Overview by Michael Toseland on Tim Shaw RA Casting a Dark Democracy

RWA Volunteer Michael Toseland picked Casting a Dark Democracy by Tim Shaw, one of the iconic images of the exhibition ‘Shock and Awe: Contemporary Artists at War and Peace‘ to focus on. Michael has written about how the piece made him feel and the wider subjects the artwork tackles.


Imposing is a word well equipped to describe Casting a Dark Democracy, unforgiving in its honesty, its truth and emotional intensity,  it is a piece that is perhaps a look upon human suffering at its upmost submissive and a sobering snap shot into the depths of our nature.

The subject itself is one of a hooded prisoner from the Iraqi prisons of Abu Ghraib. The figure, Poised mercifully as a penitent figure reminiscent of Goya, endows the viewer with a sense of responsibility, an ethical question into the futility of suffering.


The materials themselves such as rusted steel, barbed wire, black polythene and electrical cable seem soiled by earth as if dragged kicking and screaming from the depths of her belly. A creature born of oil, of greed, of hate, of fear, of war as if not from this world but a darker other.

The underlying skeletal figure is more human, weak, feeble in its attempt to manage the weight of material bestowed upon its shoulders. A primitive, brutal image itself described by Shaw as ‘medieval’.

A pitiful figure, submissive to the hate and fear of war, submissive to our barbarism holds out its hands as if to god. Reminiscent of a Greek god of old bringing fear through power, here we see the symbol of our own fear.

This is the realization of our nature, of the sickness of our fear. The almost too human hands seeming unusually soft, plump and welcoming for such a figure are held, palms out as if yearning for human comfort. The culturaly etched crucifiction image unavoidably lurking in the subconscious.

It is a piece that forces us to ask of ourselves what it is to be human. To be human is to stretch out the hand, to offer comfort to the suffering and to shed light on the darkness of fear. These are the things we idealize and longingly grasp onto as our definition of human nature despite unimaginable examples suggesting the contrary to be true.

Shaw ultimately has presented us with the opportunity to confront crucial questions, both on our intrinsic nature and on our value of morality and humankind itself.

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Art History Day Schools at the RWA

As part of our Learning and Participation programme the RWA have two fascinating Art History Day Schools looking at art, artists and architecture. Lead by professionals renowned in their field these courses aim to give a greater insight and understanding by oresenting new theories and asking challenging questions.

Landscape and the things behind: The Places and Paintings of the Brothers Nash (Art History Day School)

I turned to the landscape, not for the landscape’s sake, but for the “things behind”, the Dweller in the Innermost, whose light shines through occasionally.

[Paul Nash, letter to Gordon Bottomley, c.1920]

Join Dr Justine Hopkins for an in depth study of John and Paul Nash’s artworks, with a focus on their representations of the British landscape, as featured in the Brothers in Art exhibition.

A Gloucestershire Landscape John Nash (1280x1081)

A Gloucestershire Landscape, John Northcote Nash, 1914, oil on canvas, WA1978.67 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford © The estate of John Nash. All Rights Reserved 2014, Bridgeman Art Library

As young artists Paul Nash and his brother John frequently shared studios and worked alongside each other; when Paul was employed by the War Office he soon arranged for John to become a War Artist too and the pattern continued. But in the years after the War their paths diverged. Flamboyant, articulate Paul experimented with Surrealism and Abstraction, becoming a leader and self-appointed spokesman among the English avant-garde. John, on the other hand, chose largely to avoid the debates and controversies of Modernism; plainer, quieter, always a little in his brother’s shadow, yet just as dedicated and in his way no less defiantly innovative in his approach to painting landscapes that not only bring particular places and seasons vividly to life, but reflect the fears and uncertainties of their times. Ironically it was ultimately John who took the honours: RA, CBE, and the first living artist to be granted a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy. Yet it is still Paul whose name and work are the more readily recognised and admired. This Study Day offers an opportunity to explore the paradox of the brothers Nash through a series of close encounters with their works – some immediately familiar, others almost unknown – considered not only in terms of technical mastery and the history of painting, but in the wider context of memory and imagination in a world torn by conflict.

Dr. Justine Hopkins gained her BA from Bristol University in English and Drama; MA from the Courtauld and PhD from Birkbeck College, specialising in 19th and 20th century European Art. Currently working as a freelance writer and lecturer for assorted institutions, from universities, national museums, NADFAS and auction houses to independent art groups, schools and commercial galleries. She published a biography of sculptor and painter Michael Ayrton in 1994, and has contributed to various periodicals and art dictionaries including the New DNB and the Oxford Dictionary of Western Art.

For more information and booking click here.

 From Athens to Bristol: The Parthenon Sculptures and their place at the RWA (Art History Day School)

Gallery Friezes

This series of three lectures and a gallery tour will spotlight one of the RWA’s more unusual features: the replica of the frieze from the Athenian Parthenon in the upstairs Sharples gallery. Currently the focus of much international debate the Parthenon sculptures have been acclaimed as exemplary from their first creation and these lectures will place these masterpieces of art both within their original context and within the broader sphere of their paradigmatic role in European academic instruction.

Lecture one will discuss the original sculptures and their place in the society and culture of Periclean Athens, lecture two will examine their removal to England and the academic discourse their arrival engendered and lecture three will investigate the role of the classical for artists of the nineteenth century and will also include a discussion of the Walter Crane lunettes above the main staircase. These sessions will be a combination of slide lectures and gallery tour.

Dr Harriet Batten – Foster studied at the Courtauld Institute in London and, following a period working in documentary film making at BBC Television, returned to the academic sphere with an MA in Classical Heritage at the University of Bristol. Since then she has worked as an art-history tutor, teaching both undergraduate and Lifelong Learning students within the universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford. She has recently completed a PhD on the changing aesthetic of the classical image.

For further information and booking please click here.

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The RWA staff and supporters get ready to reach new heights!

This Sunday 40 fearless fundraisers will be abseiling 100ft in front of the Royal West of England Academy as part of the RWA’s Abseil for Art which will raise much needed funds for the gallery. Many of the participants will be tackling the challenge dressed as their favourite artists to create an arty spectacle on the day.

There will also be children’s activities, raffles, music and a book stall for those wishing to keep their feet firmly on the ground .

We take some time to get to chat to the abseilers and find out why they are taking part.

Director Alison Bevan

“The abseil was my (daft?!) idea, so despite having no head for heights whatsoever and being absolutely terrified at the prospect, I felt I had to do it if I was asking anyone else to! I’m intending to dress in a sort-of homage to Ellen Sharples, the RWA’s foundress, as depicted by her daughter Rolinda.  She is an inspiration to me – a formidable woman, who, instead of being subsumed with grief at the loss of her husband and two children, threw her energies into getting this magnificent Art Gallery built, persuading everyone from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Prince Albert to contribute.

If you see me at the event on the 7th feel free to ask me how to make a donation in support of the abseil, and then ask me how you can get involved in our mission to make the RWA truly the region’s Royal Academy of Art!”

(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Gallery Co-ordinator Tristan Pollard “I am abseiling for art because, like all of us, I see the importance and value of the academy as an arts institution in Bristol and want to see it continue successfully, so I am willing to help raise funds any way I can. As well as that, I am looking forward to the adrenalin rush of sliding down a 100 ft rope!

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This week, I shall be Salvador Dali. I fancied dressing in as whacky a way as possible and by dressing as him, I can combine a mixture of weird and wonderful things. I don’t want to give too much away, but pyjamas and a lobster are involved.

If the public see me, they can ask me about the permanent collection and I will try to answer any queries I can.”

Make sure you are here on Sunday from 11am to see our Director Alison tackle the abseil, and to catch a glimpse of the red trousers descending as the Mayor abseils at 12 Noon.

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UWE The Centre for Moving Image Research and RWA Bursary Awardee Lucy Williams

The Royal West of England Academy and the Centre for Moving Image Research of the University of the West of England are offering artists of the South West three bursaries of £1000 for the creation of works of moving image art. It is intended that the three works should be completed over the summer of 2014 and exhibited continuously in parallel to the Autumn Open in the Fedden Room at the RWA with other works created from similar bursaries. All works will also be shown on the CMIR website after the RWA exhibition.

CMIR and the RWA are pleased to announce the names of the successful applicants for the CMIR/RWA Bursaries. These are:

Rik Lander – Watch for Mystery Pays
Lucy WIlliams – Pin Hole Images for High Definition Cameras
Jo Millet – Elsewhere
Kayla Parker and Stuart Moore – Maelstrom, Dangerous Waters

Lucy Williams 

I am a practising photographic and media collage artist, South West artist and co-founder / curator with Fitzrovia Noir (FN) in London – an arts Community Interest Company that works to show artworks out of the gallery and into unconventional show spaces – often in buildings and locations in transition, due to re-development or demolition.

To some extent my work for FN has determined the content of my collages which combine analogue photos, printed photographic forms, found image and moving image forms, to show places, people and times where the ‘historicity’ of the original images is questioned, re-purposed and twisted into new meaning. This creation of new images involves an almost literal ‘juggling’ of many source images, including re-photographing and re-composing and  ‘cutting n pasting’ the old-fashioned way!

Another main interest is in helping retain the basic chemical photographic process through making number of black & white photographs with pinhole ‘cameras’ and I have wanted to extend this work through making a pinhole ‘moving’ image that would replicate the pinhole’s visual effect and texture but in colour and in movement.

The project for the CMIR/RWA Bursary offers an opportunity to merge two extremes of the image-making continuum :  from the DIY ‘camera-less’ pinhole aperture to the HD Sony RED One Camera (now used as standard for major Hollywood productions).  Thus the work will experiment with a pinhole ‘lens’, attached to a highly sophisticated HD movie camera to create a filmed journey of the composition in space of a ‘nature morte/still life scene, with it’s making and emerging form captured from multiple moving viewpoints and angles.



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A look at Re-Membering I

 Re-membering I is part of Back From the Front: Art, Memory and the Aftermath of War, a programme of exhibitions and events at the RWA commemorating the start of The Great War and 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. It explores the theme of conflict and memory across a series of interrelated exhibitions including Re-membering I and II; Shock and Awe: Contemporary Artists at War and Peace; Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash; and The Death of Nature.
The RWA and Bristol 2014 have worked in partnership to feature a number of responses from artists, writers, architects and composers on the themes of commemoration and memorialisation. Each new work has been specially commissioned by Bristol 2014 thanks to investment by Arts Council England through their National Lottery funded Grants for the Arts programme to commemorate the centenary of World War One.
Each of the artists commissioned for this project have been tasked with ‘creating new work that speaks to today’s audiences’. Re-membering I features work from visual anthropologist Dr Shawn Sobers and award-winning photographer Angus Fraser. Here, the notion of commemoration through art is particularly relevant, as we attempt to remember through a medium that is inherently linked to the notion of absence: presenting ghostly traces of the past.
Sobers’ experimental collection of multi-media works, Inconsequential Monuments, explores the complex notion of civic monuments, personal memorials and collective memory in relationship to Africa’s connectedness to global history and experiences of the diaspora, pre and post- colonial empire. The work African Kinship Systems: Emotional Science – Case Study: The Fate of the SS Mendi commemorates the tragic narrative of the sinking of the SS Mendi, which sank on 21 February 1917, just twelve miles off the coast of the Isle of Wight. 646 lives were lost.

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Fraser’s new work The Flooded Trench takes inspiration from the art and literature produced as a direct response to experiences of war. Inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s The Redeemer, he reflects on the fatalities of soldiers in the trenches, capturing this hostile and alien environment in the glare of artificial lights. Shot on a large format analogue field camera the work is reminiscent of the epic narrative scale of work produced by World War One Official War Artists such as Paul Nash and Christopher Nevinson.

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RWA Spotlight Printmaker – Sophie Rae

The RWA are pleased to showcase the beautiful work of local craft professionals. For each exhibition we choose a Spotlight Print-maker and a Maker of the Moment who work we feel complement work.

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Sophie Rae’s work has been created using a small durathene roller and ink. A technique she has been developing since University. There are a number of stages to her process, which she equally enjoys. After the inspiration has hit and the image decided it all starts with a sketch. This sketch is then cut into separate pieces, so eventually each part of the original sketch is a stencil. These stencils are then placed onto a fresh sheet of smooth paper and the apron is put on. Now the printing begins. With a roller in one hand and often some music in her ears Sophie mixes new colours and applies them to the paper using her roller. Her stencils are there to mask off areas of the paper, just like a screen print. So she applies ink in the spaces of her stencils, gradually building up the image in this way until you get what you see here today.


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A spontaneous and exciting way to work, it has immediate results and can be used to create very simple or very complex monoprints.

Sophie Rae has also worked as Artist in Residence at Chhaap Printmaking Studios in Baroda, India, for a month in 2013. Here she produced a series of prints inspired by her trip around the country, some of the landscapes you can purchase here.

Sophie works from her studio in Hamilton House and teaches her technique too. To find out more about her workshops and techniques or if you have any other questions or comments you can reach her at sophie@sophie-rae.com

Her website is www.sophie-rae.com

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Sir Peter Blake CBE, RDI, RA, RWA (Hon) Announced as Invited Artist for the 162nd Annual Open Exhibition

RWA 162 Annual Open Exhibition

The RWA are pleased to announce that Sir Peter Blake OBE Hon RWA will be showing at the 162nd Annual Open Exhibition, 12 October – 7 December 2014. The exhibition has a rich history of exhibiting internationally renowned artists alongside submissions from Academicians and artists of all ages and stages in their career in this eclectic show. Previous invited artists have included Graham Crowley, 2010, Norman Ackroyd RA, 2007 and Lisa Milroy RA, 2004. It is in fact Blake’s second time exhibiting (he was previously invited artist in 2009) making a fitting return after being awarded the status of Honorary RWA by the Academy.

Blake is one of the country’s leading artists, a pioneer of Pop art; founding member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists alongside the RWA’s own David Inshaw in 1975; elected a Royal Academician in1981 (resigning in 2005) and awarded the CBE in 1983; alongside infamy as the artist who designed the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. His work hangs in galleries around the world including the Tate, London, who staged a major retrospective of his work in 2007. He has inspired a generation of younger artists, embracing pop culture through a myriad of different mediums from print making to collage. In 2013 he showed Under Milk Wood, the culmination of twenty-five years of work at the National Museum of Wales, illustrating each of the characters from welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ celebrated radio-play in their fictional home of Llaregubb.

Following the runaway success of last year’s open exhibition, where over 2200 works were submitted from nearly a thousand artists, we are pleased to announce that this year’s submissions are now open.

The exhibition now in its 162nd year attracts submissions from local, national and international artists alike, including entries from Academician’s such as last year’s Threadneedle Prize winner Lisa Wright RWA, Richard Long RWA and Anthony Whishaw RWA. Alongside these established artists you can also see entries from art’s rising stars, which last year included the Independent’s 2007 one to watch Aisling Hedgecock. We also welcome entries from students and emerging artists encouraging artists of all ages to apply.

Artists are encouraged to submit a maximum of 3 recent works, via a dedicated website and the first round of selection takes place online with a final results day at the Academy in September.

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