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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