Bristol Art Gallery

Sawdust and Sequins: The Art of the Circus

24 Mar - 3 Jun 18


24 Mar - 3 Jun 18

Unfortunately, tickets for this event are no longer available. Subscribe to our newsletter below to be first to hear about similar events



To celebrate 250 years of circus, the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) presents a major exhibition that pays homage to the greatest show on earth.

Sawdust and Sequins will feature historic and contemporary art, inspired by the magic, thrills and spills of the Big Top.

Since it began in the1700s, circus has become a worldwide phenomenon and a rich source of inspiration for artists. From historical depictions of familiar circus scenes to contemporary works exploring the glamour and grit, the exhibition will survey the complex, compelling nature of circus and why it still captures our imaginations.

Sawdust and Sequins will feature works by contemporary artists including Sir Peter Blake RWA (Hon), Abigail Lane, Eileen Cooper OBE RA, Beth Carter, PJ Crook MBE RWA, Stephen Jacobson VPRWA and George Tute RWA, as well as new commissions by artists Sadie Tierney, Katharine Jones and Abigail Lane

The exhibition will also include historic works by Dame Laura Knight RA RWA, Edward Seago, Walter Sickert RA, David Bomberg, Duncan Grant RWA, Robert Colquhoun, Thérèse Lessore (on loan from The British Council, Arts Council Collection, Government Art Collection, Royal Academy, Royal College of Art and Leeds Art Gallery amongst others).

An exhibition of Peter Lavery’s circus photography will accompany the exhibition. His intimate, tell-all portraits document the unseen reality of life in the circus from the 1970s to the present day.

Sawdust and Sequins is a flagship event for Circus250 - a nationwide celebration of the 250th anniversary of circus. Celebrations will take place in the ‘Six Cities of Circus’ - Bristol, Blackpool, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, Newcastle-under-Lyme, London and Belfast.

Bristol has circus at its heart and once had six permanent circuses. Today, it is home to more circus companies than any other UK city and is a hub for ground-breaking, contemporary performance.

Dea Birkett, Ringmaster at Circus250, says;

“Circus250 celebrates the past but looks to the future. Over the last 250 years, circus – the original pop up – has continually evolved and reinvented itself. Each of our Six Cities of Circus demonstrate through their fabulous histories and awe-inspiring current circus, just how enduring and innovative circus is.”

Artists include: Fides Becker, Sir Peter Blake RWA (Hon), David Bomberg, Beth Carter, David Cobley, Robert Colquhoun, Eileen Cooper RA, PJ Crook MBE RWA, Ros Cuthbert RWA, Toni Davey RWA, Zavier Ellis, Frederick William Elwell, Mo Farquharson, Duncan Grant RWA, Susie Hamilton, Tom Hammick, David Harrison, Chris Hibbard, Henry Hoyland, Stephen Jacobson VPRWA, Katharine Jones, Dame Laura Knight RA RWA, Abigail Lane, Sophie Lascelles, Thérèse Lessore, Andy Lovell, Alan Lowndes, Eric James Mellon, Stuart Mitchell, Glyn Warren Philpot, Simon Quadrat PPRWA, Albert Richards, Edward Seago, Walter Sickert, Ruskin Spear, Sadie Tierney, George Tute RWA and Stewart J Waghorn.

Curated by Nathalie Levi & Fiona Robinson RWA

This exhibition coincides with Circus250 - a nationwide celebration of the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK.


Times & Prices

Sunday 24 March - Sunday 3 June 2018

Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5.30pm

Sunday 11am-5pm

CLOSED Mondays

Last admission 30 minutes before closing. The RWA occasionally closes early for special events. Please call ahead or check the website for details.

Adults: £7.95 (includes a 80p donation)

Concessions: £6.75 (includes a 70p donation)

Under 16s/SGS, UoB & UWE students: FREE

National Art Pass holders: 50% discount on ticket price


Image credits: 

1. Trapeze, Eileen Cooper RA, 2012, oil on canvas, 153 x 107cm ©Eileen Cooper

2. The Grand Parade, Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia, Edward Seago, 1932, oil on canvas, courtesy of Gerry Cottle, Wookey Hole


Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with RWA news


New Black Narrative

A joint exhibition by members of Bristol's Black Creative group. 

The Chaotic World of Youthful Things

An exhibition of chaotic, colourful, and youthful artworks from our permanent collection, curated by Work Experience students from 6 schools across Bristol.

These Mad Hybrids: John Hoyland and Contemporary Sculpture

Ceramic sculptures by the British painter John Hoyland

Dreaming in Fire

This exhibition, curated by Patricia Volk RWA, gives six artists space to show off the breadth of possibilities offered by a versatile, age-old material: clay.