Meet the Artist: Matthew Burrows MBE

Our exclusive Q&A with the celebrated abstract artist ahead of the 169 Annual Open…

“…I want to feel confident that the artist has been able to wholly engage in the creative process. Beyond that, I hope to be surprised. There’s a deep joy in having your eyes widened by the unexpected. I think it’s one of the reasons we look at art…”

The invited selector at the RWA’s 169 Annual Open exhibition is Matthew Burrows MBE –  founder of the Artist Support Pledge. 

We spoke to Matthew about the Open and about how he is striving to bring artists and buyers together in a better way… 

2021’s 168 Open. Photo: Alice Hendy

How did you come to be involved in the RWA Open exhibition – and why did you agree to be a selector?

 I was asked by Fiona Robinson when we met at the Royal Academy’s annual dinner. I’m never really sure why I agree to do these things, it always feels like a huge responsibility. 

I’d like to think that I have a generous eye towards the efforts of my fellow artists. I enjoy having my bias challenged and finding value in different kinds of artwork. 

It’s also really interesting to see the selection panel dynamic evolve, it becomes a character in itself, pulling in different directions to find its own sensibility. 

What will you be looking for in the artworks?

I do a lot of selecting for open exhibitions and prizes. I’ve done four in the last month alone. There are a few basic attributes that I look for; confidence, clarity, competence, all attributes of strong drawing. This translates to all types of work, be it painting, sculpture, figurative or abstract. 

I want to feel confident that the artist has been able to wholly engage in the creative process. Beyond that, I hope to be surprised. There’s a deep joy in having your eyes widened by the unexpected. I think it’s one of the reasons we look at art. I try to keep a balanced approach and steer clear of only selecting artwork like my own. I enjoy diversity. 

Has submitting works to Open exhibitions played a role in your own artistic career?

For artists, there’s always a temptation to think that getting into an exhibition or winning a prize is like getting a lift to the top floor. But it’s actually more like a step, and every step takes you closer to the next floor, and each floor is a new chapter in your artistic life. Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d entered more. Even if you don’t get in, you are building much needed resiliance. 

Art can be a lonely business, but you are the driving force behind the Artist Support Projects, encouraging artists to support and help each other to develop their art and their careers.

Why do you think it is important for artists to collaborate and work with their peers – and do you see a similar ethos in the RWA, which acts as a ‘hub’ for networks of Academicians and other local artists?

Humanity thrives through community, yet making art can be a very solitary occupation. As a result, we require networks like RWA to provide the necessary context for creativity to thrive. I’m always encouraged when I see organic groups of artists emerge to support one another, even if that’s just catching up for a chat over coffee. Show me an interesting artist and I’ll show you a rich and exciting network of people that have shaped and supported their activities. Talent that fails to rise is usually more to do with inappropriate support than ability. 

During the Covid lockdowns you created the very successful Artist Support Pledge. Can you explain how it works – and do you think it will have a long-term legacy post-Covid?

The Artist Support Pledge, which runs on the social media platform Instagram, is designed to build a generous culture of artists and buyers and to create a sustainable economy for artists and makers.

Artists use the hashtag #artistsupportpledge to share images of their work for sale on social media that costs £200 ($200 USD) or less. Those interested in buying the artwork should then contact the artist directly to arrange payment and shipping. For every £1,000 of sales an artist makes, they pledge to reinvest £200 in the scheme, supporting a continuing flow of sales.

Anyone can take part in either selling or buying. There is no selection process for artists. The inclusive nature of ASP has created a new egalitarian micro-economy and network. Its success is in its community, which is truly global.

The initiative provided new financial income for thousands of artists and makers during the pandemic when many of their usual routes for sales—galleries, fairs, markets, and shops—closed down, and has created a market for many artists who have previously never sold their work.

The Artist Support Pledge has become a global movement bringing communities together through the power of art, providing artists and craft makers with a way to share their work on social media and sustain one another. It has also created a generation of new collectors. Buyers can enjoy a direct relationship with artists and build their own art collection.

We’re currently supported by A-N The artist Information Company. With their help, we are seeking funding to move us to a more sustainable model. My dream is that ASP will infect all that we do in the cultural sector; that every transaction of knowledge, support, and finance will be coloured by its ethos of generoisty and the sharing of assets in support of all artists and makers. RWA’s Open exhibtion is a great example how this can work.

Matthew Burrows – Shataph II acrylic on burlap 120x100cm 2021

See more of Matthew’s work at his website and find full information about Artist Support Pledge here.

The RWA’s 169 Annual Open Exhibition runs from 8 October 22 to 8 Jan 23. More info here.

Preview invitation for Friends: Friday 7 October, 5-9pm. You can choose to book either the 5-7pm timeslot or the 7-9pm timeslot. Register for the 5-7pm timeslot here and for the 7-9pm timeslot here

Photo top: © Pete Jones

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.

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