Friday, 22 September 2006

Mounting tension

In an effort to stem the rising tide of drawings accumulating around the house, I use January A&I’s handy annual round-up of competitions to see if one or two could catch the eye of some judges somewhere. Experience proves that entering open competitions usually takes the form of a short-term loan rather than any permanent departure, but, hey, they aren’t going to catch the eye of anyone if they sit around the studio, so I download the entry forms and set about choosing which works to enter.

Artists, as we all probably know to our cost, are not always the best judges of their own work, so, as usual, I enroll the help of my partner Naomi, who is more qualified than many a competition judge. We whittle the drawings down to a shortlist by sticking them up around the front room and then try them out in temporary frames and hang them over the fireplace. Things are going well until the daughters then also add their views. Celia, who is five, offers an immediate ego-massaging “cool, Dad” but Esther, eight, suggests a “larger, darker frame”. I can see the day coming when the quality threshold required to get past my family is higher than that needed to get past the actual selection panel.

This in-house selection process is fast in comparison with the framing. Has anyone anywhere ever cut a 45 degree mount without wasting at least four sheets of A1 mountboard? I now have enough products that promise to help me cut the perfect mount to open a National Museum of Angle Cutting. If I manage three good cuts – in itself an undertaking likely to take the best part of an evening - the tension is such when I come to make the final one that it invariably becomes banana-shaped. Just as Mr Coleman made his millions from mustard left on the side of the plate, so too must the mountboard manufacturers from the wasted acres of their essential product. So frustrating and time-wasting does this become it is tempting to make new pieces of work to fit the perfect professionally cut mounts I already have.

But the night before the closing date they are ready, and I’m off on my bike - stopping at traffic lights on the way, grumpier A&I correspondents will be pacified to know – with the drawings strapped to the back in a pillow case. On my way to the delivery point I stop off at the Royal Academy to see this year’s Summer Exhibition. As the world’s largest open submission exhibition there is such a variety of work on view to encourage anyone who is wondering if they should bite the financial bullet and enter. However, to be hung is one thing, to be seen another; many of the works are hung so high on the walls that they are impossible to see as intended.

One work on show, however, is a reminder of how selection judges see what they want rather than what the artist may have hoped. David Hensell was delighted to hear his jesmonite sculpture of a laughing head had been selected, but what he didn’t know until the exhibition opening was that the plinth upon which it stood had become detached, and it was this section that had been judged and put on show. The head itself had been rejected.

I’m glad that the stunted work, which is a little wooden fitting on an outsized stone slab, remained on show, rather than being reunited with its upper half. The episode does, as Hensell admits, say something about the state of the visual arts today, and perhaps something about the judges. But I can’t help thinking that if, say, the reverse side of one of my drawings was selected in the competition I was entering I would be more than slightly miffed. Not least because of all the effort I’ve put into cutting that mount.

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