Hannah Forward at the RA Summer Show

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As an avid arts documentary watcher, I tuned into the recent BBC documentary on the RA Summer Show, this year curated by Grayson Perry (always good value and has interesting things to say about the art world and more). Its always great to see the breadth of work on show and a few minutes in, I see a familiar face looking back at me. Hannah Forward has been a friend and collaborator with the magazine since its early days and we were excited to feature her work and talk to her for issue 3. I caught up with Hannah to find our more about her involvement in the documentary, the show and what's on the horizon for her.

How do you go about getting your work seen by the RA for their summers show? What is the application process?
The RA summer exhibition happens annually, and you can submit up to two works online when they're open for submissions right at the beginning of the year (from very early January to about mid February). In mid March you receive an email from them letting you know whether the work you've submitted has been shortlisted or not. If it has, they'll want you to deliver your piece to the RA in May for the final round of judging, which involves RA members looking over your work (amongst thousands of other pieces) to decide if they think it'll fit in well with the sort of show they want to put on. You'll then receive another email at the end of May letting you know if you've made it in or not.

It's £35 per piece of work you submit so not cheap to apply, but if you do manage to get in the gamble can seriously pay off. I remember going to the summer show in about 2014 when I first started really getting into printmaking and being bowled over by the number of red dots there were next to some of the print work, many had sold out of their edition completely. There's a lot of kudos attached to getting your work into the show as so many people apply (around 25,000 each year I think) coupled with an enormous amount of people who visit every year seeking to invest in upcoming artists, or people who just love to buy art. So if you're lucky and get in, chances are you stand to sell a lot of prints...

Was it hard to decide on which print to put up for it? Did you send in more than one?
As I've applied for the RA show in the past I'm on their mailing list and so received an invitation to apply for this years. It had a big photo of Grayson Perry's face really close up, with a quote from him saying he was looking for 'Art made Now' and that work that showed humour to it would be 'looked on favourably'. That kind of helped me decide what to choose so I submitted 'Conversations', a very colourful linocut and one of my most recent prints, and 'Cassette Tapes' which I felt was the print that probably fit what he was asking for the best. It also helps that I've visited the RA show for a few years now so have a bit of an idea what sort of work gets chosen. I had a feeling that colour, more than ever this year, was going to be a big theme so this made it pretty easy to decide what to submit.

I just saw you on my TV! What was it like being filmed for the BBC documentary? Did you have to tidy up your studio or prep for their visits?
Being filmed for the BBC was extremely surreal! But also very exciting. Waiting in my studio for the film crew to arrive to interview me and film me printing that first day was pretty nerve wracking. All five of us somehow managed to squeeze into my studio. I didn't really have to tidy much beforehand, I was in the middle of printing the 'Snowboard Cross' print so the studio looked kind of messy and productive with printmaking stuff everywhere. They rearranged a couple of things in the background to get more of my work in shot when they interviewed me but that's about it. The next three times I was filmed I felt a lot more at ease, you kind of get to know what's expected of you and the crew start to become familiar faces.

Was it hard keeping quiet about it until the show aired?
I did tell family and people I could trust wouldn't broadcast it on social media until the programme aired. The hardest time for really wanting to post about it was after the intense first day, when they came to interview me and film me printing. It had been about five intense hours and I was buzzing afterwards, I really wanted to tell my followers what had just happened but wasn't allowed! Not yet.

How can people watch it?
You can watch it on BBC iPlayer if you're based in the UK until 16th July 2018. 

What’s been the impact of the show (and the documentary) for you?
The evening the show was aired, and for almost every day since, I've had orders for prints consistently coming in. I had three orders for the Snowboard Cross print that evening, which was so amazing! People had seen me in the process of printing it on their TV, found me online and ordered the final print, the biggest linocut I've done yet. I've had quite a lot of people getting in contact about the Cassette Tapes print either because of seeing it at the RA show or on TV and being disappointed to have not had a chance to buy one of the prints. Amazingly they sold out during the four days of private views that take place before the exhibition is open to the general public (which was also before the documentary aired). Because of this I've decided to create a new version of the Cassette Tapes print - called Cassette Tapes B-side. It'll be the same size and layout as the original print but feature different cassettes and colours. I've got a list of about 18 names of people who have reserved one of these prints already (get in touch if you're interested!) - and I haven't even begun carving it yet! This feels pretty special and goes to show the impact getting into the RA show can have - people can just get really interested in you.

In fact I've been kept so busy lately I've very recently taken the decision to take time off from my day job at Lawrence Art Supplies for a few months. Which is totally amazing, and not something I've felt able to do until now - take that risk into full time artist printmaker freelancing. By September I have to decide whether or not I want to return to the job - hopefully I can make it work..

Did you get to meet Grayson Perry (curator of this years show) or any other artists you like? 
I didn't get to meet Grayson unfortunately! I thought he might be around on varnishing day but it turns out the RA members have their own varnishing day..I did get to meet Paul Catherall, which was really great. His linocuts have always held a lot of appeal to me, his use of colour and shape and economy of form really does it for me, it's always a pleasure coming across his work when you're out and about it London. We seemed to immediately start talking about different methods of registration - absolutely nerding out about printmaking, it was great! He's an absolute master of linocut, and a big inspiration to me when I first started out (and still is) so it was really a pleasure to meet him - and at the RA!

What other work did you like at the show?
Another printmaker I hugely admire is Tom Hammick. His use of colour, composition, subject matter, it's always so unusual looking and draws me in. There's kind of a strange, poetic quality to his work that I really love. His work at the RA has really inspired me to try producing a reduction linocut or woodcut print at some point.

When is the show on until?
August 19th 2018. Not that I'm biased but it really is worth seeing this year! There's a sense of fun and energy and entertainment and humour that Grayson and his team have injected into the whole thing, which is perfect for the 250th anniversary of the show. It feels like a very needed revamp.

So you sounds like you have been very busy since we last hooked up with you for your article in Issue 3. Any new work and developments?
Alongside the RA / BBC stuff I've also opened up my home for the Brighton & Hove Artists Open Houses, which kept Georgia and I very busy throughout May and was a lot of fun. We're planning on opening up Scott Road again for Christmas so have started planning for this. I'll be selling work at Ink Paper + Print at the Towner in Eastbourne in October and have been working on producing a limited edition batch of linocut illustrated books that I'll be launching at the event. I have a couple of private commissions in the pipeline and I'm also working on Cassette Tapes b-side, which should be all printed in early August. As well as that my aim is to just keep producing more work, as a lot of my editions are beginning to sell out now and I need more stock!

See more of Hannah's work at www.hannahforward.com

Hannah featured in Issue 3 of Pressing Matters magazine and is available now 

John Coe