The Thing I Want To Live For

My submission to the 2020 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

An artwork depicting a wide winged figure in black, set against a psray painted graded background in yellow, orange, and red. The winged guardian figure represents you. To the left of the image is the word 'identity' sprayed on the board four times, one beneath the other. The final version of the word has been underlaid with a thumb print stencil.

The die is cast. I’ve just submitted my chosen work to the Royal Academy for their 2020 Summer Exhibition. This is my fourth attempt, the previous three all having been rejected at the first hurdle. I’d love to make further progress this year, and I am comfortable that I’m submitting a piece of work I’m really pleased with – its acceptance or rejection by the committee won’t change how I feel about it, or its importance to me.

I made this piece of art at a fund raising event for Sutton Women’s Centre, organised by my friend Sue. I had offered to live paint on the day – and I made this and one other piece, inspired by the atmosphere of inclusion I experienced on the day. The central guardian figure in the work represents our inner self – the version of me that looks out for me, the one with the confidence to speak truth to power. I initially conceived this device back at the start of 2018, and it’s grown and developed to become a key part of my artistic practice.

At 122cm x 61 cm, this painting is one of my biggest pieces to date. It’s made using spray paints, a couple of stencils, and some acrylic paint, applied using an old Royal Academy membership card.

Shortly after I completed the work, I was pretty sure I wanted to submit it to the show, and I’ve since shared space with it in the studio – slowly moving from pretty sure, to certain. For several months – the work has been untitled, and may have remained so had I not seen a quote by Thomas Merton, shared on social media by Julian Summerhayes. It reads:

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for’.

Thomas Merton

I’ll find out on March 12th if the work progresses from the online stage to being delivered to the Royal Academy for an ‘in real life’ viewing. As I looked through the window today immediately after the submission was complete, I was greeted by a rainbow. I’ll take that as a good omen, or a thank you for my work, at least.

Foot note: I nearly went with this piece, titled ‘Flight of The Valkyrie’. I understand that some of this year’s judging panel has a background in film, so this piece, with a nod to Apocalypse Now, might have resonated with the judges? In the end I went with how I felt, rather then trying to second guess how someone else feels.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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