Based in the North East of Scotland, recent painting graduate Julie-Ann Simpson aims to expand and encourage creative practice in and around Aberdeen City and Shire through her work and writing. Here, she reviews the Gray’s Degree Show.
The theme of this year’s Degree Show at Gray’s School of Art, ‘Open Your Eyes’, aims not only to showcase the emerging artistic talent of the North East, but to do so to a wider audience than ever before; challenging perceptions and promoting creative practice and engagement with the arts. What is immediately apparent is the strong sense of identity possessed by each of the graduates and their shows.
The paintings and photographs of Martyna Benedyka contain a poetic stillness as she encourages the viewer to pause through the act of looking. Transient moments are recorded, transformed into objects of beauty and, through their modest scale and collective display, make a powerful impression. There is a certain intimacy with work of this scale – viewers will find themselves staring for what may seem to be hours at a possible wheel of cheese or a speculative bridge. Through Benedyka’s brush and lens, the everyday becomes more alluring, more beautiful.
Dreams; incoherent, strange, unsettling, fleeting. Printmaking graduate Siobhan Scott’s work explores this impermanent landscape. Her gentle mark-making and colourful palette depicts the dream as an ephemeral encounter. Diaphanous areas of colour bleed into hazy clouds as oneiric scenarios are literally stitched together across the paper. Scott uses the terminology ‘weaver’, considering the protagonist as the creator of this dreamscape, which links thematically to the other aspects of her work. Delicate fabric creates a canopy of Scott’s show, onto which a film is projected – the viewer, in this comfortable, enveloping space, takes on the role of this protagonist waking from sleep. The wallpaper, cushion and curtain she has made merge elements of the domestic and everyday with the playfulness of the subconscious.
“Endurance” is the key word Dominic McIvor uses to describe his practice, the term applying not only to the subject, but to both the material and the artist too. The painting graduate and selected RSA New Contemporaries artist rigorously tests how far he can push a material; in the paper drawings, this can involve scraping away much of the actual marks. For the plaster sculptures, this aspect of endurance is openly displayed – each model sitting proudly upon a formed disc of rubble, the detritus from the carving of each model. Themes of creation and destruction appear throughout his show, as there is often an element of recycling within his practice (accepting technical mishaps, damage or unpredictability and using these factors to make something new). Of course, as I said, endurance also applies to the artist. Strict rules are set for the making of the work, and each task is time-consuming and repetitive. There is a stunning contrast between the precision and symmetry of the drawings and where the marks meet an erased void. Perfection cannot always be achieved by control. The result is an intriguing and effective play between order and the power of chance.
Ben Martin of the sculpture course has created for his graduate show an installation which resists definition. Referring to the piece as a ‘drawing’, its transition from two dimensions can be seen through its intense focus on shape and line. In lieu of a pencil, black rope becomes a linear tool through which to draw through space. There is an incredible elegance and simplicity in the starkness of its presentation – nothing is superfluous, every object has a purpose which keeps the work perfectly in balance. The piece also interacts with the space, creating new compositions depending on the physical parameters in which it is installed. Martin’s work also earned him the Fred Bushe Award, presented by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.
Among the various accolades, and the strong and varied selection for the RSA show next year, Gray’s has also managed to produce a nominee for the prestigious Woon Foundation Prize. The Foundation, which chooses only ten UK graduates a year, has prizes worth £40,000, and selected artist and painting graduate Catherine Ross, was chosen for her evocative depictions of the mysterious and remote North. A defining feature of Ross’ collection, which she shares with her fellows at Gray’s, is the integrity of her work and the individuality of her vision and practice, which makes the show a rich and diverse experience. For these young artists and designers, the years of all-nighters in the studio, constant coffee-drinking and sheer hard work have paid off – these individuals have a clear sense of direction, and they are moving forward.
The Gray’s School of Art Degree Show is on display in Aberdeen until 28 June.
Words & photos by Julie-Ann Simpson
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