The Open Air Drawing Room

Eric MacLennan

  • 27th Jul - 4th Sept 2021
  • Stephen Lawrence Gallery

The Open Air Drawing Room is an example of socially engaged art practice. The work crosses boundaries between performance and painting. Conceived as a celebration of the collective effort through a combination of performance and painting, The Open Air Drawing Room was originally co-commissioned by the Turner Contemporary ( in Margate and Applause Rural Touring (

A Show Of Hands by Eric MacLennan, 2020. Turner Contemporary, Margate (Photo credit: Eric MacLennan)
Collection Of Thirty-One Stones For Thirty-One Shipping Areas by Eric MacLennan, 2019. London (Photo credit: Eric MacLennan)

By creating a monumental painting, it offers participants the opportunity to engage with a large scale work which aims to set the world record for a painting created by the largest number of artists ever. The work is inspired by the innovative techniques of JMW Turner and the ideas of John Ruskin. Ever-evolving, it was first exhibited at Turner Contemporary in 2019. It comprised two pieces: “A Sea Of Faces”, a large-scale painting produced by combining over 700 individual watercolours into a single harmonious whole; “A Show Of Hands”, an extensive photographic installation of all the contributors’ hands displayed together in the gallery window.

In the summer of 2021, these two installations will be exhibited at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich Galleries, by which time the work will be twice as large, with around a thousand individual contributions. Every contributor paints a stone from the same collection of thirty-one stones that correspond to the thirty-one shipping areas around the British Isles. A stone that was once a mountain. A stone that—like us—is in a state of transition. A stone that will one day be a grain of sand on a beach somewhere. These stones were old when Turner was young and they will still be here when we are gone.

The latest iteration of the work includes contributions from members of the public attending the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival in September 2020, when it was most recently performed. Redesigned to be safely performed during the current pandemic, performances are ongoing

Exhibition opens

27th July – 4th September 2021

Note: Access to our exhibitions and associated events may be affected by COVID 19 measures, pre-booking will not be necessary but you may be asked to wait outside the gallery if the maximum number of visitors has been exceeded.

The Open Air Drawing Room by Eric MacLennan in performance, 2019. Almeida Theatre, London (Photo credit: Ali Wright)
The Open Air Drawing Room by Eric MacLennan in performance, 2019. Almeida Theatre, London (Photo credit: Ali Wright)

Explore a short film about The Open Air Drawing Room and the “A Sea of Faces” installation (both firstly exhibited at the Turner Contemporary between October 2019 – January 2020):

The Open Air Drawing Room is led by Eric MacLennan ( A socially engaged artist whose practice occupies a unique space somewhere between theatre, movement and the visual arts, Eric has been making innovative performance work for more than thirty years. His work is cutting-edge with a clear focus on its audience. Challenging and provocative, but always entertaining. Inspired by philosophy and comedy in equal measure, his work questions our unconscious habits, challenges conventions and isn’t afraid to say the unsayable!