I arrived on Monday full of vigour and excitement. I was about to have five days work experience at the RWA. There was lots I wanted to learn but I knew, from the itinerary that I had been emailed, the first thing I would get to do would be to look around the current exhibits. Because of this I purposely didn’t go to see the RWA for a couple of week s beforehand. So you can imagine my horror when I arrived to see the paintings being loaded onto carts to be taken down into storage. However, this allowed me to get really up close to the paintings giving me the opportunity to have slightly different relationship with it.
There were a variety of mediums used: traditional oil paints, quirky collages and bronze statues. I didn’t get the benefit of seeing how they had been grouped – most of them were laid on the floor when I arrived—but I could see that they had been put into a rough chronological order. The exhibit presented work by RWA Academians as well as pieces from the RWA’s personal collection and I felt it demonstrated well the changing tastes and diverse history of the RWA.
Whilst we worked I spoke to some of the staff. Beckie, who works on the front desk as a customer service assistant and volunteer co-ordinator, told me about her favourite piece. It would have been easy to walk past Vera Boele-Keimer’s painting ’01-11’; the white circles look simple from a distance but in proximity the painting is a lot more revealing. There are many layers of varying shades of white paint to make up the circles, displaying the care and detail gone into the piece. The title made me think of binary code and I found myself trying to decipher the painting (as some circles had been subtly and suspiciously outlined with pencil). Whether that was Boele-Keimer’s aim is subjective but I am in agreement with Beckie when she said she found it striking and loved the textural effects.
Our art technician, Tristan, said the he liked the painting ‘Red Dog’ by Elisabeth Frink. Tristan sees it regularly as it is part of the permanent collection at the RWA. He liked the strength of the image and how powerful it was. Despite its power, it has a simple composition and he said that was difficult to tell if the was angry or “just a stupid mutt”. I personally prefer the latter as I loved the way the blood-red coat contrasted with the animal’s clumsily big feet and wide eyes. Later when I was speaking to Claire, who volunteers as an invigilator, she led me towards that very same painting but veered towards the neighbouring piece. ‘A Horse’ is of the same artist but is a very different painting. Claire said she liked the simple, clean and precise lines. The methods of painting the creatures were done very differently; the dogs irate dry brush strokes contrasting from the gentle pools of the horse’s watercolour coat. I thought both the paintings featured sensitivity and emotion.
For me, the piece that stood out was ‘Ann’s Youngest Daughter’ by Elijah Albert Cox. I loved how it looked as if all the apples and the women’s bodies looked as if they had been glazed, or were made of a shiny glass. I loved the colours. The bright green apples of the foreground partnered with the baby pinks and blues of the women’s bodies. I enjoyed the relaxed, family atmosphere of it. I was surprised at being attracted to such an old painting, but I found it had a kind of glow that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But then again, perhaps the RWA had just invested in a quality gold frame.
On Monday I witnessed the work that went into hanging and taking down an exhibition. It suddenly made me consider the all the planning and hard work that goes into an exhibition. Where should the paintings go in order to best appeal to the public? How are we going to get that huge masterpiece up and down the stairs without damaging it? What kind screws shall we use so that the valuable painting doesn’t come loose and fall? I feel like I can really appreciate an art gallery now that I have witnessed this and I have learnt some tricks of the trade. Next time you go to an art exhibit, remember that it wasn’t just the artist that got the painting on the wall.