Behind the scenes at the FRWA 2019 Biennial Exhibition

The Friends of the RWA’s Biennial Exhibition is on show in the Cube and Link galleries until 12 May. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes…

From 14 April to 12 May the Friends are taking over the RWA’s Cube and Link galleries for our Biennial Exhibition. The ‘biennial’ has been something of a misnomer as in fact this is the first such Friends’ exhibition for some years – and it also represents a major step up in ambition and scope.

Over 340 works were submitted, whittled down on selection day to a show of 181 works by 94 artists – covering painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture and even an architectural drawing that comes complete with its own 3-D viewing glasses.

Submissions awaiting selection


Selection day

The selection panel consisted of artists Stephen Jacobson (Vice President of the RWA) and Malcolm Ashman RWA RBA ROI, along with Andy Phipps, owner of That Art Gallery on Christmas Steps. Submitted works required two out of the three votes to go through, and with the quality so high the selectors were required to be very discerning – often debating pieces at length and requiring dozens of works to be brought around for a second look.

The selectors deliberate. L-R: Andy Phipps, Stephen Jacobson, Malcolm Ashman

Malcolm Ashman described the overall standard as ‘amazing’ and comparable with the RWA’s Annual Open. He explained that as a selector he was looking for that particular indefinable ‘it’ – a reassuring quality that lets the viewer know they are ‘in safe hands’ with the artist, whatever the style or medium.

“I’m very conscious of not falling into the selector’s trap of choosing things that remind me of my own work. I’m looking for a sense that the artist really knows what he or she is doing. As with a good piece of writing or music, a good piece of art takes you with it, on its own terms: you don’t have to do any of the work, in order to make it work.”

Andy Phipps oversees the hanging
Behind the scenes at the hanging

Behind the scenes at the hanging


The overall best in show prize was awarded to Nina Dolan’s mesmerising abstract in watercolour, ink and oil, Tranquil Radiance I. Other selectors’ choice awards went to Rich Aaron Ward’s abstract collage Direction of Travel, Suzanne Ewart’s watercolour portrait The Last Swim, and Green Girl, a small, haunting portrait in oil by Liane Stevenson.

‘Tranquil Radiance I by Nina Dolan. Best in show winner – sponsored by Sky Blue Framing and Gallery
‘The Last Swim’ by Suzanne Ewart – Selectors’ Choice award, sponsored by Bristol Fine Art
‘Direction of Travel’ by Rich Aaron Ward. Selectors’ Choice award, sponsored by CASS Art
‘Green Girl’ by Liane Stevenson. Selector’s Choice – sponsored by Sky Blue Framing and Gallery

The selectors’ choice award in the three-dimensional works category was Sketch, a metallic rendering of one of his own ink drawings by architecture student Daniel Perry.

‘Sketch’ by Daniel Perry. Selectors’ Choice 3D award, sponsored by CASS Art

Our thanks to Sky Blue Framing and Gallery, CASS Art and Bristol Fine Art for sponsoring the prizes.


Roll on 2021!

The exhibition was roundly described as a ‘triumph’, not least in helping to bring in a swathe of new artist Friends.

At the Private View, FRWA Chair Jane Boot thanked all the volunteers who’d helped with the selection, hanging, administration and organisation – a huge effort by all. She also revealed that the show will return in two years’ time – so ‘Friends’ Biennial Exhibition’ will be a misnomer no more!

Private View. Photo by Philippa Shelton

Visit the Friends’ Exhibition until 12 May – entry is free and all works are for sale (and prices are extremely affordable!)

All photos by Angus Gregson unless stated otherwise. Photos below from the Private View by Philippa Shelton (click for a larger view).



The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s