Lois Wallace on Applying to Open Exhibitions

Lois Wallace is a contemporary painter who trained at the Slade School of Art. She has exhibited in Berlin, Brussels, New York, Spain, London and many other cities. Her work is in public and private collections in the U.K. Europe and New Zealand. Lois exhibited in the Nottingham Castle Open 2014 and was the winner of the Ian Robinson Prize. She has a great track record of exhibiting in open shows and this interview explores her experiences of this format of exhibition.

Secret Place, 2016, Oil on Copper, currently showing at the Beep International Painting Prize, Wales. 

Secret Place, 2016, Oil on Copper, currently showing at the Beep International Painting Prize, Wales. 

[CG] It would be good if you could start by listing some of the open submission exhibitions that you have exhibited in, in the last couple of years?

[LW] Since exhibiting in the Nottingham Castle Open in 2014 I have shown in several open submission exhibitions. This year and last I exhibited at Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, this is a great show to exhibit in as it attracts so many visitors who are interested in buying work. I also submitted work to the Shenzhen International Biennial in China. Like the Nottingham Castle Open this exhibition was free to enter. It tours around 5 public galleries during 2015 – 2016 and full colour hardback catalogue was produced to accompany the show, which they sent over to me.

The Beep Wales International Painting Prize was also free to enter, a fee is only paid if or when the work is selected for the show. The exhibition tours August to November in Wales, from Swansea to Wrexham and Cardiff. Closer to home, I recently won the main prize of a solo show from Tarpey Gallery, having been selected for the Midlands Open 2016. This is a great opportunity for me to make new work, and a good example of an open exhibition leading to a solo show.

[CG] Have you always applied for open submission exhibitions or is this something you have only pursued in recent years? 

[LW] Open exhibitions help develop your CV and it was the only way I could develop an exhibition profile before working with galleries. Most open shows have online submission, which has made things much easier on one hand as you don’t have to physically take the work to the gallery, but more people enter online so it can be more competitive to be accepted.

[CG] Can you give us an idea of how you treat the submission, selection and even rejection process? You clearly have a great track record but of course every artist who has entered an open submission exhibition has most likely also been unsuccessful on one of more occasions.

[LW] I try to find out the timetable of the open exhibitions I will submit to for the year ahead so I can plan the work within the time frame. Although it’s impossible to second-guess the work the judges will select, you do get a feel for the type of work that may be included in the exhibition.

It is only natural to be disappointed with a rejection and sometimes you get several one after the other, but I have always made a point of looking at what has been accepted. While the work may have been rejected from one exhibition the same piece can be accepted in another so it is a question of looking forward to the next opportunity.

[CG] What for you are the pros and cons of open submission exhibitions and do you feel that the process varies a lot from institution to institution, or have most of your experiences been similar?

[LW] That’s an interesting question as there are many different types of open exhibitions. Some submission exhibitions are thematic. This was the case with The Beep Wales International Painting Prize. Paintings had to broadly fit the title This must be the place I never wanted to leave. There are a few galleries now offering competitions for solo shows, but often only a handful of artists are shortlisted to exhibit in the gallery. Regional exhibitions give a broad spectrum of work, but in all types of submission shows it is down to the judges taste.
Always the summer, 2016, Oil on Copper, currently showing at the Beep International Painting Prize, Wales. 

Always the summer, 2016, Oil on Copper, currently showing at the Beep International Painting Prize, Wales. 

[CG] What have you gained from exhibiting in open call exhibitions and how has this affected your artistic practice?

[LW] It is always great to get an acceptance letter or more often nowadays email. It gives you confidence and encourages you to continue making more work. Having something to work towards with a deadline is always good and it is even better when you win one of the awards.

[CG] Why do you think it’s important that institutions continue to include open shows in their annual or bi-annual exhibition programmes?

[LW] There are many people making work and a lot of people don’t get opportunities to exhibit in galleries. Having open shows is a way of encouraging everyone to submit and see their work in a different setting. It’s really important to see your work in relation to other practice and in a different context. Open shows also promote the art gallery and bring people in who might not otherwise visit galleries.

[CG] Finally why would you recommend applying for the Nottingham Castle Open 2016?

[LW] It is definitely a competition to apply for as it shows really fresh and exciting work from across the Midlands. I have been really impressed with the way the work is presented and the conversation that takes place between painting, sculpture, video and installation. Also there is a range of different prizes from financial to residencies and solo exhibitions. I can’t think of another competition that offers such a wide range of opportunities in such a great venue.

Colette Griffin, Exhibitions & Visual Arts Assistant, Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery