A Chat with Professor Paul Gough Curator of ‘Shock and Awe; Contemporary Artist at War and Peace’

Marketing Manager Rebecca quizzed Professor Paul Gough RWA about his motivations for Shock and Awe; Contemporary Artists at War and Peace.

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Paul Gough, some answers 

  1. What inspired you to take on this subject and this project?

  •  I wanted to reflect on the impact of war on two renowned British painters – John and Paul Nash – and set their work in the context of today’s artists who had also been drawn to the challenging themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation.
  •  Bristol is possibly creating more cultural reflection on the legacy of the First World War than any other British city outside London, and I wanted the RWA to be part of that creative wave.
  •  Like every British university, UWE Bristol has many impressive artists, musicians, writers and historians among its staff and alumni – through the Bristol 2014 project I wanted to create a platform for the work of a diverse group of practitioners. With Arts Council funding we were able to commission some fascinating and unique pieces.
  •  There are many academicians from the RWA who wanted to be part of this project and I knew they would respond with insight and enthusiasm.
  •  The publisher John Sansom and his team have shown support for the wider project, and how could I refuse his unalloyed interest in promoting British art of yesterday, but also tomorrow.


2. What are you working on currently?


A suite of drawings originating from a recent visit to Hanging Rock in central Victoria SE Australia; hatching a new book idea with the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham and with the National Trust; slowly drafting a series of lectures and papers in the UK in November each linked with the Armistice; and a clutch of ideas for creative projects linked to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign. And trying to write a book chapter on ‘The Sounds of Silence’ with one of the RWA exhibitors, Katie Davies.


3. How did you select the artists and artwork?


We are showing some of the most innovative and insightful artists dealing with the charged issues of conflict, violence, recovery, and peaceful protest. They are so good they virtually selected themselves. Talking to each of them over the past year, visiting their places of work, and getting to know them and see their idea evolve has been one of the joys of my role as curator. I have learned  a great deal from working with them but also with the staff at the RWA, whose professionalism has been so rewarding.


4.       Do you have a favourite piece from the exhibition?

Not really; having been part of the team that hung the show in the past few days I’m taken by the overall unity of the main galleries – its essential monochromatic, serious nature, and the dramatic events that slowly reveals itself in each piece of work.

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  1. Is there a piece you wanted to put in the exhibition but couldn’t? 

Not really: I tend to overhang an exhibition, to put too much in, so it was good to work with a hanging team – including the inestimable talents of Gemma Brace and Alison Bevan – who advise on the placing so that we made the most out of each individual piece and each juxtaposition.

It was also good to be able to show a balanced number of works by new artists and those Academicians who play such a part in the life of the RWA.

I would have liked to have shown a sculptural piece by Michael Sandle RA who has been a major figure in my own practice ever since I was a post-graduate student at the Royal College of Art. But if I can pull it off I’m hoping to stage further shows in London and there may be an opportunity to do so then and there.

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Our Highlights from The Power of the Sea

Days before the new Back From the Front programme of exhibitions open the staff take a moment to look back and reflect on their favorite bits from The Power of the Sea exhibition and events programme.

Rosie Dolton (Customer Services Assistants)

“My highlight of the Power of the sea exhibition was the sculpture by Annie Cattrell ‘Currents’ I really liked the way it looked like it was made of glass and had the appearance of being heavy but actually when you moved it  was made of a light plastic making the piece seem ephemeral. It was a beautiful and seemed to shimmer like the sea. I also liked the way the piece was displayed like the artist had cut a square out of the sea and placed it on the gallery floor and the viewr was able to walk around the piece. It seemed to it freeze a moment in time and captures a movement of the sea which is usually so fleeting. It is a poetic artwork which makes the viewer reflect.”

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Annie Cattrell Currents

Rose Mazillius (Customer Services Manager)

“It’s very difficult to think of just one highlight over the course of The Power of the Sea. We had so many fantastic visitor comments, stunning artworks old and new, as well as some unforgettable events in the RWA calendar. For me though, it would have to be the first time I saw Kurt Jackson’s ‘An Mor Kernewek’. I studied Kurt’s work at school and loved his free use of paint on the canvas and the way he captures the light of the Cornish coastline. During install, I walked upstairs and was met by this expanse of blue sea, as though I were looking out of a giant window over the ocean. This moment stuck with me and is why I’d have to say it is my top highlight from what has been a truly unforgettable exhibition.”

Kurt Jackson Image copy

Kurt Jackson An Mor Kernewek

Gemma Brace (Exhibitions Manager)

My favourite memory from The Power of the Sea was working alongside Janette Kerr and Ben Rowe on the day the contemporary work was placed. After months of seeing images of the work and discussing the practicalities it was a huge sense of excitement to have all the works together in one room and to finally see how they worked alongside one another. You can never really tell what something will look like until it arrives and you can see it in the scale of the galleries – especially on a sunny day with the light flooding in through the roof lights.

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The Power of the Sea during the install.

Rebecca Clay (Marketing Manager)

“My favourite thing from the Power of the sea is slightly different as it isn’t a thing at all. I loved the Bristol Art Weekender and all the amazing events that were scheduled alongside The Power of the Sea over the course of the weekend. It was during a time when I was very new to Bristol and it was an absolute delight to be part of something so big and exciting. The events we held at the gallery were really quite busy and the whole place had a certain buzz about it, the glorious weather didn’t hurt either. “

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Diary of an Install Part 2

This week we are de-installing The Power of the Sea exhibition and beginning the installation of the Back From the Front Exhibition Series. Ralf Togneri has been helping our Technical Team and is keeping a blog of the progress, here is the second part of his entry.

Day two of the de-installation ( can I just call it ‘striking’ as in striking the set after a theatrical show?).  Emma and I arrive to find things as we left them, well not quite.  Tristan, Ben, Nick and Rachel had started the ‘strike’ once more early in the morning while I was lying in bed waiting for my alarm to go off).  Yup, even more was removed and the first of the major works had been transported down stairs and secure in its transit case.  It was heavy before, now it was a six person lift – and strain!

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It is in the box, now what?  I didn’t manage a photograph of the loading into the waiting van as I was one of the six people lifting the crate and art-work, which was soon on its way back to Birmingham.  Time for tea – the universal pick me up!

More pictures taken down, wrapped and packaged, put in a waiting area from where they will be taken to the waiting vans and back safely home.  Large glass-fibre constructions dismantled – beware fibre-glass rash and fine strands somehow getting under your finger nails.  The trick to dismantling the piece is double spanner action – in quite a lather by the time it was all done! (Still itching though – my arms more than anywhere else (reminds me of putting insulation in the loft – ended up throwing the clothes I wore to do the job in the bin – the little strands just persist).

The day continued at a pace and by 3 o’clock the walls were all cleared.  All over bar the packing!

Many different types of packing are used – bubble wrap in industrial amounts is the most fun.  It pops all the time as you walk on it.  It needs to come in big quantities because some of the art-work is BIG (as the next photo shows).

An enjoyable couple of days.  Lots of art-works safely ‘struck’, packaged and despatched.  Six very happy and tired people.  But we are ahead of schedule!  This gives a bit of leeway in the event of unforeseen problems – and there is always the potential for unforeseen problems!


Everything moves on – final activity tomorrow (Wednesday) to despatch the works to their respective  homes, with a clear gallery before all the screw-holes are filled, the walls repainted, plinths check and painted and new plinths built for some stunning new works for the next show.  The hanging starts and the whole magical process of changing a bare, almost sterile set of galleries into colourful, challenging environment for visitors to come and make their own minds up about what is happening in the arts at the oldest art gallery in Bristol.

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Diary of an Install

This week we are de-installing The Power of the Sea exhibition and beginning the installation of the Back From the Front Exhibition Series. Ralf Togneri has been helping our Technical Team and is keeping a blog of the progress, here is his entry from Monday.

“The Power of the Sea Exhibition closed yesterday.  Today, Monday the usual Academy closed day, found me and a new volunteer Emma, coming to help with the Tech aspects.  (Tech is a form of organised chaos – removing works from the walls, packing, and packaging works, meeting their timetables of the companies who collect the works and take them back to the galleries from which they were borrowed)

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We arrived almost at the same time, about 10ish to find that Tristan and Ben, the gallery’s regular technical guys had arrived around 7 am, supported by professional technicians, Rachel and Nick, to start things moving.  The first photo shows the main galleries at around 10 with trestle-tables in place, packing cases to carry art works home and handling equipment already in place!


Taking art down is easier than putting it up – first of all you know where it is (no ‘taste’ councils deciding which piece goes where), the problems of hanging a piece of work have already been thought about and solved (all you have to remember is the order of putting it up and reversing it), Tristan and Ben have a schedule of art leaving the RWA (priorities already set) so it is al straight forward and simple!!  Oh yeah, when you need five bodies to lift a massive and extremely valuable piece from the wall and only four can be found; when screws that went in easily do not want to come out at all; when you need foam blocks to protect the art work from the floor and vice versa and none is around.  Oh yeah, it is simple!


Amazingly, by around 12.30 when we stop for lunch – Tristan, Ben, Rachel and Nick had been there since 7 or so, not such a strain for Emma or me – a major number of works were off the walls, protected, mirror-mounts removed (the side mounts that secure work to the walls), useless screws thrown away – see photo.


Ah, refreshed, ready for the afternoon session.  The modern works already off the walls are being wrapped, some of the major borrowed works are crated and now we start of the LARGE and super valuable works.  This time supervised and supported by a a member of the lending gallery.  Conservation handling and management of removals after a condition report is written – thank goodness for the Art Handling training run by the RWA!  Satisfied, the lending gallery member monitors as we remove the work from the wall, supported at all times by physical labour, lowered gently onto polystyrene protective blocks, mirror-mounts removed, handling and packaging notes checked and then packaging using the correct for each work.  It is steady rather than slow, deliberate actions thought about and taken while all the time the whole piece of work is preserved and conserved.  This includes not only the work itself but also its frame, and if appropriate its glazing too.  Once the conservator is satisfied packing can continue.  Physically tiring holding a valuable work safely once the wall mounts are removed – emotionally worrying if you slip or move it too quickly.  It is the old 99% steady and 1% panic.  But each piece is safely stowed in the correct transit packaging, take a breather and start again.

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Emma, a music graduate who plays oboe, has had an enjoyable and eye-opening day.  “I have learned so much about art and the whole gallery way of doing things.  It has been an interesting and enjoyable day”.  I break off and go back to my usual day and leave the rest of the team working away.  Tomorrow morning Emma and I will be back with the others to move things on until the galleries are empty, ready to be spruced up before hanging the next show.  Now that is another story.”

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Meet the Academicians

The RWA is one of five Royal Academies of Great Britain and Ireland and has a maximum membership of 150 Academicians elected by their peers. Earlier this year 6 artists were elected as Royal West of England Academicians, This week we look at the work and inspiration of Terry Flaxton.

“I began sketching in earnest at 8, then painting, and on becoming a teenager I was fascinated with sound with which I created various works, until I first came across film and photography in 1971. At that time at Wimbledon College of Art I concentrated on painting but by 1976 I studied at University of East London a subject that was to become ‘Communication Design’. This was influenced by McLuhan, Carpenter and Buckminster Fuller – but hamstrung as it reached out for digital interdisciplinary by a set of analogue practices that kept ,materials separate.


Print from the sequence ‘Until I’m Gone’, printed onto aluminium , 42 x 23 inches

So from 1976 I began creating moving image artworks and won a prize in the fourth Tokyo Video Festival in 1979. Initially I worked creating artworks from scratch then on vbecoming a ‘media’ professional I turned to commercial work where I appropriated the footage I’d shot (for instance from companies such as Apple during the making of Ridley Scott’s famous 1984 commercial – this footage then became ‘Prisoners’). Through the eighties I fine tuned my art practice side by side with producing television work and I was responsible for creating a 5 part Channel 4 series called ‘On Video’, which charted British and then European Video Art), plus I was commissioned to make a piece entitled ‘The World Within Us’ alongside other leading video art personages in the Ghosts in the Machine series also on Channel 4. This work won prizes at the Locarno and Montbeliard Festivals. My work at that time went to many festivals, was shown in galleries and also museums.

These groups were Vida, which ran from 1976 to 1980, Triple Vision, which ran from 1980 to 1992 and Ignition Films from 2000 – 2008. In Vida we organised around 150 shows between 1976 and 1980, then co-organised the first UK independent video festival with other early video makers; Triple Vision had a retrospective of work at the Mill Valley Film Festival during the mid-eighties. I had another at the Den Haag Video Festival around the same time – the most recent was the Rome Film Festival in 2010. But, all that I really know is the work I have made has shown at many locations for many years – I’m not sure what it means to say that though.

Things changed In 2007 when I undertook the first practitioner-led research into the properties of high Resolution images, before commencing a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship at the University of Bristol, during this time I made many new works and showed work in Italy (Milan several times), China, France, New York, Japan and Sweden. In collaboration with BBC R&D and Uni of Bristol, I led the capture of first higher dynamic range, higher resolution and higher frame rate experiments to measure which combination of these developing parameters of image capture, would best engage the audience. I also created Uni of Bristol’s Centenary portraits. In 2013, I joined UWE  where I am now Professor of Cinematography and Lens Based Arts and Director of the Centre for Moving Image Research at the University of the West of England.”


Thanks to Terry for his work on this piece.

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Summer Party and Postcard Auction

180 works by world-famous artists were sold anonymously as part of a special event held at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) on 3 July. Over £23000 was raised for the RWA.  

Thanks to the generosity of some of the country’s leading artists, our Secret Postcard Auction raised a staggering £23000 in a special event held here on 3 July.  The RWA were delighted to have had over 180 small-scale artworks donated by artists such as Turner Prize winning and shortlisted artists Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Alison Wilding. The secret element was that the identity of who did which work remained unknown until after all the bids had been taken; bidders didn’t know for certain whose work they were buying until after they had paid for it.

See pictures from the event here 

The highlight of the event was the live auction which saw 15 lots auctioned by Bristol auctioneer Andrew Morgan of Hollis Morgan Property Auction. The lots included pieces by Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin alongside works by the Royal West of England Academy’s own Academicians, and other leading artists such as Aardman’s Peter Lord.  During the live bidding the drama was heightened through bidding wars which saw lots reach £2900 for what is now known to be a Damien Hirst.

The postcards had been on display at the gallery’s Queens Road location, prior to the live event, where visitors and potential collectors could view the items and place their silent bids. All the works started at a price of £40 and there was no set brief for submissions work varied from paintings, drawings and even sculpture provided they measured 14 x 19 cm (5½” x 7½”).

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Review : Sea power: British art arising from the waves

With less than a week to go before the Power of Sea closes at the RWA, we share with you this review of the show by Lindsay Shaw Miller Smith, first published in June, in the online magazine for art and books site Cassone. 

Lindsey Shaw-Miller welcomes this ‘expansive, interdisciplinary discussion of what the sea means to us as human beings and as artists’

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The Power of the Sea. Making Waves in British Art 1790–2014 edited by Janette Kerr and Christiana Payne

In theory, there is a gravitational attraction between every drop of sea-water and even the outmost star of the universe (Rachel Carson)

The Power of the Sea is an expansive, interdisciplinary discussion of what the sea means to us as human beings and as artists. Its contributors – an art historian, two artists, a cultural geographer, two mathematicians and an oceanographer – write about wave energy, the visual magnetism of the sea, maritime culture and geography, and the practice of representation. These disciplines also combine: Simon Read is an artist whose home is a Dutch sea-barge, and he interacts daily with the science of the saltmarsh where he lives. Janette Kerr is an artist (and President of the Royal West of England Academy (RWA)) who has been working with an oceanography institute in Bergen, Norway.

The book is published in association with an exhibition at the RWA in Bristol, which is on until 6 July 2014. The exhibition is terrific, and the full power of the publication only exerts alongside the gallery experience, the third dimension. Installations bring the theme to life, and some artists are more fully represented than they appear in the book. Will Maclean, for example, is a great inclusion, his strange, talismanic mythology embedded in sea-relic boxes. But the book shows one piece, whereas the show has four.

While the range of work is thrilling, there are some puzzling absences. I particularly missed the vital, running seas of William McTaggart (1835–1910) and the caustic, coastal abstracts of Jeremy Gardiner,  for whose monograph last year Christiana Payne wrote an essay, making his omission especially perplexing.

Those who have read  Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn (recently dramatized on British TV) will find echoes in the earliest painting in the book, George Morland’s The Wreckers, which exactly reflects Du Maurier’s gruesome narrative. The fragility of our equilibrium with the sea, its tumults and calms, its mood swings, is a common thread through both art works and essays. Verbal language varies from scientific to poetic; visual language ranges across media and through representation to abstraction. Pragmatism is also conveyed, from the physical challenges of the sea for the artist, to the mathematical measuring of a wave.

Simon Read’s involvement with the politics of his domestic geography, on the Deben estuary in Suffolk, is profound. He makes large maps of the saltmarshes around Falkenham (not Fakenham, as misprinted in the catalogue), incorporating historical features and technologies, ecological predictions and solutions. The saltmarshes form a dermis between sea and river – what he calls the ‘ooze’. His conviction of the care and vigilance required to live well in the fluvial borderland bleeds through his essay, even though, like his annotated maps, he uses esoteric terminology that can makes the viewer/reader feel decidedly ‘landlubbed’.

The difference between looking at the sea, and being in it, is beautifully explored. With some images we are distinctly on shore, no matter how close the sea may be: Henry Moore’s Winter Gale in the Channel, or Sydney Mortimer Laurence’s huge, expressionist Waves Breaking on a Shore, Sunset. In others, we are on and in the sea: John Brett’s keening swell of Christmas Morning, 1866, and Janette Kerr’s astonishing I Hold My Breath.

For me, Kerr’s essay is the best thing in the book. It’s a wonderful exploration of what it means to experience and to paint the sea in a technological and scientific age; to know its history, sensation and philosophy, and make deep enquiry of its meaning, phenomenological and experiential. Indeed, the essay bears out her notion of art as ‘a resonance between an internalized world and an external one’, with reference to Peter Lanyon, whose fascination with the nature and variance of the sea’s energy led him to lie down with it, above it, look into it, and then try to make paintings in which he was embedded as an artist, but without narcissism. Kerr is also vivid in her conviction that our love and dread of the sea are powerful because we come from it, hefted ourselves out of it and onto dry land during evolution. ‘Each of us has in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as sea water. This is our inheritance.

Entering and leaving the sea is for most of us the experience that leaves the greatest impression. Owain Jones overturns the idea of the sea as a void between landmasses, representing it instead as a place, one of constant change and, at times, unknowable geography. Kerr illustrates this too, with a series of photographs of an island emerging from the sea in the aftermath of a marine eruption. Yet the idea of the sea as a place of reconciliation of dichotomies, in human nature and experience, is endlessly fascinating. I’m reminded of Emily Dickinson’s small, beautiful poem:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, –
Past the houses, past the headlands
Into deep eternity!

Bred as we,among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

The Power of the Sea. Making Waves in British Art 1790–2014  edited  by Janette Kerr and Christiana Payne is published by Sansom & Co., 2014. 160 pp, 60 colour  & 15 mono illus. ISBN 978–1–908326–57–7



Lindsey Shaw-Miller





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