Selection Day for the Royal West of England Academy’s Annual Open Exhibition will keep you guessing right up to the very last hopeful entry.

At 5pm today the results of the South West’s largest Open Exhibition are announced. On 27th September Volunteer Nadia Nuami was lucky enough to sit in on Selection Day and get a behind the canvases look at the Selection Day process. Her article is a must for all hopeful artists wanting to get selected for the RWA Annual Open.

There are certain ‘tick’ criteria which are no surprise when listed by this year’s judges – a diverse group picked to reflect a broad range of expertise and taste: Janette Kerr, RWA President; Stephen Jacobson, RWA Vice President; David Alston, Arts Director Arts Council Wales; Julia Carver, Curator Bristol Museum; Will Maw, Academician; Jason Lane, Academician; Lisa Wright, Academician and lecturer; and Lucy MacDonald from Hauser and Wirth Somerset . All the panelists were in agreement that, as the hundreds of artworks were paraded in front of them in rapid succession, they were making judgements based on form, medium and colour.

The Selection Panel - Image Courtesy of Richard Broomhall/FracturedFeather.co.uk

The Selection Panel – Image Courtesy of Richard Broomhall/FracturedFeather.co.uk

However, the real mystery lies in the non-quantifiable aspect of their judgement. All the panelists are sufficiently experienced to recognise whether a work is well executed, a ‘good’ example of its genre. They also all emphasised – and demonstrated – their desire to rise above their own personal tastes and to think about the overall ‘look’ of the show. Consequently, decisions to include a particular genre of sculptural work, for example, when such a genre is under-represented, is perfectly understandable.

Academician Jason Lane examining a fine bronze piece. Image Courtesy of Richard Broomhall/FracturedFeather.co.uk

Academician Jason Lane examining a fine bronze piece. Image Courtesy of Richard Broomhall/FracturedFeather.co.uk

What is less understandable is what constitutes ‘that special something’ when all the obvious criteria have been met. For every one of the judges there was undoubtedly an extra something, a quirk, a mood trigger, a certain something which swung their vote in favour of a yeah or nay. It is this ‘something’ which is the mystery and which will probably always remain so, since a great part of the explanation lies in the idiosyncrasies of the panellists.

There are, however, a few definite ‘no no’s’ voiced by a large number of the panel regarding presentation. Although there are always the exceptions, it would be better for submitting artists to err on the side of caution regarding signatures, framing, titles and support methods. In general, large signatures scrawled prominently over the canvas were found to be off-putting, as were frames which were deemed to be inappropriate for the enveloped artwork. Plinths and supportive fixtures or required methods of presentation (such as hanging or illumination) could also work to the detriment of the artwork.

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules. If this were so then the excitement, surprise and mystery of the selection process would be completely lost. It is that very element of ‘luck’ which often determines whether an artist is successful this year or next year or never. What is certain is that visitors to the 2014 Annual Open Exhibition will be treated to a stunning diversity of artworks.

Over 500 works, including sculptures, on display from 12 October will reflect the hours and hours of painstaking work carried out by both the artists and the panelists who chose them. Arguably, the selection day process could merit a category in its own right.

David Alston

  • I’ve looked at so many artworks during the course of my career that I already know whether a piece is a ‘good’ example of its kind. There’s a body language about paintings and what I’m looking for is something which arrests you, something which registers.

Janette Kerr

  • I’m looking for something which is well executed but which also has an edge, a charm, a spark to it, some kind of quirk.
  • Sometimes the framing is completely disastrous and the signatures are so ridiculously large that for me they kill off the work.
  • I also need to think about the show as a whole and how all the pieces will work together.

Lisa Wright

  • I’m looking for a work which is good of its type but also distinctive, whether it be abstract or painterly. I like an economy to the work but also an awareness, something which elicits an emotional response. You know it when you see it, it’s instinctive and intuitive.
  • I find framing and signatures to be a problem in some instances and strongly advise any artist not to sign on the front of the work. Appropriateness of scale can also be an issue for me, as can the discrepancy you sometimes get between what you see in a digital image and then what you see when the actual work is paraded before you on selection day. For example, the colour key may be too high on screen and so the piece can look underworked in real life.

 Stephen Jacobson

  • One of my main criteria is whether I actually like the piece, whether it has a ‘sparkle’.
  • We have tried to mix up the panel so we get a fair representation of tastes and expertise.

Will Maw

  • A work might be brilliantly executed but it has got to have something more.
  • It’s inevitable that there’s going to be an element of subjectivity in the decision making process but I try very hard to keep an open mind and look beyond my person taste. I am aware of the responsibility I have to think of the show as a whole and to be fair to all the works brought before us.

 Jason Lane

  • I’m looking for something which catches my eye but exactly what does this varies enormously. I like a naive style but also an accomplished one, I like perspective but I also like it when an artist plays with distortion, I like order but I sometimes like a chaotic image – it’s very complicated.

 Julia Carver

  • I think we’re all looking at form, medium and colour but I’m particularly interested in why an artist has chosen a specific medium or form and whether, as a result, the work is innovative.

Article by Nadia Nuami – RWA Volunteer. If you would like to volunteer and get involved with events such as this please contact Beckie Upton beckie.upton@rwa.org.uk.

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