Canadian artist Ilana Pichon with her work Ilana was invited to show through the Engramme Exchange (Photo: Chris Watt)
Canadian artist Ilana Pichon with her work Ilana was invited to show through the Engramme Exchange (Photo: Chris Watt)

Annual exhibition opens at Royal Scottish Academy

Scotland’s two leading arts organisations have joined forces for the second time to present an ambitious and dynamic annual exhibition.

This will bring together the best in contemporary art and design in a collaboration at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.

The Society of Scottish Artists (SSA) and Visual Arts Scotland (VAS) present SSA | VAS OPENshowcasing work from more than 150 artists and designers – from painting, sculpture and printmaking to installation, performance, moving image, furniture and jewellery. The work was selected following a series of open calls, which attracted more than 2,500 entries from artists and designers around the world.

The exhibition will show some of the most exciting work being made by both societies’ members, as well as bringing powerful international artwork to audiences in Edinburgh. More than 30,000 visitors are expected over the duration of the show. The exhibition is produced and supported entirely by artists, with no public funding.

Both societies are pleased to present a diverse range of new and continuing prizes and collaborations with organisations including The Cordis Trust, CutLog, The Inches Carr Trust, Engramme and Lithographie-Werkstatt Eichstätt.

Canadian artist Ilana Pichon with her work Ilana was invited to show through the Engramme Exchange (Photo: Chris Watt)

The SSA is also delighted to be working for the first time with the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, who will be presenting a new graduate award. To coincide with the award, a work by Barns-Graham (1912 –2004) will also be on show. The award is particularly significant as the SSA gave Barns-Graham her first opportunity to exhibit in a public exhibition while she was studying at Edinburgh College of Art in 1935.

VAS is also hosting a new award for furniture and design from the Scottish Furniture Makers’ Association, which places a focus on sustainable and ethical production. Makers showing include London-based furniture designer, maker and environmentalist Sebastian Cox, and Edinburgh-based designer and maker Isabelle Moore.

Andrew Mackenzie, President of Visual Arts Scotland, said: ‘Since their inception, both societies have focused on the new and adventurous, the challenging and contemporary. We will continue this commitment by presenting an exhibition that demonstrates fully the diversity of contemporary and applied art created today.’

Sharon Quigley, President of the Society of Scottish Artists, added: ‘The SSA and VAS have much in common yet are very distinct organisations. Working together, our mission once more has been to celebrate our unique qualities, whilst confirming our individual identities as two of Scotland’s leading art institutions. This exciting collaboration has allowed us to combine our expertise to present one ambitious exhibition, following an outstanding response from artists of the highest calibre.’

New incoming presidents of the Society of Scottish Artists Jamie McAteer and Olivia Turner (Photo: Chris Watt)

SSA | VAS OPEN at the Royal Scottish Academy includes:

  • Large-scale, stainless steel sculptures by renowned artist Sam Shendi, which form part of his Calligraphy Collection. This is the first time the Egyptian-born artist has exhibited with either society.
  • BLOCO BLOQUEADO/ BLOCK BLOCK by Stephanie Black-Daniels – a performance installation exploring themes of gender and sexuality. The work is based on the artist’s experience of attending LGBTQI self-defence classes while on the Open Bodies residency in Brazil, which was run in association with the Fruitmarket Gallery.
  • New work by Louise Barrington, this year’s SSA invited artist. Barrington was invited following her work at last year’s annual exhibition, Messages Change Day by Day. She has made work in direct response to the landscape of her native Orkney.
  • Große Lüge (Big Lie), a large, wall-mounted text sculpture by Gary Gowans exploring and responding to contemporary issues including fake news and political propaganda. A QR code will allow viewers to discover more about the work.
  • Alba Down to Nippon, by James Alexander McKenzie: a large-scale painting and performance, drawing on the artist’s experiences during a research trip to Tokyo. The work looks at Japanese culture as experienced by a Scottish outsider.
  • Samantha Cheevers’ response to lost communities and derelict buildings in the Cabrach, northeast Scotland, following her recent residency at Glenfiddich Distillery.
  • Jeff Zimmer’s glass text sculptures, based on the poems of Edwin Morgan. Zimmer was awarded the Glass Biennale Prize at this year’s British Glass Biennale.
  • Discomforts, a mixed-media work by Susie Wilson, made in response to her research around the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War.

Collaborations and awards:


The SSA is pleased to present a new collaboration with artist-led organisation CutLog, creating a dedicated space for moving image within the galleries of the RSA. The works, by 67 artists, range from mobile phone to 4k video recordings, from digitised 8 and 16mm film to animation, and from computer-generated imagery to extreme slow motion. They include Mairéad McClean’s Making Her Mark,  filmed in North Uist; Los Angeles artist Lana Z Caplan’s Maelstrom, reflecting on the dehumanising use of image technology; Glasgow-based John Butler’s Xerox’s Paradox; and Guli Silberstein’s multi award-winning Field of Infinity. Mini works include Sam Harley’s 17-second animation Traffic jam, and Edinburgh-based Nicola Murray’s meltdown mini-drama Folly.

Mermaid by Sam Shendi (Photo: Chris Watt)

Graduate Showcase

As part of their commitment to supporting emerging artists, the SSA and VAS have invited a number of graduating students from the five main Scottish art schools to exhibit. The SSA has also invited a graduate from a further education college. They are: Denise Hunter (Forth Valley College), Eve Watson, Brandon Logan and Emelia Kerr Beale (Edinburgh College of Art), Jakub Stepanovic (Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design), Krisztina Horvath and Madeleine Daly (Moray School of Art), Naomi McClureand Joseph Buhat (Gray’s School of Art), Ruby Pluhar and Eleanor Whitworth (Glasgow School of Art).

Over Under: Under Over

The Cordis Trust and VAS are pleased to present Over Under: Under Over, a new exhibition of cutting-edge work following the success of The Cordis Prize held at Inverleith House in Edinburgh earlier this year.  Six national and international artists have been selected to show a variety of work, which resonates with the principal of weaving: Dail Behennah, Sue Lawty, Celia Pym, Elizabeth Ashdown, Sarah Jane Henderson and Sadhvi Jawa.

Inches Carr Mentoring Award

The Inches Carr Trust and VAS present three artists and designers who have been shortlisted for the 2020 Inches Carr Mentoring Award – a £5000 award for a maker and £2000 for an experienced mentor. Simon James Whatley is a furniture designer based in Edinburgh, whose work focuses on sustainability; Stefanie Cheong is a jewellery designer who sources her materials directly from the Scottish landscape; Janet Hughesis a weaver who works from her garden studio in Fife.  They are exhibiting alongside last year’s winners, Highland duo Yellow Broom, who have been working with ceramicist Myer Halliday to expand their practice.

Engramme Exchange

Canadian artist Ilana Pichon has been invited to show work as part of the continuing exchange programme between the SSA and Engramme, an organisation in eastern Canada devoted to innovative and original printmaking. The programme invites a Canadian artist to exhibit at the SSA’s annual exhibition each year.

Eichstätt Lithography Residency

The Eichstätt Lithography Residency Award is part of the SSA’s dedication to creating international opportunities that offer artists time and space to develop and exhibit their work. In 2019 the residency at the Lithographie-Werkstatt Eichstätt in Bavaria, Germany, was awarded to Julie Bellavance, who will show her resulting work at SSA | VAS OPEN.

Visual Arts Scotland

Visual Arts Scotland is a leading platform for national and international contemporary fine and applied artists, with more than 700 members. Originally an organisation for women artists, VAS now champions all craft makers, designers and applied arts practitioners, helping to create new dialogues across art forms. The annual exhibition offers the opportunity for emerging and established artists and makers to showcase new and unseen work and engage with a wider public: to generate debate, to test and exhibit challenging and ambitious ideas.

With more than 1300 members, The Society of Scottish Artists is Scotland’s largest artist-led exhibiting society.Run by artists for artists, the SSA is guided by a team of volunteers, each elected by the members, working together to create opportunities. Founded in 1891, the SSA held its first annual exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy. Today it continues in the spirit of its founders – to show the controversial and the unexpected, and to give hanging space to new artists of promise.