Stephen Riley. 'Only Five Now' 2022-23

Rejected again for the RWA Open!

…though not surprised
Yep, my work has been rejected for exhibition by the Royal West of England Academy, as it usually (well, always) is. Here’s an image of the piece submitted. Click to enlarge.

Whereas you always have an attachment to your own work, and perhaps we all think what we do is better than it actually is, I’ve been making art for 60+ years and exhibiting professionally for 30+ years, so I think I have some objectivity around its quality. You can’t be your own best critic, but I do have enough nous to be able paint out and reject more than I regard as good. And given that the bar is set so low at these massive opens, taking in amateur work as well as professional, I can’t help but wonder if something else is in play. Is my work really worse than everything chosen to show? Couldn’t be because I rejected the person now president of the RWA for a job many years ago, when I was director of a fine art degree, could it?

Perhaps I should have submitted under a pseudonym.

Or maybe I’m on the wrong track, perhaps it’s that usual provincial thing, that work is only acceptable if words such as ‘romantic’, ‘organic’, ‘memory’ or ‘identity’ can be applied to it. The grungy, awkward and non-compliant just won’t do.

I guess I’ll never know.

And then there’s that other one that happens with small regional galleries, though I would hope this doesn’t apply to the RWA: that the selectors just don’t get it, don’t understand what you’ve done (possibly because it can’t be described within the above terms). I’ve had a selector – someone in her twenties who’d not long since completed her bachelor’s degree – say to me, effectively, that she didn’t understand what I’d done. I’ve even had this one: when I queried with another such gallery why I wasn’t selected, I was told that I needed to come down and get involved with the gallery, so they could get to know me. So, the chief selection criterion is how well in you are with the folk who run the place!

Cosiness, it seems, is vital, in terms of what you produce, your relationships with the right people and your location within comfortable genres.

Ho hum… No wonder I sell more work abroad than in the UK.

I guess the bottom line is that it was pure folly to apply to such an establishment bastion, and I should take it as a compliment that my work is unacceptable there. Though maybe, just for fun, I should submit next time a watercolour of the local parish church or perhaps an oil painting of a Yorkshire terrier, under that made-up name; I’m thinking ‘Jemima something…’