OCA study visit: RWA Annual Open Exhibition

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On 23rd November, I joined the OCA study visit to see the 164th Annual Open Exhibition at the RWA in Bristol.  The exhibition showcased over 500 works and included painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and printmaking.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me about this exhibition, was the sheer variety of work on display, both in terms of subject matter and approach.  There really was something for everyone.  From a study visit perspective, this was also very interesting, because it meant that the students attending were from a wide variety of disciplines.  In the past, I have attended photographic exhibitions on study visits, which are obviously dominated by photography students.  Here however, non-photographers predominated.  This was great though, because it was fascinating to hear the thoughts of the students working through drawing, painting, printmaking and textiles as we made our way around the exhibition.  Different perspectives are always illuminating.

With over 500 works in the exhibition, it was impossible to choose a favourite.  However, one of the paintings that really held my attention, and that we as a group spent a lot of time discussing, was Tea and Toast by Ben Hughes.  It is an oil painting on canvas, that shows a young man sitting on a table with his tea and toast beside him.  The style was very distinctive.  The boy, his tea and toast, his discarded sandals, and a painting on the wall behind are all realistically painted and carefully detailed, whilst the remainder of the scene, is rendered in a semi-abstract way, with an almost pop art aesthetic.  It is so striking to look at, and it makes the viewer question why the boy and his surroundings do not match up.

Questions about the artist’s intentions aside, one of the things that struck me about this painting was how the idea might be incorporated into a photographic project.  I can already see the mechanics of it.  A photographic portrait, with only the key elements remaining (for example the sitter and one or two objects that have some personal significance to them).  The rest of the scene could then be removed and repainted by hand, or altered into a line drawing in Photoshop, or reinvented by some other process of collage/photomontage.  In fact, I am already thinking about this in relation to assignments four and five about digital identities.