Friends’ Exhibition 2023 – Meet the prizewinners

Monica Cuellar, David Cooke, Jack Hicks and Roz Wallace talk about their winning works…

The wonderful 2023 Friends’ exhibition is open at the Create Centre until 25 May, with all works available to buy online here. The standard is exceptionally high this year, with more entries than ever – leaving our selectors with a very tough task in choose their prizewinners. 

Here we meet the winning artists – all chosen by the panel of Leslie Glenn Damhus RWA, Maxine Relton RWA and Andy Phipps, owner of That Art Gallery in Bristol. 

Exhibition open: 13 – 25 May.
Monday to Friday 11am – 5pm. Saturday and Sunday 11am – 4pm
Free entry. The Create Centre, Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN
Works available to buy online here.

Monica Cuellar – Lemon still life in situ III

Best in Show, sponsored by Laver Wealth

Can you tell us a little something about Lemon still life in situ III (76x76cm Acrylic on wooden panel, gold leaf edge)? 

It is one of a series of six paintings devoted to capture the light and vibrancy of the Mediterranean. Another example of this body of work is currently on display at the Bath society of Artist 2023 Open exhibition. This group of paintings aims to be an unusual hybrid between a landscape,an intimate botanical scene and a still life – with special emphasis on very detailed figurative work.

My inspiration comes from the Mediterranean city of Valencia, where I grew up, and its magnificent citrus fruit fields, the spring season and the scent of orange and lemon blossoms in the air. I also draw inspiration from the work of the Valencian artist Joan Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) – a paradigm of the “Luminism Artistic Movement” of fin-de-siecle Europe and his famous quote “light is the life of everything it touches”. 

Last year your painting  A Bristol Story 7/6/2020 (depicting the toppling of the Colston statue) won the People’s Choice prize at the Friends’ Exhibition. What does winning the Best in Show prize this year mean to you?

It is often difficult to imagine how the public is going to react to your artwork when you are sitting alone in your studio busy designing or executing a particular piece. ‘A Bristol Story…’ is a good example because of the controversial nature of its theme. In my mind this moment in time needed to be painted. I felt compelled to show the viewers that although Bristol has a dark past regarding civil rights, the Bristol of today is a multiethnic and multicultural city that is not afraid to show the world where it stands. I’m also very proud that our small city of Bristol sparked a chain of events that reverberated around the world inspired by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

Winning the ‘People’s Choice Award’ last year was a dream as it validated what the painting was all about. Winning the ‘Best in Show’ Award is a big boost to my incipient art career, it means an big seal of approval as it was chosen by a select group of judges composed by RWA Academicians and people in the art business. I would also like to use this platform to thank Laver Wealth for their very generous prize sponsorship.

Monica Cueller – A Bristol Story 7/6/2020 (Acrylic on cradle wood panel 91x91cm)

How long have you been painting – and how does your art fit into your life and work?

Pablo Picasso once said “every child is an artist, what is more difficult is to remain an artist once you grow up”, so in that way I cannot think of a time in my life when I have not been painting or had the desire to paint. 

I was instructed from an early age on the Plastic Arts by my mother who is a trained artist and a teacher. I made the difficult choice to go to Medical school rather than Art school and subsequently worked in Bristol as an NHS GP for more than 20 years. Currently and due to my family commitments I’m on a long sabbatical from Medicine and dedicating my life to my other two passions: art and family.

How long have you been a Friend, and what does the RWA mean to you?

I have been a Friend for the last two years. I feel art is a very powerful tool for bringing people from very different backgrounds together. It can  inspire, accompany, console, get us out of our comfort zone, make us reflect and think and on the whole bring us joy. 

The RWA and its magnificent building – and the people that work in it and visit it – are a beacon of art promotion in Bristol. We should all be Friends!

What are you working on now?

At present I’m working on a series of wildlife paintings, depicting leopards. I’m envisioning these  animals as representing human emotions and ideas, so in a way I am seeing them as totemic figures of human attributes. Again an unusual hybrid between wildlife and human portraits. I can’t wait to show you!

See more of Monica’s work at, on Instagram at @moncuellart and at Green Stage Gallery.

Two of Monica’s artworks are on display at the Bath Society of Artist 118th Open Exhibition 2023.

David Cooke – Portrait of Sarah

Selector’s Choice – sponsored by Niche Frames 

What was the inspiration behind Portrait of Sarah and what did you want to achieve with the picture?

Portrait painting is not only technically one of the most demanding areas of painting but the result also has to be impactful and engaging. Think about the portraits one sees in museums and National Trust properties – technically accomplished but sometimes uninspiring. A successful painting needs three components: an idea, technical prowess and a design element. So, before the actual painting even begins, the composition has to be correct and this includes the look of the model. 

A truly great model is very hard to find. Sarah is visually very striking and has a confident yet ethereal air so it’s this that I wanted to convey to the viewer. I work with Sarah for many of my paintings so expect to see more of her in the coming year!

What did winning the Selector’s Choice prize mean to you?

The very nature of entering open exhibitions exposes an artist to rejection; so much depends on what the selectors are searching for to build the overall ‘character’ of an exhibition. Not only being selected but also being awarded a prize is the validation of what we do and is enormously morale-boosting.

Portrait of Sarah by David Cooke (Medium Oil on linen 53x43cm)

Jack Hicks – A Reed from the Moor

Selector’s Choice – sponsored by Coldharbour Framery & Gallery and Niche Frames

What was the inspiration behind A Reed from the Moor and what did you want to achieve with the picture?

I love to give my attention to the commonplace and overlooked things around me and, living near the North Somerset levels, I felt the Common Reed was a subject I see daily but had never really looked at. I wanted to explore not just its proverbial grace, embodied in the curve of its stem, but also the wild profusion of its seeds in their cotton wool down, ready to take flight.

What did winning the Selector’s Choice prize mean to you?

Winning the Selector’s Choice prize has been a tremendous boost. As an artist, I spend a lot of time working alone, and necessarily relying on my own instincts and judgement. To be recognised by the selectors in this way provides such valuable reassurance and validation. Many thanks to Coldharbour Framery and Niche Frames for their generous donations – these will also be a great help!

A Reed from the Moor by Jack Hicks (Medium Inks on grey paper 45 x 35cm)

Roz Wallace – Fossil Strata II

Fossil Strata II by Roz Wallace (Medium Acrylic, collage and monoprint. 33.5 x 28.3cm)

Selector’s Choice – sponsored by Sky Blue Framing & Gallery and Bristol Fine Art 

What was the inspiration behind Fossil Strata II and what did you want to achieve with the picture?

I found a small stamp of a spiral that made me think of ammonites and fossils in general and of how they are often found in layers – strata – of sedimentary rock. I then made some monoprints with collage and mixed media keeping that in mind.

What did winning the Selector’s Choice prize mean to you?

I was astonished and delighted in equal measure that this piece was one of the Selector’s choices.  I was even more surprised and pleased to learn that there was a prize involved.  This has come as a much needed boost to my confidence and am grateful to have been given the opportunity to show my work.

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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