Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My RCA Secret Experience

As promised here are my RCA Secret experiences.

As is now becoming customary the build up to the show went very smoothly for the college with some good press articles and new contributors announced. I busied myself in the build up to the show by ferreting around on the internet finding articles on the show and refining my research on contributors.

Excitement built as the Friday approached and I did find myself refreshing the RCA Secret website at around 11am eager to see the cards on show. The college got them all up promptly and the next few days were spent looking through them all, working out which ones I liked best.

I went to the show proper on the Sunday, bought raffle tickets and took my daughter round it. She made a list of her favourite cards herself – many of which were far more bright and colourful than the cards on my list.

One further trip to see to show followed during the week and then come Friday morning I was ready to start camping. I woke up really early on Friday with a stinking cold and feeling pretty awful so instead of doing the sensible thing and rolling over and going back to sleep I decided to get up and get to the show as soon as possible.

I packed all my things up including my new purchase – an inflatable mattress for inside my tent and headed off.

I must have arrived around 9ish in the morning and busily set up my tent. The usual suspects were turning up or already there – Peter had been there for some time – Adam turned up shortly after me, John followed a few minutes later and then Chris an hour or so after that. I was 15th in the normal queue – thus 65th in the overall queue including the raffle ticket winners.

Once the college opened its doors we all piled inside and spent the next few hours looking through all the cards, selecting favourites and spotting, even at this late stage, cards we hadn’t seen before. By now I had three favourite cards – the Peter Jones monkey (inevitably), a beautiful pencil sketch of a woman’s face, and another pencil sketch of a tree or flower nymph. My favourite set of cards was a series of oil paintings of boats which I had known from previous sales were by Frances Fogg (although I don’t know a great deal more about her than that – any information gratefully received). I’d just missed out on one of these cards last year and was hoping that this year would be luckier in that respect.

Lunch followed with the usual suspects at Wagamammas and then a further few hours browsing the cards in the afternoon, all the time spending some time outside as well in the queue chatting to others.

Finally the doors closed and we were turfed out on to the street to commence waiting. I stood outside with the wind whistling down Kensington Gore with my phone in hand waiting and hoping for that raffle call. Sadly whilst others got the call around us in the queue I didn’t. After three years of the raffle I still haven’t won – maybe next year.

It was bitterly cold in the queue this year. Possibly even colder than 2007 with predictions on the weather forecast for snow and frost. The fact that I had a stinking cold didn’t help, especially with friends and family who thought I was mad to queue all night for this with the way I was feeling. But I had a flask and lemsip, a tent and a great sleeping bag which meant I was reasonably warm. I even got a few hours kip.

Around 6.30 we started packing up our stuff. As usual there were a number of queue bargers at the front of the queue. Many of them I think genuinely didn’t realise where the queue started and were thankful to us for letting them know that they were in the wrong place, and directing them to where they needed to go. As is customary, however, there were a couple of belligerent souls who believed they had a god given right to push in front of the now 400 odd people who had been queueing patiently. I don’t know what happened to them in the end but they weren’t around by the time we had packed up all out tents and, at least in part organised by me, formed our orderly queue.

The raffle winners were all milling about excitedly and it was there that I saw how many of the queue regulars had won the raffle – the two chris j’s, Austin, Gavin, Peter – this made me seriously concerned about what might be left when I got to the front of the queue.

As we were waiting news filtered out of what had been picked up by the raffle winners, one of the Chris’s came out telling me that he had landed “the jackpot” – 3 Regos and a Fedden. I also learnt that the Peter Jones card had gone to the lady queueing just behind me (whose name I have temporarily forgotten – apologies), who had won the raffle but elected to spend the night on the street with her husband in any event – now that’s spousal dedication for you!

Thankfully this year we were allowed in a bit earlier – whilst there were approximately 15 raffle ticket winners ahead of us. This gave us all time to mark off on our list more of the cards that had been sold, and definitely made the queue move quicker. As usual there was the occasional moan from the queue when a card that was really wanted had gone. By the time I got to the front nearly all of the obvious big name artists cards had gone but most of my favourite cards were still there.

I therefore had a pretty good idea about what had sold and what hadn’t, but was determined to be disciplined about going through my list of those I hadn’t checked off, just in case a card had been missed by those ahead of me in the queue. It took me a while but I went off upstairs happy with my purchases.

So what did I get? The pencil sketch of the woman’s face (possibly Penelope Cruz – whaddya think?) that was by Josie McCoy. I think this card is absolutely lovely but was possibly missed by many people who glanced over it as being a photograph or digital image.

My tree or flower nymph which, as I suspected, was by Lucie Bennett. I love this one.

One of the boats by Frances Fogg which I just think is so beautiful– as I said above all information about this artist gratefully received.

And finally a lovely card by an artist who I believe is Oxford based called Marie Boyle.

I was very pleased with my haul and had a great time, as ever, with friends from the queue, new and old. Congratulations to the college on another very successful sale. See you all again back for RCA Secret 2009!


bunny coco said...

i was looking forward to reading your perspective as one of the sales seasoned attendees.

have you heard about the "herb and dorothy" documentary? the trailer is inspiring and heartwarming.

pezlow said...

Thanks for the link. I hadn't heard about the documentary but I had seen an interview with the couple on a Channel 4 programme by Robert Hughes a couple of months ago called "Mona Lisa Curse". Woth watching on 40D, although I don't necessarily agree with everything Hughes says. They are certainly an interesting couple and I will try and catch the documentary with interest.

Christopher said...

Hi again Perry

A little update on how I got on:

In the end I got my purchaser number in good time - the college emailed me late on Wednesday morning with it, and late that day I popped down to the college to have a look at the postcards in person.

Whilst I was there, as my list of favourites was looking a little short, and my purchases would be surprise birthday/Christmas gifts for friends and family, I thought I'd try my luck and entered the First-Fifty raffle. I was informed that if my name was drawn they'd call me between 18.00 and 19.00 on Friday

Fast forward to Friday ... my mobile rings at 18.35 - number withheld; normally I'd leave it - friends' numbers come up on the screen, so normally it's either a marketing call, but if it's not, my theory is that if it's important the caller will leave a message; however, what with the raffle taking place I took the call "Congratulations this is the RCA you've won a place in the First-Fifty raffle!".

Wow - I couldn't quite believe it ... Instantly thoughts ran through my head - Maybe I should change my game plan? I've got a real opportunity to bag a big name now! The Quentin Blake and Nick Park cards are really obvious to even a layman like me; with a little bit of research, I could probably work out which are the likes of the Grayson Perry and Paula Rego's cards ... you fool! I can't believe you even contemplated cashing in! I'd chosen my original favourites on artistic merit and because they appealed to me and I know that they would appeal to the friends/family that I'm buying them for ... It would serve me right to try and bag a big name, but the postcards turn out to be imitations by unknowns, and end up with 4 cards that I don't even like. How sad to end up with 4 postcards on the wall that one doesn't especially like, but is justified having up on the wall just because it's by a famous name!

A quick browse through the postcards on the RCA website confirmed that my top 4 cards still meant the most to me and touched me more than any of the other cards - even with the knowledge that I could potentially give up the opportunity to bag a big name. A final look through Quentin Blake's cards confirmed that none of his cards particularly appealed to me - had his subject matters been different, then maybe I would I have jumped at the opportunity, but unfortunately none of them especially jumped out at me apart from the fact that they were obviously Quentin Blake, a shame, but you never know, I might get another opportunity in the future, and at moments like this I like to believe in Karma.

With my mind made up and cards chosen, I slept much better than expected. The alarm went off at 6.30am and I quickly switched it off - my girlfriend slept through it before it kicked in to really loud mode. Now, problem number 2 (number 1 being yesterday evening's slight temporary slip of conscience after winning a place in the First-Fifty); one of the cards will be a surprise Christmas present for my girlfriend - the one now lying asleep next to me in bed! I lay there for a few moments, listening to her deep breathing, making sure that she was still in a deep sleep; satisfied that she was, I very slowly slid out of the bed.

I then tiptoed to the sitting room and got dressed into the clothes that I had carefully hidden behind the sofa the night before. Whilst brushing my teeth, I logged on to the laptop and the RCA website to check for the umpteenth time that my postcard numbers on my list matched the postcards that I wanted. Website down - oh well, I had checked them too many times to remember just before I went to bed, so I'm sure that all will be well.

I hopped on to my pedal bike and enjoyed the refreshing crisp ride to the college, excited with anticipation.

I arrived just before 7am as instructed and headed to the front of the queue. I asked the girls at the front if they were each one of the First-Fifty too; they were, but it turns out that they didn't realise that there is another mini draw for the First-Fifty winners to determine the order of the winners, instead they assumed that it was first come first served as per the main queue, so they arrived over an hour ago in the hope that they would be the first of the First-Fifty; oh well they didn't appear too disheartened, to be one of the First-Fifty is still a fantastic opportunity anyway.

After more chit chat it turned out that 2 of the girls nearly missed out on being in the First-Fifty; on the tickets it states "Winners will be notified by telephone between 6-7pm that evening and must be available to take the call." one of the girls was on the Tube when she received the call - luckily she had a signal and she didn't go into a tunnel during the call, and the other was at home and doesn't normally answer her mobile when at home, fortunately, unbeknown to her, her husband was in the same room as her mobile, answered the call, found her in another part of the house and passed the phone to her saying "It's the RCA, they say you've won a raffle ..." So all in all, I think the girls were happy to make in the First-Fifty regardless of where in the First-Fifty they maybe placed.

Soon after our chit chat the doors opened to the lucky fifty.

The results of the mini draw placed me 29th in the queue, but bizarrely enough, a couple of people hadn't turned up, so I was in actual fact about 27th. I got chatting to the gentleman in front of me; he had been coming for a few years now, and this was the first time he had won a place in the First-Fifty, but his wife had won a place a couple of years ago. Over the years they had manage to accumulate a collection of works by an artist whose name I didn't recognise, but whose style had caught their eye years ago, and they were hoping to add to their collection this year. Behind me I got talking to another man, who turned out to be Wayne Chisnall.

As mentioned in Jules' blog below, Wayne is an artist who has previously exhibited in the RCA exhibition and has also contributed to this year's (see postcards 1022, 1650, 1996 and 2108). For those unfamiliar with him, he has been somewhat controversial in that he made public which were his entries to this year's sale, shunning the secrecy and anonymity of the postcards' origins. Well, I'm happy to report that he didn't use his insider knowledge to purchase any big names, instead, in the spirit of things, he bought what had caught his eye, which turned out to be by relative unknowns, and although his very first choice card was gone, his next four were still available and he appeared very delighted with his purchases.

With regards to my choices, I managed to pick up 3 of my top 4 cards, missing out on a card that I had chosen as a present for my mother - card number 303 by Brian Tattersfield; however, I was very pleased with my other purchases. Unfortunately, I won't reveal which cards I bought, in fear that my friends happen to stumble across this blog/entry while surfing the net ... Well ... ok then ... as my girlfriend is a technophobe, I suppose that I can at least reveal that I managed to pick up one of the Nicola Hicks cards for her - number 305, just don't tell her! And if you happen to be one of my friend's reading this, sorry but if I've bought a card for you, you won't find out if you're one of the lucky ones until your birthday, and don't hold you breath, I didn't land a big name (apart from Nicola Hicks if you're into sculpture that is, which I was very pleasantly surprised and chuffed with), but I guarantee that you'll still love you card!

Overall, I can say that everyone in the queue was very friendly. Everyone that I spoke to appeared to be there in the spirit of things, and to quote Jules, they all appeared to be after cards that "were chosen on the basis of being really drawn to them, wanting to have some gorgeous original artwork, & supporting the RCA to boot" and I can happily report that I didn't come across any eBay-Hags or profit vultures.

It was also great to see that as well as Quentin Blake, Manolo Blahnik also entered 6 cards, giving fans a much higher chance of picking up one of their works.

I hope everyone had as much fun as me, and managed to pick up at least one card that they were after. Looking forward to next year already, and can't wait to read Perry's blog/entry on his recommended method to frame the cards so that both the front and back are displayed.

By the way, it was fantastic reading everyone else's accounts of the sale - I hope you enjoyed mine.

See you all next year!

pezlow said...

Certainly did enjoy it Christopher. Congratulations on winning the raffle and getting the cards you really wanted. I'm glad you had such an enjoyable experience and look forward to meeting you next year.

I'm going to post your account on the main page of the blog so no-one misses it.

Thanks for reminding me about the framing article. Will try and write that soon.