Art Reviews: Gray’s School of Art Degree Exhibition 2022 | emerging
Diploma Exhibition 2022, Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen ****
Emergent, Look Again Project Space, Aberdeen ****
Students graduating from Scottish art schools this summer were halfway through their second year when the pandemic hit. They endured nearly two years of little or no access to studios and equipment, finally returning to college full-time earlier this year, just months before graduation.
This year’s graduate exhibits are shaped by this experience in a variety of ways. Some students responded to the restrictions by doing the most important and ambitious work possible. Some include too much work, or too little, or don’t fully resolve what they do (and who can blame them?) But the best work has a quality of thought, maturity, and sophistication of presentation that is unusual at this time. stadium. .
Gray’s School of Art, the smallest of Scotland’s four major art schools and the latest to release its graduation work, has a remarkably high number of students in the latter category in its Diploma show. Fine Arts students (now in only two departments, Painting and Contemporary Art Practice) reach a consistently high standard in the way they create and present their work. As difficult as the last two years have been, they come out of it determined to do their best.
There is a very strong painting. Emma Hall describes herself as “a botanical painter… of sorts”. But his works are not botanical art as we know it. They look at plants through a contemporary lens, bringing influences from the virtual world of games and asking big questions about how plants shape the world and how humans shape plants. They are also beautifully painted.
Caroline Hendry works between painting and drawing, creating ink and wash images that explore a nostalgia for the beginnings of the internet. Particularly impressive is the large photo of the dollhouse filled with cute collectibles and old desktop computer screens.
Lachlan Wilson considers himself an outsider in the rural world and explores this sense of alienation in his strong-toned paintings that examine the strangeness of regular patterns, such as geometric rows of hay bales in a field. Duncan Fisken’s beautiful figurative work celebrates queer intimacy and the beauty of the everyday, while Tama Marie Gray is interested in the fleeting things that connect us to memories. His paintings are like these things: small, delicate, but full of meaning.
The natural world was an important theme in all degree exhibitions this year. Emma Caldow says she “works between painting, ecology and materials science” by harvesting material from Scottish beaches to produce organic and inorganic pigments. These are then embedded into algae-based bioplastic discs and arranged to create a spectrum of colors on the wall of an otherwise white space.
Katie Taylor’s exploration of nature seems more instinctive. His film of a choreographed outdoor dance sequence is superbly crafted. Jenny Ross paints very well with natural pigments, and also makes objects: glass wood and a bowl made of seed pods. Allana Paterson crafts exquisitely detailed vessels from unfired clay that will crack over time as part of its own natural process.
Relationships with others was another key topic this year. Jacqueline Willis celebrates her classmates with a series of resin portraits, living faces frozen in time, and blank pages for those who gave up along the way.
Ellie Bray Swanston celebrates her relationship with her grandparents, making assemblages of objects found during the emptying of their house and a magnificent coracle-like boat covered in a patchwork of fabrics from her grandfather’s sewing box -mother. It is a work of the heart, done with tenderness and precision.
These words could also be used by Denise Delaunay-Wood, a photographer, who works on aging and the family, always taking the time to find the fresh angle, the unexpected look. Indre Sakute has made a tender sculpture exploring her relationship with her twin.
Installation-based work is performed to a similarly high standard. Phoebe Mackie works on the processing of memories and invites viewers to tear out a page of her unleavened paper prints, tear it up, and watch it dissolve in water from a Belfast sink in a sort of silent ritual. Carla Smith celebrates the pleasure of a shared meal with a table set with handmade cutlery and crockery and a pasta vending machine.
Georgia Walker tackles the theme of voyeurism with a recreation of a bedroom that we are invited to explore and a virtual reality tour of her own personal space. Erin Jarrett explores bigotry by building a bar and printing slogans on beer coasters and communion wafers.
Tracey Clark (as Chroisloch Art) uses her work as a carer to ask questions about the impact of confinement on those already in isolation, and invites the people she cares for to be part of her work, writing down their thoughts and their memories for her. Sarah Sanger merges sculpture and screen printing to explore anxiety and technology.
In photography, Malgorzata Kotz traveled to northern Ukraine (before the Russian invasion) to explore the city of Pripyat, abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and took atmospheric and reflective photographs. The same adjectives could be used for Maria Strang, whose work examines the traces of the Clearances in Assynt, while Joshua Jackson takes a colorful look at Northern Ireland through its cityscapes and family memories.
Meanwhile, artist-run organization Look Again hosts emerging, showcasing the work of nine artists who have just completed a graduate-in-residence program at Gray’s. The majority of them graduated in 2020 and 2021 and did not have a physical degree.
Artists were asked to select an object from the RGU Art & Heritage Collection to respond to. Iris Walker-Reid chose a door painted by David Pettigrew, part of her senior year work in 1971, and incorporates it into the show, placing it in a door frame she made and making it more of a portal than never.
Painter Marcus Murison found kinship in a 2000 painting by George Ziffo that speaks to his own exploration of the urban environment. Textile artist Kirsty Robertson examines Shetland knitting patterns, then creates textile works using what she has learned and her own family stories.
Others use the works in the collection as a springboard like a trampoline. Ben Cairns begins with 19th century crystal glass models and ends with photographs of once-inhabited landscapes in the North East. Performance duo Olive and Anya (Joe Morris and Claudia Sneddon) begins with photographs of 1970s respiratory expenditure tests and ends with “2 Pink 2 Stink,” a visceral film that defies expectations between gay and straight. They’re set to shock and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but, like so much of Gray’s work this year, the depth of thought and quality of presentation are beyond reproach.