The Thing I Want To Live For

My submission to the 2020 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

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.

I Had A Hand In This

Art is community : Community is art

In the Autumn of 2018, Jo Slater, who owns The Sun pub in Carshalton, approached me after I donated an art work to a charity raffle in the pub, and kindly offered some space for us to make art. Art In The Sun duly began in January of this year. A weekly gathering of curious adventurers, an experiment in experimental art.

Each session features an idea, maybe a theme, an offer of new tools, materials, techniques – just enough structure, and no more. People get to work, talking, sharing ideas, experimenting. I’m on hand if needed, but the process is largely about discovery.

Some weeks a hush falls over the group as the concentration levels rise, some weeks there’s loads of chat and laughter. We’ve been fortunate to have ELTEL perform with us a few times, and we’ve tried numerous techniques out since we started. Mark making, printing, stencil cutting, masking and layering, brushless work, tile painting, collaborative and solo works. The group takes it all on – confident in the emerging process. Plenty of our work ends up in the bin, and that’s OK.

A while back I suggested the idea of an exhibition – a chance to show our work to a wider audience. I recall the idea being received a little hesitantly, so we left it to percolate. Time passes, experiments continue, the idea is remembered again, and here we are, it’s exhibition day.

I’m off to The Sun. My role today is that of curator, and general setter upper. I’m proud of this lovely group of people and everything they have achieved so far, and I hope that today, I do their work justice for them. I have much to do, so I’ll wish you well and leave you with a hint of what is yet to come.

‘I Had A Hand In This’. Mixed media co-created collage, on A1 foam board


What happens when you surround yourself with talented people working in an encouraging environment?

Something like this:

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled Identity – an exercise in patience, about my work for a forthcoming exhibition. I continued the theme of identity as I worked, and as you can see, the art is now finished and it has been handed in to the curators.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working alongside a group of talented people. Seeing other people produce really good work has motivated me to push myself and be more adventurous, and the fact that people in the group have been so encouraging has been really helpful.

My adventures with stencils and spray paint began a little over a year ago, when I made a few designs to celebrate Record Store Day.

Record Store Day 2018

These initial works are pretty naive, made using very simple cuts, and erratic spray work. Even so – I like them, they represent the beginning of what has become my vinyl junkie project, something I enjoy very much. Although I still consider myself a novice when it comes to stencil art, it’s good to be able to look back over a period of time and see how my practice is developing. Cataloguing and showing your work is a very important part of working practice for me.

I can’t wait to see all the work under one roof, it’ll be quite a show. I’ll share more information on that once arrangements are finalised. For now though, I simply want to acknowledge the power of working in a talented group where encouragement and cooperation is high, competition is not emphasised, and when requested, advice is freely offered.

In my consulting experience – organisations frequently express a desire to collaborate across teams and departments, yet the way things are structured – reward, appraisals, hierarchy etc – often mitigates against this. I realise this group of artists I’m currently with are only loosely connected, but I wonder what the world of learning and development can learn from us, and how we work with each other?