Issue Number: 115
The students of the prestigious RA Schools have spent three years honing their art. Ben Luke meets them as they prepare their final-year show.
The RA Schools Show is the culmination of three years of intense study in the Schools’ studios. The RA Schools are distinctive in offering the only three-year postgraduate course in the country and being the only art school to remain free. This year’s third-year students reflect the wealth of media and methods available to artists today, with artists using text and sound working alongside painters using egg tempera._ RA Magazine_ gathered them together in the Schools’ historic life room and asked them to bring objects from their studios that had some significance for them. They spoke about their art and what they hope to exhibit in their final-year show.
Back row: Chris McSherry, Toby Christian, Jolanta Rejs, Adele Morse, Chris Mew, Luey Graves, John RObertson, Andy Mealor. Middle row: Carly Bateup, Sikelela Owen, Lewis Betts, Anna Salamon, Sonja Weissmann. Front row: Pio Abad, Sophie Michael, Archie Franks.
McSherry’s installation for the show is informed by a material exploration of exchange and transformation. He plans to juxtapose hand-made sculptures and found industrial forms on a base made from a bright blue swimming-pool cover, in what he calls a ‘productive conflict’.
Christian writes texts describing objects in great detail, such as the four-bladed antipersonnel weapon, the caltrop, which he holds in the photograph. Christian views the show as ‘a form of dissemination’ of his texts – visitors will be able to collect the double-sided A4 sheets of his writings from a tray in his exhibition space.
Rejs makes large-scale woodcuts and monoprints, having moved away from photography. ‘I was looking for something that would still take inspiration from photography but would be more handmade,’ she says. Her images are based on fragments of Dürer’s woodcut series, Apocalypse (1498).
Morse sits next to one of her sculptures of the orang pendek, a rarely seen and mysterious orangutan-like creature which is said to live in the Sumatran rainforest. She says she wants her work, which looks at cryptozoology – the study of mythical or unverified species – ‘to be educational but also absurd’.
To create his huge abstracted portraits Chris Mew isolates movie images at moments of angst or suspense, edits the image on a computer then prints it onto canvas painted in a hazy wash. ‘What I am driven by and looking for is a feeling of quiet discomfort,’ he says.
Painting on oak, mahogany and poplar, Graves evokes art history, referring to, say, intimate Northern Renaissance masterpieces. Fittingly, in the photo she holds E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. Using a mixture of gouache, oil and ink her paintings are ‘about the tension between image and object’, she says. Her work for the show includes a trompe l’oeil image of an ancient stone.
Robertson creates two groups of paintings. The first features coloured lines that spell out hidden words. The other group comprises diptychs in which depictions of statues in Jena – a centre of 19th-century Romanticism in Germany – are ‘interrupted’ by other images, such as the Swiss flag he holds in the photo. He says his paintings have ‘the spirit of collage’.
Mealor composes absurd sculptures from found materials. His final-year show features a sculpture using a bicycle frame embellished with weights for wheels and a can of Red Bull, which he holds in the picture, as a water bottle. Despite the humour in his work, he hopes his Schools show display will ‘add a bit of melancholy and pathos’.
One of Bateup’s interests is the aesthetics of the office – among other works, she has made a piece of sound art about the processes that are used in the Microsoft Powerpoint programme. ‘I am interested in how systems, or forms of knowledge or ideas, are mapped out,’ she says.
Based on snapshots of friends and family, ‘Ziggy’ Owen’s paintings are ‘a way of projecting the everyday into the history of painting,’ she says. Owen imbues her intimate scenes with a potent atmosphere, using a limited palette. She also makes cut-out figures, such as the one seen next to her in the photo.
Betts makes prints using unusual tools like maracas, in such a way as to be ‘almost out of control of the tool that you are handling.’ He has also used an electric sander to create deliberately messy abstract and figurative monoprints on paper and scrim. His work relates to the surrealists’ method of ‘automatic drawing’.
Anna Salamon’s work sits between printmaking and painting. The block of wood she has brought from her studio reminds her of the surfaces she uses in the imprinting process in her work. ‘I work from sequences, so I usually get three or four images from the same imprint.’ The results are abstract images with resonant colour.
Weissmann has brought with her the pigments and eggs used in her atmospheric egg-tempera portraits of family and friends. ‘I don’t want to be enigmatic or mysterious just for the sake of it,’ she says. ‘But I hope that the more you look at them the more they give you.’
Abad’s installation will include a photograph, taken in 1986 by his activist father, of the presidential palace in Manila during the Marcos regime. ‘I wanted to use it as a starting point for examining fantasy,’ Abad says. He weaves Andy Warhol and Brooke Shields, whose portrait he holds, into his political and cultural reflections.
Michael captures on film the found objects that clutter her studio – often geometrical pieces like the one she holds. ‘I gather things that I really love,’ she says. In filming the objects, she pays homage to the shapes and patterns in abstract films by experimental film-makers such as Len Lye or Oskar Fischinger.
A fan of the Simpsons and philosophy, Archie Franks makes still life paintings in thick oils, which pay homage to and subvert the genre’s history. ‘I enjoy the perceived marginality in contemporary art of still life paintings,’ he says.