Dunseath RWA as well as gallery director, curator and artist Zavier Ellis, art writer Laura Gascoigne, and art writer and critic and Curator of the Jerwood Collection Lara Wardle.

The Exhibition

As with every open exhibition there are prizes (many!), the largest being the Academy Prize of £1000. But what makes the RWA Open so fabulous is that it's huge, it's varied, there is total rubbish and there are fabulous pieces. A lot gets sold and a charity like the RWA needs the sales (as do the artists!) to survive. It is a great place to find out about artists you've never heard of, artists who've you been following for years and see what new work they've got, get surprises and be swept off your feet. 

Now I know many of you reading this will not visit the RWA as you might well be on the other side of the world. But I hope that seeing the pictures and the artists picked will provide some enjoyment nevertheless and a sense that you were there after all; even if it’s jus a little bit. if you are in the area I highly recommend visiting the exhibition, it certainly won’t dissappoint. You’ve got until 25 November 2018. There is some great art to enjoy and below I show some of my favourites as well as an overview. 

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Main Gallery, right wall, next to door. Click to enlarge

The Hang

OK, so I have one little moan. The one thing that stood out for me was the hang. Now 'The Hang' is a 'thing' with every exhibition. The 'hang' of an exhibition is the way the pieces were chosen to hang on the wall together. Which pieces go next to what. Which works will complement each other and which would fight each other. And it is famously difficult to do.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

A very strange hang. Gaps remain empty while the lovely squirrel by Martyn Fox (good name if you draw animals!) hangs way too high for anyone to see it. (Heron by Louise Lily King hangs above eye level, dog by Sally Muir and sculpture by John Maine)

Sometimes curators choose to hang large and small pieces mixed up together (running the risk of drowning the little ones), sometimes they choose to hang pieces together by a theme (all the animals or all the drawings put together). Many exhibitions have a 'small works wall' and it often looks very attractive.  But a really good hang is invisible. A really good hang means you don't notice how the pieces were put together and the exhibition just flows really well. This year's Royal Society of Portrait Painters had a great hang for example. 

This was the first time I noticed the 'hang' at the RWA. And it was because it was unusual (not necessarily a bad thing) and in places less than great. I think the main first gallery space was hung with the larger pieces on the left and the medium sized pieces on the right.  I am not sure that worked well, it might have been better to have broken up the medium sized wall with a couple (or even one) big pieces, like they did on the two walls on either side of the entrance door.

Overall I noticed many people having to bend or crouch down to inspect a very small and detailed piece hung at knee level.  One particular small wall in the ‘Black & White Room' was very strangely hung with gaps left, as if pieces were planned but forgotten.

The small works rooms (with beautiful dark grey walls) worked better, although I must admit I find small-works-walls work much better if they are just one wall and not a whole room full. A whole room that is turned into a small-works-wall is very overwhelming. But there was plenty to see and admire and the lower pieces were not too low either. Nice.

My piece has a wonderful place in the 'Black & White Room’ (the space has a name but I keep on forgetting so calling it the Black and White Room for now) and I am very proud to have it on display so wonderfully. Thank you RWA! Interestingly they chose to hang it next to a lithograph by Mima Kearns, nearly depicting the same subject matter but in a totally different style. I think it a bold choice to hang those two side by side, and I must admit I am not sure whether I love it or not. I don't think the pieces compete, yet they don't enhance each other either. What do you think?

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

My drawing ‘The Mourning Cape’ has a great spot, and is hanging next to a lithograph by Mima Kearns with a very similar design. Click to enlarge.

A Varied Show

There is a lot of sculpture this year which I love. In some rooms you have to watch out you don't trip over things though. But there are some really nice pieces

Overall the show is varied: there is much conceptual stuff that I don't understand and so walk past. There are many modernist styled works that are very good indeed. There is some figurative art (i.e. you can see what it is) that I love. Unfortunately there is also a lot of very capable but visionless stuff, which is a shame.

The RWA is always fun to visit, always worth lingering at, browsing, debating, and sniffing up the undeniable smell of a lively creative place. And if the cafe is not too busy (when are they going to get a decent and big enough place for the cafe, such as downstairs, as it is always cramped in a corner) it is always worth stopping for a lunch.  Love this place. 

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Wall in the main gallery with a beautiful delicate work by Mary Greenacre (bottom, 2nd from left)

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Main Gallery, right wall.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Main Gallery, right wall

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Main Gallery, left wall with many very large pieces.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Main Gallery, Back, large pieces, with some smaller ones at a level too low.

Main Gallery, back. Large pieces dominate. (my son saw ‘Alexa' (echo) in the big circle at the back. Sorry 😉 )

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

My drawing: The Mourning Cape, graphite and charcoal on paper, 56x70cm.

The Mourning Cape

My drawing is of a Victorian mourning cape - a black and heavy cape worn by ladies when in mourning in the early 19th century. It is beautifully embroidered and has gorgeous silk pleated edging, covered in black lace. I tried to evoke the beauty of the cloak and also recreate some of its historical qualities and melancholic character. It is drawn with graphite and charcoal on paper. It is framed in an off-white mount and frame.
Here is an interesting link to mourning clothing in Victorian Times.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

The Black & White room with an interesting choice of hanging: the beautiful drawing by Malcolm Ashman is slightly overpowered by a much larger piece.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

The Black & White Room has lots of a beautiful works. Many small and detailed pieces are hanging too low though.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Great selection of works with a stunning piece by Sarah Gillespie at the top. I’d take that tree home if I could.

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

A wall in the Black & White Room with nice pieces by Adrian Sykes (street scene middle) and Ken Cosgrove (self portrait top right)

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA

Small works gallery. There’s a lot....

My Favourites

I loved the pieces by Sarah Gillespie (What Remains), Mary Greenacre (Fragility #1and #3), John Whitehill (Left Hanging IV), Maureen Nathan (boy on the Stairs), Malcolm Ashman (DoppelgängerStretch), Beth Carter (Fighting Clowns II), Ruth Wallace (Past Imperfect XXI), Andrian Sykes (Beneath the Fig), Ken Cosgrove (Self Portrait), Helen Acklam (Sliver IIand III), Annie Fry (Conversation with a Nightingale), Anna Boss (Yellow Rattle), Michael de Bono (Pearl), Helen Dean (Stair Hole, Lulworth Cove), David Parfitt (Reeds and Trees I and II), Melanie Comber (Ghost Dogs Part I) and so many more that I have missed! 

Candidates Exhibition

Downstairs there is a small (a bit cramped even) exhibition of candidates works. These are artists who have applied to become academicians and were short listed by a selection panel. The current academicians will vote on whether they allow them into their midst. My friend and wonderful artist Rosalind Robinson has a small but beautiful collection of works hanging and I love the works of Anna Gillespie (sister of Sarah, what a family!). 

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA Rosalind Robinson

Rosalind Robinson, You Made My Heart Sing Constance Lytton (detail), oil. Candidates exhibition. Click to enlarge

Sophie Ploeg Blog RWA Anna Gillespie

Anna Gillespie, Split, plaster and mixed media. Candidates Exhibition. Click to enlarge

Royal West of England Academy of Art

Queen’s Road,
Clifton Bristol BS8 1PX
+44 (0)117 973 5129
[email protected]

Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5.30pm, Sunday 11am-5pm, CLOSED Mondays.
Last admission 30 minutes before closing. The RWA occasionally closes early for special events. Please call ahead or check the website for details.
Entry: Adults: £7.95 (includes a 80p donation), Concessions: £6.75 (includes a 70p donation), Under 16s/SGS, UoB & UWE students: FREE, National Art Pass holders: 50% discount on ticket price

Check out the RWA exhibitions from past Years

RWA Open Exhibition 2017
I am just in after visiting the RWA's annual Open Exhibition this morning. It is pouring with rain outside so[...]
RWA 2016
I am very proud to be able to exhibit in the Royal West of England Academy of Art’s 164th Open[...]
RWA 163d Open Exhibition
I have just returned from the Royal West of England Academy of Art, in Bristol, where the 163d Open Exhibition[...]

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4 thoughts on “RWA Open Exhibition 2018”

  1. AnnieKate Phillips

    This is a wonderful blog entry. Very informative about this particular show, but also brings up points to apply to other shows that I may view or even hang. Very clear descriptions and very helpful in how to view an exhibit as more than just paintings hung randomly on a wall. Thank you Sophie.

  2. Thank you, Sophie, for this interesting and enlightening blog. I hope to see the RWA exhibition for myself but meantime have been given a thoughtful overview by you. I will particularly look forward to seeing your drawing. Your thoughts on the ‘hang’ ring true to me. I think it does the artist and the gallery a disservice to hang works so low down and to group works so they ‘fight’ with each other. I am looking forward to you talk to Clevedon Art Club soon.

    1. Hi Joan, thanks for your lovely comment. I hope you will enjoy seeing the exhibition and I look forward to meeting you in Clevedon!

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