Art Critic: Gray’s School of Art Diploma Show 2017

Detail of Burning the Kailyard by Aiden Milligan at Gray’s School of Art Degree Show 2017

Gray’s Diploma Show 2017 ****

Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen

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Be praying! There will always be works in which the journey is evident (but there are few of them) and others in which the journey does not matter (much less). But, generally, if anyone has spent the last year studying the topography of Caithness Bog, or the material properties of the pigment made from beetroot, I’d rather know. In the kaleidoscope of a degree, with new hopes around every corner, it seems all the more important.

Often times, success in this setting depends on having something to say (which almost everyone does) and finding a way to say it that brings something new. Megan McDonagh is a painter, but is interested in visual impairment. His work is in ceramic: 14 uncooked and broken pots to represent countries in which cataracts cause at least half of unnecessary blindness, and beautiful enameled pots and braille dominoes that viewers are invited to handle. Although they are strong visual objects, they speak with special relevance to the subject as they can be experienced through touch.

Brooke-Hayley Andrews is trying to say something about the problem of head injuries in athletes and has made semi-abstract pieces using paint and sculpted fabric. It’s a difficult subject, and we can see her making her way through it looking for a way to explore it that is neither illustrative nor didactic. Svetlana Panova takes a thoughtful look at the meaning of home, printing and projecting photographs on blinds, shower curtains and wallpaper.

Hannah McIver is interested in education and took a copy of WO Lester Smith’s 1950s treatise on the subject and tampered with its pages in the style of Tom Phillips’ A Humument, creating a rather beautiful new text. His other work here is that of the local youth who participated in his “Snapshot workshops” in photography and film. Photographs of wind turbines in the landscape of Kerri Ogg’s northeast are immediately accessible, but are also a thoughtful exploration of what it means to change a landscape, for better or for worse.

The chimera for many graduates is to sell their work, and Rebecca Bisset has knocked it down by opening a store. With luminous brands, T-shirts, boxes of baked beans and colorful prints of Duchampian urinals, she questions the relationship between art and merchandising. Alice Martin’s exhibition is a museum, around five objects from local collections. For her ‘Museum of Dispensability’, she chose very ordinary objects and made 3D printed replicas. Rebekah Chisholm takes a relevant look at the selfie, inviting her audience to respond with emoji stickers.

At Gray’s, this is the first year of graduation into the new Contemporary Art Practice (CAP) course, incorporating what was previously sculpture, printmaking, fine art photography and media. electronic. There are very few students working in the past two years this year, although it may just be a coincidence.

Painting remains a separate course, a small group this year, but distinctive. David Rae’s paintings of half-memorized spaces, balancing a dark palette with bright background bursts, are beautifully done. Suzann Ross’ archival and library paintings are very good and make a thoughtful comment on the endurance of paper archives, even in the digital age. Hugh Morton’s crowd scenes combine painting and drawing skills; its large picture of disparate individuals crossing in the snow is worth the detour.

Jessica Barrie and Anthony Carrick both experiment with what happens when the painting is pushed into three dimensions. Ameena Mahmood too, and her work exploring informal settlements on the outskirts of cities around the world shows an impressive unity of ideas and aesthetics. CAP student Alexa Thomson uses filmed footage of some of the world’s most famous paintings to explore the limits of still and moving images.

Like every diploma show this year, there is a marked return to doing things, and doing them well. Aigita Kalmina is interested in materials and has obviously enjoyed pushing various materials in new directions and then creating sculptures from the results. Yvonne Bathgate has made a collection of original and interesting stones that seem to have an inner life: one spits smoke, the other has a beating heart. Aiden Milligan is an engraver whose work constructs a sort of personal mythology linked to his homeland of southwestern Scotland. Aberdeen may be the furthest away of Scotland’s Big Four Art Schools, but its art graduates still have plenty of strength to be worth a visit to the far north-east.


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Kayleen C. Rice

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