I’ve had a nice run lately where I’ve had paintings hanging on a wall somewhere or other, all through the year. Although it’s nice – in fact, it is the main reason I paint – every exhibition opportunity costs money, even if it’s just transporting the paintings to and from the gallery. With maxed out credit cards, I’ve started to think more about which opportunities offer value for money. I don’t see much point in going to a lot of trouble and expense to get your work shown, unless it’s actually going to be seen by people interested in Art.
Competitions and Open exhibitions. I’d grown a bit tired of these, with their inconsistent judging, over-crowded opening nights and awful cheap wine. I used to go to the openings in the vain hope that I’d have a chance to meet collectors and curators, but the only people I would find were either other artists, or friends of artists, or friends of friends of artists. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the ArtGemini Prize early this year. Apart from having a nice selection of work, it was in a very nice gallery (Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Conway St., London), and the opening was a bit classier than the usual affair. Great selection of cocktails, no cheap wine, and some interesting introductory speeches before the prize giving. I’ll probably enter this one again, if I have any paintings available.
Art Society open exhibitions. I’m decidedly wary of these. If you’ve ever submitted work to one of the many such exhibitions hosted by the Mall Galleries, and queued up outside with all the other hopeful artists, you will realise just how many entries these exhibitions attract. What they don’t make so clear, before they take your entry fee, is that most of the selected work will in fact be by society members, not leaving many spaces available for all those fee paying hopefuls. Just seems like a way for them to fund their little exhibitions.
Having said all that, I was quite impressed by what I saw of the Chelsea Art Society Open. I submitted a painting to their show earlier this year, and had it turned down. If I’d done my research, I would have realised it just wasn’t suitable for that show. I’d originally wanted to enter the show as I remember working in the venue, the Old Town Hall, in my previous life as a painter/decorator. It’s a lovely building, nicely situated along the Kings Road. The entry fee is reasonable, and I like the way judging is completed the same day as the paintings are delivered, and so you don’t have to wait an age before you can collect unselected work. When I collected my unwanted piece, it was the Society President, Luke Martineau, who took me to my painting. He offered some really good advice, and was very helpful. I’ll definitely try to enter this one again. They seem genuinely interested in inviting other artists to exhibit with them, rather than just make a profit out of them, which sadly is the norm.
Group exhibitions. I’ve been involved in a number of these. There was the After Adam show a few years back, which was a nicely curated selection of paintings by three artists whose main focus was the human form. Unfortunately it was in a wholly inappropriate venue, and it’s only real value was as another line on my cv, which is a shame. I’ve been involved in a couple of more lively events this year. Stomach#2, Hoxton Arches, which was a one night show, and Open Wall at Façade, London Wall. Both were great opportunities to meet other artists – not that I’m any good at the networking thing. Sometimes it’s just nice to meet other artists, and learn they’re having the same problems you are!
More recently I’ve had the opportunity to show my work at Cultivate Evolved, an artist run space on Vyner Street, London. It was quite a revelation going up there on a First Thursday, and seeing a steady procession of people walking through the small gallery all evening. Having worked hard to get my work shown in a number of venues this year, only for my handiwork to hang on the wall of an empty gallery for two or more weeks, unnoticed by anyone, it was a real joy to see so many people casting their eyes over my efforts. No matter that most of them walk straight past. What does matter, and is what makes it all worthwhile – the struggling without money, as it’s all spent on paints, canvases and models fees – the sleeping on a sofa for months, as I’ve had to rent my bedroom out to a lodger in order to pay the bills – the constant struggle with my Art – what makes it all worth while is when someone takes the trouble to stand in front of one of my paintings, and really takes the time to look at it.