When I first started painting I was very enthusiastic about submitting for every show and happily I was accepted for most. This was and is a great way to get your name out there. For those who don't know the procedure here's a quick guide to what goes on. You are invited to submit a certain number of paintings for which you pay a small entry fee. Then a panel of judges decide which paintings will be exhibited at the show. If you are selected there is the kudos from having your work displayed in a well known gallery plus the chance to sell your work throughout the period of the exhibition. If not selected you lose your entry fee and have to wait another year. Now when you get your acceptance notice invariably enclosed is an official invite to 'The Preview Evening'. A singular honour and privilege indeed where you can mix with the great and the good to see the exhibition without the encumbrance of the general public.
I still remember my first time. The East Coast Open is a biannual exhibition held at Scarborough Art Gallery. In 2000 I had entered more in hope than expectation but to my immense joy all three paintings were accepted so this meant we were eligible to attend the preview which the invite made plain was strictly by invitation only. It sounded very grand and I felt very proud to be part of it - in fact I felt like a 'proper' artist whose work had been accepted by the establishment.
The preview was scheduled for 7.00 to 8.30 p.m. on a Friday night. I can't remember the date but it was wintertime. What to wear? Well it sounded very grand so we opted for formal dress. I wore my best suit with a new tie. Merice is a woman so of course she had to have a new outfit! We lived in York which is about fifty miles from Scarborough so we set off in good time so we wouldn't be late. We were a bit early but didn't want to be first in. This meant quite a long wait in a cold car until a sufficient number of people had gone in before us. Once inside I was disappointed that no-one even bothered to check our invites. There was a table with glasses of red or white wine and a few 'nibbles'. We picked up our glass and followed the crowd upstairs to the first floor which had been allocated for the exhibition. I made a beeline to find my paintings. They had been hung one above the other in a corner on an alcove. They didn't look too bad. I stood back hoping they would attract excited comments from the onlookers. But no. In fact it seemed that most of the people there were like me - only really interested in their own paintings! Everyone was talking in very muted voices apart from one small group. They turned out to be the judges and their entourage. Included among them was a real life ' proper' artist. He was dressed in a white linen jacket and seemed to be drinking plenty of the red stuff and enjoying himself surrounded by his earnest band of followers. He was also wearing a brightly coloured scarf and as I looked round the room I noticed that this was indeed the badge of an artist. No matter what else they happened to be wearing, male and female - they were adorned in a brightly coloured scarf! It had been an occasion that left us both feeling strangely flat but we learned the lessons - never go to a preview overdressed. Wear whatever you want, even be outrageous but always, always even if there's a heatwave - wear a scarf!
I carried on entering all the competitions for a while but stopped after a couple of years. My only reason is that I want total control over where and how my paintings are hung. Even now I am very careful where I show my original paintings. But that doesn't mean I stopped attending previews. It's great fun and a chance to meet up with fellow artists every now and then.