Art review: Gray’s School of Art Degree Show 2019, School of Art, Aberdeen
It has now been several years since Gray merged sculpture, printmaking, and photographic and electronic media into one course, Contemporary Art Practice, which this year is spilling out with a record 40 students. On the upper floors, painters continue – for the most part, at least – to paint, and the exhibit includes some of the most dedicated and skilled paintings I’ve seen at an art school this year.
If you had any doubts that we were living in the Anthropocene, Gray’s would clear it up. I counted nearly a dozen artists concerned in one way or another with man’s relationship with the natural world, from Meg Miller, a passionate beekeeper interested in the intelligence inherent in nature, to Elizabeth Long, whose delicate installation draws on her fascination with sculptural mushroom shapes.
Isabel Mcleish and Samantha Robinson both ask if art can help us reconnect with nature and reconsider our responsibilities towards it. Amy Barnett explores the concepts of natural and synthetic with reference to rocks, semiprecious stones and glass, while Niamh Coutts is interested in how man aesthetizes nature, making pewter coral casts. and a beautiful series of serigraphs.
Among the painters, Leila Kleineidam explores what she calls “anthropogeomorphology” which, in addition to being probably the longest word in every degree in the exhibition this year, concerns how human beings modify the countryside. His ambitious paintings and ceramics explore this by being in themselves artificial and fantastic versions of the natural world. Eilidh Simpson’s paintings of landscapes and animals in the Cairngorns explore her own interaction with nature as a hiker.
Many CAP students work in multiple mediums, which can lead to a lack of focus, but the best work makes variety a virtue. Bibo Keeley creates spellbinding sound works, grows plants in bottles and has made an impressive set of sculptures from a deconstructed piano. Kristina Aburrow has a sculptor’s fascination with materials, casting ceramic mold shells and watching salt crystals grow on a dress.
Emanuela Agnoni gives herself the difficult task of expressing the inner self in sculpture; its cocoon-like, person-sized installation is worth entering. Jenny Milne built a photographic dark room in a shower room like an atmospheric home for her show that evokes themes of loss and memory in a silent collection of ephemeral objects.
At first glance, Martin Bell’s show resembles the work of several artists, but he has a keen sense of form and material, as well as a desire to provoke a reaction and a good dose of humor: his ‘101 Things To Do With A Dead Degree Show’ is worth reading. Painter Paul Herman has something of the same spirit, applying his energetic creativity to a range of paintings and sculptural works around the human form.
Today’s art graduates are digital natives, and several students are using their work to explore this world: Megan Devenny creates her own “organized self” in her Instagram alter there is Verna Meg Ended, while Megan Bellatrix Archibald takes photographic portraits of his various fictional selves. Painter William Sherval produces strong figurative work exploring an enigma of the Internet age: the feeling of real familiarity, compared to the apparent familiarity we might feel for those whose faces are ubiquitous on social media.
Andrew McCallum combines elements of historical costume with contemporary fashion in a beautiful collection of paintings and figurative drawings. Claire Kidd is another beautiful painter, whose work is about stories and memories. Nefeli Chrysanthou’s paintings are surrealist tales populated by invented characters, while Duncan Boyne paints stunning, hyperrealistic paintings of the abandoned buildings he explores.
Hannah Ross is inspired by her heritage in the fishing community of Stonehaven, transforming knitted panels of fisherman’s ganseys into sculptures and creating beautiful works on canvas that combine painting and sewing. Lileth Iona McAdam Leng is drawn to the (often overlooked) industrial port of Aberdeen, recording its ships, their shapes and statistics, in metal paintings.
Gray’s also attracts a range of international students, many of whom draw on this heritage in their work while exploring their relationship with him: Jasmine Regni (India); Joseph Buhat (Philippines); Sofia Tagor (Russia) and Sofia Zahn (China / Portugal). Painter Agota Magyar set out to develop an artistic language to talk about the political changes currently taking place in her native Hungary, and found one by deconstructing and collating aspects of Communist-era architecture.