Meet Our New Academicians

Meet Our New Academicians

Pennie Elfick, Jessa Fairbrother, Jemma Gunning, Dave King, Debbie Lee, Ben Rowe, and Tom Waugh.

After the incredible diversity and outstanding quality of work displayed in our candidate’s exhibition last year, we want to say a huge congratulations and very warm welcome to the seven new artists who have been selected to join our Academician body.

Chosen for the consistently high standard of their work, for demonstrating exceptional skill within their chosen practice, and for their willingness to undertake the commitments and responsibilities of elected Academy members, our Academicians help to nourish the RWA in many different ways. We can’t wait to see how these artists, with their individual practices, experiences and ideas, will help to shape the future of the RWA.

We asked each new Academician to share their creative story with us. In no particular order, here is what they had to say…

Pennie Elfick RWA

Background and Creative Process

I attended Croydon College of Art in 1965, where I was a fashion design student. Later, I transferred to the Theatre Department to study Theatrical Costume Design. In 1985 my family and I moved to Sydney Australia, where I was ‘forbidden from employment’, so instead I joined a sculpture class run by well-known Australian sculptor Tom Bass and a painting group run by a most inspiring tutor. In 1993 I started at London Guildhall University and soon realised that my interest lay in Abstraction. In 1996 I moved into my first Studio in Peckham which allowed me to pursue different ways of approaching abstraction and gave me the confidence to apply for an MA in Painting at Wimbledon College of Art in 1999. I moved to Somerset in 2002, where I had a studio that was separate from my house for the first time. I loved my studio but initially missed having other artists around. Now I don’t like working with anyone around!

My main practice is painting. I used to use oil paint but moved to acrylic a few years ago as I tend to work intuitively, rarely planning a painting. Waiting for oil paint to dry seemed to hinder my process. Recently, I have taken to screen printing which I find to be a good medium for experimental work. I rarely etch now. I love making the plates but not doing the actual printing as I find getting the plate tone back to white deeply frustrating. In 2019 I was awarded a bursary from SAW for a sculpture project, so I took up welding again - something that I love. Unfortunately, the project didn’t quite work as I had hoped but I made use of many new materials that led me in ways that I would not have imagined. Periodically I leave painting and start making small sculptures. Some are painted wood which I find a lot less stressful than painting! So I work across many disciplines and I hope to add ceramics to this list.

Between Spaces, Acrylic on Panel


My inspiration comes from the world around me. This can be shadows cast on buildings or the ground, spaces between shapes, ruined buildings, or ceramic tiles. I see something and then change its nature so that the origin would be hard to see. I periodically use cut paper to plot out the beginnings of a design, which may then be obliterated. Colour is the most important thing for me; I love to mix odd colours and see how they react to each other. It is a never-ending voyage of discovery - seeing colours against each other and how they bounce around and disorientate the eye, colour fields that have taken days to create only to be disturbed by a small intervention. My influences include Robert Motherwell, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, Ian McKeever amongst many others. I found Diebenkorn and De Kooning interesting in the way that they moved between figurative and abstraction.

Career Highlights and Current Work

One of the highlights in my career was when I had a piece of work accepted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015. I was working on an installation and found an amazing old elm beam rotting in the grass. It was in a really bad way but I felt I could do something with it. I took it home, stabilised it with wood glue, painted part of it and drew on it with black ink. It was 180cm high and wall-hung. I still have it today - all wrapped up! I have also been accepted for the RA Summer Exhibition 3 times and this is always good for the ego, even if it is a lottery! Currently, I am working towards a solo show at the Whittox Gallery in Frome in 2024.

Blue Shift I, Acrylic on Panel

Why the RWA?

I work in isolation most of the time, there are not many other artists near me who share similar ideas and the RWA is a well-established organisation that offers the facility for members to engage in dialogue regarding their work and the work of other artists. It is a lonely occupation so the opportunity to meet with other like-minded people on a regular basis is invaluable. I am looking forward to the monthly meetings, learning about how the RWA operates and helping out in any way that I can.

Tom Waugh RWA

Photo credit: Dan Adams

Background and creative process

I started working with Stone in 2002 when I was taken on as an apprentice Stonemason in Bristol. I began sweeping the scaffold and labouring but when I got the opportunity to replicate some decorative carving at St. Paul's church I was hooked. I went on to study Architectural Stone Carving at the City and Guilds of London Art School in 2004 and went straight from college to producing carvings for St Paul’s Cathedral and Windsor Castle. I moved back to Somerset in 2008 and continued to work as a freelance stone carver. My development as an artist in my own right came a bit later in 2016. I started making hyper-real sculptures of discarded objects using the traditional skills I had developed in my stone carving career.

I work predominantly in Stone and Marble. In my traditional stone carving work, I used to make maquettes in clay but now my maquettes are the real objects that I am representing. The principles of measuring, scaling up, and finishing are the same. More recently I have taken on large-scale public art projects allowing me to branch out into new materials and working methods. In 2021 I produced a 3-meter-tall sculpture of a camera lens in steel and glass for a housing development in Harrow. The glass was printed with a barrier grid animation of an aperture that appears to open and close as you move around the sculpture.

Bag For Life, Statuario Marble and gold leaf 


The art that has inspired me over the years has always been sculpture that conveys an element of spectacle. I love to see sculpture when it isn’t immediately clear how the piece was made or what it is made from. One example of this is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne where the marble-carved figures and drapery are so impossibly dynamic it takes a while to understand how the sculptor had carved them. Another example is Richard Wilson's 20:50, filling a room with recycled engine oil that is so still and reflective that it appears to be space stretching out below you. With my work, I also strive to confound expectations in this way.

Career highlights and current work

In 2018 I won two categories in the inaugural Rise Art Prize; Best Sculptor and People’s Choice, which was a real boost to my confidence and helped spur me on. Another high point in my career was winning a travel bursary in 2006 to study with the Temple Carver Raj Saceran in India. I gained skills and insights that are still invaluable today. I am now represented by Messums and I am working towards a solo show at their gallery in Wiltshire in October next year. The Wiltshire Gallery is a very large medieval tithe barn with a floor space of 14,000 square feet. As a result, I am making much larger work than I have in the past which is exciting and daunting in equal measure.

Photo credit: Russel Sach 

Why the RWA?

I applied to become an Academician to become part of a wider network of artists in the Southwest and get out of the studio a bit more. I have exhibited at the RWA three times now and I am always blown away by the quality of the work there. Now that I am part of the Academician body, I am looking forward to connecting and exhibiting with other Academicians and spending time back in Bristol. 

Debbie Lee RWA

Photo credit: Paul Jefferis

Background and creative process

I studied drawing and painting at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s, moving on to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Royal College of Art and Cyprus School of Art. I returned to teach in the painting department of Grays School of Art before travelling to India on a Commonwealth University scholarship to research folk arts. To sustain my practice I trained as an art therapist. I believe in the power of art to communicate beyond language and to heal. Studying art therapy gave me a theoretical base to support my artistic development.  


My work encompasses drawing, painting, print and animation. It explores themes of multigenerational storytelling, childhood memories and play. Ideas are developed as I move between different media. Storytelling has formed a continuous thread in my artwork.

Arm Wrestling, Oil on Canvas

Career Highlights and Current Work

 In 2022 I was invited to exhibit at the Royal Scottish Academy which helped me to renew Scottish connections. I continue to playfully express my ideas experimenting with a range of media, pushing traditional values of mainstream art, and aiming to contribute to the arts in the region and beyond.

In Autumn 2024 I will be taking part in a group exhibition with Susan Francis, Prudence Maltby, Nicola Grellier, Corinna Spencer and Henny Burnett on the theme of ‘Drawing the Night In’  at the Young Gallery, Salisbury. With Emily Dunbar (Young Gallery’s Curator), we have selected work from the gallery’s collection to exhibit alongside the show, including prints by artists who have been influential in my work.

Let Sleeping Cats Lie, Monoprint

Why the RWA?

I have been working independently as an artist in the Southwest for fifteen years. I have found the Royal West of England Academy to be a great source of support and I am honoured to become an academician this year. I hope that membership will enable me to consolidate and strengthen the connections I have been developing in the region. I look forward to working as part of this prestigious organisation.

Jemma Gunning RWA

Photo credit: Alex Sedgmond

Background and creative process

My artistic journey began with a BA in Drawing, where I discovered my passion for printmaking. A pivotal moment came during an internship at London Print Studio, where I encountered artists thriving in full-time print careers—an aspiration that fuelled my pursuit. I pursued an MA in Multidisciplinary Printmaking at UWE, where I honed my skills and chose to specialise in intaglio and lithographic processes. I then embarked on a two-year fellowship at the City and Guilds of London Art School, under the guidance of master printmaker Jason Hicklin, where I delved into the fundamentals of etching and gained invaluable experience in setting up an etching studio. I later established my printmaking studio outside of Bristol, allowing me to run workshops, engage in collaborative projects, provide one-on-one instruction, and create artwork for exhibitions.

Drawing is the cornerstone of my creative practice, serving as the fundamental thread that weaves through my artistic endeavours. Whether in the meticulous planning of intaglio and lithographic prints or the expressive strokes guiding my exploration with clay, drawing underpins every facet of my work. Specialising in etching and lithograph, I’m captivated by the alchemy of the process, prompting my exploration of clay. Both mediums take you on a continuous journey of discovery, often feeling like magic is unfolding in front of your very eyes. But the true magic comes in the unexpected, where a process cannot be completely controlled and thus provides you with an element of surprise, something wonderful that cannot be completely explained. I choose these processes for the deliberate slowness inherent within them. The measured pace provides a serene space for contemplation- a precious commodity in any creative process.

Permanite Asphalt Works II, Etching


In my quest for inspiration, psychogeography serves as a guiding compass, intertwining the act of walking and drawing. My primary inspiration emanates from the poignant narratives embedded in our fading heritage. The allure lies in the decaying buildings, evolving landscapes, the impact of quarrying, and the scars of industrial activity. This juxtaposition of destruction and decay blooms a rich tapestry of inspiration, fuelling my artistic expression with stories of transformation and resilience within these often forgotten and overlooked spaces.

Career Highlights and Current Work

In 2018 I graduated from my MA and was elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, selected to do a print research fellowship at the City and Guilds of London Art School and was awarded a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship to support the continuation of my practice.

This year I completed two bodies of work for two solo exhibitions, the first having been made in response to a three-month residency I did last summer in the Peak District. I created a monumental 3x4m drawing as the central exhibition piece for the Wirksworth Festival, as well as a series of etchings, lithographs, charcoal drawings, and ceramics capturing the haunting beauty of derelict post-industrial spaces that I discovered whilst walking the landscape in 2022. This body of work is a visual testament to the profound connection between human endeavours and the landscapes we leave behind. Simultaneously, my second solo show marked the culmination of a six-month residency in the Earth Science department at Bristol University. Armed with a microscope as my artistic lens, I delved into the microscopic mysteries with rocks, unravelling hidden landscapes that echoed geological tales of time.

Welsh Asylum, Etching

Why the RWA?

The prospect of becoming a member of the RWA resonates deeply with my artistic journey. I am drawn to the idea of immersing myself in a supportive network of fellow artists, fostering an environment where creativity thrives through shared experience and mutual encouragement.

The possibilities of new opportunities to collaborate and a chance to exhibit frequently excites me. The idea of actively participating in the gallery’s evolution and steering it towards new directions fuels my desire to become part of the RWA community. I am enthusiastic about the prospect of not only showcasing my work in group shows but also actively participating in the curation process, providing valuable input into the exhibitions within the vibrant community of the RWA. Being part of the RWA will not only contribute to my artistic growth but also allow me to play a meaningful role in shaping the creative discourse within the community.

Dave King

Photo credit: Jessica Pearson

Background and creative process

Following a fine art degree course at Leeds College of Art in the heady days of the mid-sixties, I did a two-year postgraduate course at the Slade at the high point of Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Art Language. From the mid-seventies and for more than thirty years, I lived and worked in East London and rented an ACME studio in Bethnal Green. I supported my practice with art school teaching, for many years part-time but later full-time as Principal Lecturer/Head of Sculpture. At the same time, I worked on projects connected to London Docklands, on public and private sculpture projects in North America and exhibited with Angela Flowers Gallery in London and West Cork. My family moved to our current home in East Devon in 2009.

Broadly I am a sculptor using, over time, both traditional and non-traditional materials and processes as my engagement with the subject has developed. My involvement in higher education has inevitably led to an interest in the history of sculpture and its many forms and personalities. Drawing continues to play a key role in my practice alongside the 3D work.

Tempietto, steel, copper, plastics, wood. Millwall Dock, East London, 1991


Inspiration comes through drawing and the manipulation of materials. My practice is led by the creative dialogue between materials, processes and past experience. External influences include Modernist European and American sculpture, historical objects from many cultures or periods, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, and a long list of sculptors including David Smith, Richard Serra, Martin Puryear, Di Suvero, Caro, Phillip King, Tucker and anyone working at a certain level of ambition for sculpture in the current era.

Career Highlights and Current Work

In 2021 I made a ten-metre tall wood and fabric piece for Wells Contemporary. It was a temporary sculpture sited in the Cathedral, well suited to the architectural setting and its spiritual purpose. There were echoes of earlier works going as far back as Blow Up ’71 at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, where helium balloons were used to support tall fabric tubes. There were also tubular elements contained in my 1978 proposal for a Milton Keynes roundabout in 1978.

Currently, I am working on new waxes for small bronzes, drawings and two prospective large-scale public projects which, since they are in the early stages of development, have yet to find either venues or funding.

Appeto, acrylic on paper, 2018

Why the RWA

While I enjoy the advantages of living and working in a deeply rural environment,I am excited to join the RWA community with its networks of artists, enthusiasts and patrons. I am looking forward to better experiencing Bristol’s dynamic visual arts scene, and to engaging in critical dialogues and debates about contemporary art practice with other experienced artists. I look forward to offering my experience from many years of studio practice, public art commissions and teaching in higher education to the RWA. For five years I have run a small gallery at Hook Farm with up to three exhibitions a year. I would like to be involved in developing proposals for the larger spaces of the RWA.

Jessa Fairbrother

Photo credit: Guy Bellingham

Background and creative process

I initially trained as an actor (1990s), completing an MA in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster 2010. In between I was both a journalist and lecturer. These cumulative experiences underpin my knowledge of how artwork and audience collide and have taught me how to tell a story.

My interdisciplinary practice spans photography, performance and stitch, and recently, I have also been making videos. I have over a decade of experience using the body as a material and have explored multiple ways of circling around it; investigating and researching my own maternal line - a key feature of what I make.


I am a magpie. I never stop reading, thinking or listening to things that interest me and all of that is woven into my practice. My main artistic influences tend to circle the feminist practitioners of the 1970s and ‘80s -  Carolee Schneeman, Hannah Wilke, Penny Slinger and Mary Kelly. I am also inspired by other key artists who work with textiles and the figure of the mother/daughter dynamic - Louise Bourgeois and Janine Antoni for example. Physical theatre and dance practice are also key…Pina Bausch, Shared Experience, Complicité Theatre Company….Anything that provokes complete feeling-by-moving.

 Working while at Domus Artist Residency, Galatina, Italy 2023

Career Highlights and Current Work

My work is soon to be exhibited in a Hayward Touring show called 'Acts of Creation: On Art and Motherhood' curated by Hettie Judah. It includes many of my artistic heroines and is unbelievably moving to me. The show launches in March 2024 and runs into 2025. I am also incredibly proud that my artist book, ‘Conversations With My Mother’, is in several major museum book collections including at Tate Britain and the V&A.

I recently returned from Domus Artist Residency in Galatina, in the south of Italy. I was given time and space in the heart of a beautiful town to think and make work with no agenda. This was an incredible experience. I ended up making a number of film vignettes that are about my maternal line, along with drawings for a new book about intergenerational memories.

Planets II (Work from The Trapeze Artist 2021)
Hand-embroidered black and white silver gelatin photographs (custom censors by the artist)

Why the RWA?

I wanted to belong to a network of peers centred in Bristol, which is where I spent a substantial part of my childhood. The city has been very kind to me since returning in 2012 and I feel like it is part of my roots. I have many colleagues and friends I admire who are part of the Academy, and peer recognition is absolutely essential to building a life as an artist. Looking outward is essential - it’s part of how I communicate what is an incredibly interior experience of making work. The opportunity to join in with my peers in this active community will be incredible.

Ben Rowe

Background and Creative Process

Since graduating with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art from UWE Bristol, I have spent the last 15 years developing my practice. An inherent fascination with the different aesthetics of objects forms the foundation of my work. Strongly inspired by science fiction in comics, film & TV of the 1980s and 90s, I started to create approximations of props using MDF.  Here, I developed my obsessive creation process, pushing the material to its limits to create rounded, cylindrical objects from the straight fibre board and carving details using hand tools.

Event Horizon- Limewood, Brass, Oil


Now, my inspiration comes from science and nature. I aim to bring previously unnoticed lines, shapes and angles to the forefront, creating complex geometric structures. Beginning with meticulous research into an initial idea, the object is formed from the use of scientific data points, geometry and mathematical laws. The objects are painstakingly crafted using hand and machine tools and often evolve throughout the making process, self-governed by rules of patterns and symmetry. I still primarily work in wood but also now use other materials such as brass, determined by the practical and aesthetic needs of the piece itself.

Career Highlights and Current Work

2023 has been a big leap forward in my career, becoming a Member of the Royal Society of Sculptors and an RWA Academician. I am currently working on the final piece in a series of works exploring object dimensions; having made 4 & 5-dimensional cubes, I am now working on a 6-dimensional cube. I am feeling positive about the future, inspired and empowered to continue to make and show my work.

Course Adjustment - Limewood, Brass, Oil

Why the RWA?

I had been thinking about applying to become an RWA academician for a number of years and felt this year that my work had reached the level of skill and ambition required. I have been a member of staff at the RWA for over 10 years and felt this experience could bring a unique level of support and knowledge to the network. First and foremost in my career, I am an artist and I wanted to be recognised amongst my peers for this other side of my working life. I am looking forward to meeting other artists, collaborating and being part of a supportive network.

You can browse all of our current Academicians here