Behind the scenes at an RBSA Private View: artists talk about their works

Alfie Hancox caught up with some of the artists exhibiting work at our current Members and Associates Exhibition, which is on until Christmas Eve…

I had the privilege of going along to the private view of the Members and Associates Exhibition, and here you can read some fascinating insights into the work of some of the exhibiting artists, as well as reflections on the importance of the mutual support network provided by the M&A

Hazel Astling


Hazel Astling, ‘Papa New Guinea Gathering’, Watercolour

I was immediately intrigued by Hazel Astling’s unorthodox watercolour still life. Hazel explained: ‘It’s not important to me that the arrangement is not conventionally realistic.’

Her approach privileges observation, which developed from her scientific training, but also storytelling. The items depicted were collected by Hazel during one of the great annual gatherings of indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea. The still life displays the incredible talent of the culturally diverse Papuan people, with tools such as a decorated fishing spear and shield and a children’s toy.

The variety of objects makes for a highly interesting composition. Also included is an interesting creole phrase Hazel found on the back of the seat in her airplane and that adds a sense of humour to the piece – see if you can figure out what it means!

Paul Bartlett


Paul Bartlett, ‘Collapse’, Pastel, Charcoal and Pencil

Paul Bartlett, elected RBSA member in 1997, has tackled themes throughout his career uncovering different parts of the human condition. He has achieved many publications and prizes, including Not the Turner Prize 2004.

Paul’s deeply symbolic and psychological series on the traditional life-sized artists’ lay figure gives a glimpse into the inner life of an artist, with a focus on the creative struggle. ‘It’s about the hidden side of the artist you don’t usually see,’ he explains.

Paul is exhibiting ‘Collapse’, originally shown under a different name, which portrays a lay figure, worn and torn, slumped in a room that is bare except for painting materials. Paintbrushes are slipping from the figure’s hands. It is painted in pastel, rendered in such a delicate way that I first mistook it for an oil painting.

Paul has stated elsewhere that ‘the lay figure manifests an extension of the self portrait, while having potential to speak for others.’ He has observed other artists finding in his work something immediately identifiable.

It is a fascinating truism that artists are drawn to similar motifs, and Paul described this convergence as a ‘shared visual journey’. The wrapped head of the figure in ‘Collapse’, giving a sense of anonymity, is for instance likewise seen in the work of surrealist painter René Magritte including ‘Les Amants’.

Cristina Celestini


Cristina Celestini, ‘Revelation on Ponte Sant’Angelo’, Pencil

For Cristina Celestini, teacher and self-taught artist, the Members and Associates Exhibition is a great opportunity for artists of various stripes to come together as a community and learn from each other.

Cristina talked me through her striking study ‘Revelation on Ponte Sant’Angelo’; depicting an angel statue on the bridge to Hadrian’s mausoleum (Castel Sant’Angelo) in Rome. Cristina works in pencil to achieve a sense of immediacy, and her tonal approach is highly effective in capturing the beauty of the architecture.

For Cristina it was important to capture the environment of her home city, Rome.

‘I’m interested in recording memories. I’ve done drawings of people who are close to me, as well as of places that mean something to me.’

Also displayed at the M&A Exhibition is a recently donated piece from the late artist and RBSA Associate Arnold Bray Webb. Webb was awarded the Birmingham Exhibition Centenary Medal in 1989.

Visit Soon!

The Members and Associates Exhibition is on until Christmas Eve. As noted by RBSA President Robert Neil, it’s a brilliant opportunity to celebrate the incredibly diverse talent represented at the RBSA. Come and see artworks in a wide variety of media, including paintings, textiles, sculpture and more! And remember, most works are for sale.

With Christmas coming up fast, the exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to pick up a beautiful and unique gift.

By Alfie Hancox RBSA Blog Volunteer

#artexhibitioninBirmingham #Buyart #ContemporaryBritishart #RBSAgallery

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