A Brush with Fame

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I can’t remember when I realised that anyone could submit a picture the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, but once I did, it only took me three years to actually get around to doing it.

I had a piece selected for the show back in 2011 and was delighted to sell it on the opening night. As an exhibitor, it is an enormously exciting thing to be a part of: the traditions, the ceremony, the proximity of your artistic heroes, the high chance of a sale…

Acceptance into the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is something that everyone understands – art lover or not – and adding this RA selection to my CV seemed to really make a difference.

So, as I now do every year, I submitted my two pictures to the Summer Exhibition in March, and one of these pictures was shortlisted for the second round of judging. Naturally, I tweeted this happy news immediately. It’s rare to have some news that is actually newsworthy and I wasted no time.

Also unusual was the fact that a BBC researcher was watching timelines for RA news, saw my tweet and added me to his list of possible contributors to BBC Arts’ annual documentary on the intriguing inner workings of this 250-year-old institution. Occasionally, Twitter is excellent.

A lengthy telephone interview followed a few days later when – I guess – they gauged my suitability and ability to string a sentence together. Throughout the hour-long chat I did my best impersonation of an artist, while dropping in as many interesting personal nuggets as I could.

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I mentioned my bike racing exploits and (with an eye on the viewfinder) suggested that I would most likely be delivering my shortlisted painting to the RA in my (t)rusty bike trailer. This got their interest.

So it was, 6 weeks later, that I found myself pedaling up and down Piccadilly with my tiny painting nestled in my enormous trailer, doing my level best not to ride through any red lights or run over any pedestrians, while the Beeb’s cameras rolled and a charming, curly-haired director literally shouted ‘Action!’

The following week, the same team came to my home and studio in East London, interviewed me at length, filmed me at work in the garden, playing and painting with the kids, and interviewed my wife.

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A week later, they were back again – this time for the coup de grâce.

The BBC had colluded with the Royal Academy to delay my submission email (along with the 5 or 6 other artists that were in the running for the TV show) so that they could film my reaction to the news – good or bad – ‘live’ on camera. It was an unpleasant moment, reading aloud the carefully chosen words of the RA selectors, as I realised that the decision that they were heading towards was ‘Sorry, but no.’

I’ve had lots of similar accept/reject emails and letters over the years and I’m pretty sure that the casual observer wouldn’t have been able to tell one way or another had they witnessed me reading any of them. This time was different, of course, and I did my best to really look and sound disappointed. I tried, but I couldn’t squeeze out a tear. Perhaps I should have tried harder.

I took solace in the fact that the director wanted to see both sides of the story – the successful submissions and the ones that got away. I was hopeful, optimistic, that my work and I would still appear on screen, a shop window for my paintings that could – perhaps – be a game-changer.

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One of the problems with social media and with trying to make hay from the good things that come your way, is knowing quite what to do when – inevitably – some of these opportunities don’t pan out. This had felt like a big one and I’d trumpeted it accordingly. People retweeted, shared and liked – some even asked me about it in person. There was a buzz.

I doubt that it was entirely due to my hammy reaction shot and the lack of on-screen waterworks, but a fortnight later I got the call that I had been dreading. My disappointment was compounded: rejected by the Royal Academy and now rejected by the BBC as well.

So, was this another much-vaunted opportunity which now needed to be swept under the virtual rug, never to be mentioned again?

Not this time.

It’s a good story and I took some good pictures. Maybe I’ll learn from it; maybe someone else will. I’ve got blogs  to post and I’d already written loads about this, so… enjoy! Having watched the show, I feel less aggrieved at having not been included, although the split-second shot of me riding my bike down Piccadilly felt like it added insult to injury.

Anyway, I’m over it. Seriously.

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