Art Review: Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2019

Work of sculpture student Daniel Howe PIC: Neil Hanna

Edinburgh College of Art Diploma Show 2019 ****

With the reopening of the entire building and especially its magnificent studio suites, students now have the luxury of a space for their individual diploma shows. And they are certainly individual. There is no common style or concern, although it is notable that as they always choose the discipline in which they specialize, by far the largest group are painters, and many of them paint, draw or at least make things. One exception is a remarkable film by Alex Hayward. An exploration of gay love from a distance, its object is the distant figure of a ballet dancer on stage in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella. It is a confessional and beautifully done. Even this is supported by watercolors and drawings and this is largely true of other occasional electronic and installation work. Hayward isn’t the only one who makes his work very personal, either. Niamh Ferguson from Belfast focused on the physical legacy of the Troubles in photographs, but also in a very striking series of cast concrete watchtower models. It’s more sculpture than painting, but very revealing. Chell Young also works in three dimensions, making rather beautiful interiors with windows and doors. Lined with translucent paper, they are both bright and seemingly spacious and are reminiscent of Pieter de Hooch and other Dutch interior painters of the 17th century. Katerina Fletcher does interior images as well, but hers are dozens of intricate cutaway drawings featuring bizarre but highly entertaining narrative scenes, all with humorous text commentary. A guinea pig style cage for a pet is just one example. She surely has a future in graphic novels.

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Aidan Stephen’s personal journey brought him to college as an Afghanistan veteran. A damaged luggage tag from his last return home is the only direct reference to the traumatic experiences he suffered. His beautiful little paintings of wide landscapes inspired by 70mm films, especially westerns, and capturing in a small compass their space, their light and their color, are quite tranquil, but images in a cabinet, tucked away in a closet, even hidden in a safe, all of them suggest the deeper currents that flow within each of us.

Untitled (Glass Slide Series) by Shannon Patterson

Brandon Logan is also a painter, but he managed to reorient painting towards the patterns and structures of the weavers of his native Orkney. His backing is a string stretched like the chain of a loom, but then he painted on it and cut out the paint to create beautiful rhythmic patterns, incidentally suggesting the affinity between the weaving and the binary structures of the computer. Heather Downie paints patterns of small squares that also seem rather binary at first glance, but come to life as flat cutouts in vibrant colors. Annabel Stogdon is even more abstract using blue pigment, much like Yves Klyne did, on standing panels to beautifully suggest the magnificent luminosity inherent in pure color. She also painted with light allowing the sun through a fiery glass to trace its passage in the blue wax. Daniel Purvis is also interested in blue pigment and light. His is the blue of the cyanotype, the original blues. He created panels painted in blue that will gradually change in the light. Something conservators want to prevent at all costs from happening here is the point of painting. Sculptor Gabrielle Gillott is also concerned about blue, a blue called a ‘refuge’ which is recommended for ‘preppers’ – people who are preparing canoes or caves for a no-deal Brexit, or worse. But she went all the way to create an underground refuge entirely painted in sickly “refuge blue” and filled with empty tin cans painted blue. The prepper’s stock of baked beans is exhausted. Also a sculptor, Lauren Holehouse is pushing Brexit with a trail of folded newspapers looping around a wall in the mural room, then downstairs, each with a different, but still gruesome Brexit headline.

Some of the most beautiful paintings are by Zuzana Ullmannová. On unprimed silky materials, they appear so delicate that they too can be evanescent, but they have real quality. Rosalind Sanderson is a more energetic painter who revisits abstract expressionism with great effect. Rachel Sved paints a wild phantasmagoria of anarchic figures. Two grotesques also emerged from the canvas to appear as pink gargoyles sticking out of the wall. Using fabric, rope and flat painted surfaces, intermedia student Jane Mewis-Mckerrow creates rather elegant “paintings” in your dimensions.

The majority of students this year are women and many want their gender to be evident. Satirical pink is therefore the color chosen by Gabriela Grant, whose program is called “These breasts are mine”. It is a feminist manifesto, but also a satire of both aspects of feminism and the attitudes that make it necessary. It is frank, of course, but also thoughtful. Becca Tarrant, or Reb T as it comes, is even more in your face. She only paints erect penises, but if you overlook the distracting motif, her paintings are pretty good. I guess the inhibition is incompatible with the creative thinking which is the raison d’être of the College.

Anna Rocke is a painter who seems to have drawn inspiration from Van Gogh at the outset, but who also added other inspirations. His images are small and intense: landscapes, interiors, a Bonnard bathroom scene, for example. Throughout, she creates strong rhythmic brush patterns like Van Gogh did, but they are so pronounced they almost look like reliefs. Relief is also a feature of Mariia Drobot’s powerful figurative paintings, as it creates reflections by deeply carving the wood of its support. Sculptor Tansy Burton uses found wood as a medium, but then adds exquisitely recreated designs of fungi and other parasitic growths. Emelia Kerr-Beale is a painter, but she also creates sculpture. A strange mythical creature dominates its show, but it also includes very beautiful paintings and remarkable knotted rugs. The wax figures of sculptor Hugo Harris deconstructing the seated model are very striking.

work by Siobhan Healy PIC: Neil Hanna

There are many other things to admire here, but I must at least mention the photograph which, with half a dozen students, is the smallest

group. Jo McShane’s photos of Niagara, especially the meandering green water tumbling over the edge of the falls, are particularly striking.

It may be a crossover with other disciplines, but the presentation of his work and elsewhere seems much more lively this year. As always, the whole show is full of excitement and promise. – Duncan Macmillan

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Kayleen C. Rice

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