Art review: Gray’s School of Art Degree Show 2019, School of Art, Aberdeen

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019: Nefeli Chrysanthou's paintings are surreal narratives populated by invented characters
Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019: Nefeli Chrysanthou's paintings are surreal narratives populated by invented characters
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ABERDEEN’S art school might be the smallest of Scotland’s big four, and the last to enter degree show season, but it has much to commend it, not least its manageable size, attractive studio spaces and the fact that all students are encouraged to write statements introducing their work.

It’s now several years since Gray’s amalgamated sculpture, printmaking and photographic and electronic media into a single course, Contemporary Art Practice, which is bursting at the seams this year with a record 40 students. On the upper floors, the painters are continuing – for the most part, at least – to paint, and the show includes some of the most dedicated and skilled painting I’ve seen in any art school this year.

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019: Kristina Aburrow has a fascination for materials

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019: Kristina Aburrow has a fascination for materials

If you were in any doubt we lived in the Anthropocene, Gray’s would put you straight. I counted close to a dozen artists in one way or another concerned with mankind’s relationship with the natural world, from Meg Miller, a keen beekeeper, interested in nature’s inherent intelligence, to Elizabeth Long, whose delicate installation draws on her fascination with the sculptural forms of fungi.

Both Isabel Mcleish and Samantha Robinson 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, semi-precious stones and glass, while Niamh Coutts looks at how human beings aestheticise nature, making casts of coral in pewter and a fine series of screenprints.

Among the painters, Leila Kleineidam explores what she calls “anthropogeomorphology” which, apart from being quite possibly the longest word in any degree show this year, is to do with how human beings change the landscape. Her ambitious paintings and ceramics explore this by being in themselves artificial, fantastical versions of the natural world. Eilidh Simpson’s paintings of landscapes and bothies in the Cairngorns explore her own interaction with nature as a hiker.

Many CAP students work across several media, which can bring a lack of focus, but the best work makes a virtue of variety. Bibo Keeley makes haunting 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 for materials, casting mussel shells in ceramic and watching salt crystals grow on a dress.

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2019

Emanuela Agnoni sets herself the difficult task of expressing the inner self in sculpture; her person-sized, cocoon-like installation is well worth stepping into. Jenny Milne has built a photographic dark room in a shower room as an atmospheric home for her show which conjures up themes of loss and memory in a quiet collection of ephemeral objects.

At first glance, Martin Bell’s show looks like the work of several artists, but he has a strong sense of form and material, as well as a desire to provoke a reaction and a healthy dose of humour: his ‘101 Things To Do With A Dead Degree Show’ is well 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.

Art graduates today are digital natives, and several students use their work to explore that world: Megan Devenny creates her own “curated self” in her Instagram alter ago, Verna Meg Ended, while Megan Bellatrix Archibald makes photographic portraits of her various fictionalised selves. Painter William Sherval makes strong figurative work exploring an internet-age conundrum: the sense of real familiarity, compared with the seeming familiarity we might feel to those whose faces are ubiquitous on social media.

Andrew McCallum splices elements of historic costume with contemporary fashion in a fine collection of figurative paintings and drawings. Claire Kidd is another fine painter, whose work is concerned with stories and memories. Nefeli Chrysanthou’s paintings are surreal narratives populated by invented characters, while Duncan Boyne makes superb hyperreal paintings of the abandoned buildings he explores.

Hannah Ross draws on her heritage in the fishing community in Stonehaven, turning knitted panels from fishermen’s ganseys into sculptures and creating fine works on canvas which marry painting and stitching. Lileth Iona McAdam Leng is drawn to Aberdeen’s (often overlooked) industrial harbour, recording its ships, their forms and statistics, in paintings on metal.

Gray’s also attracts a range of students with international backgrounds, many of whom draw on that heritage in their work while exploring their relationship with it: Jasmine Regni (India); Joseph Buhat (Philippines); Sofia Tagor (Russia) and Sofia Zahn (China/Portugal). Painter Agota Magyar has applied herself to develop an artistic language to talk about the political changes currently happening in her native Hungary, and has found one by deconstructing and collaging aspects of communist era architecture.

SUSAN MANSFIELD

Until 22 June