Art review: Degree Show 2021, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design

Although surprisingly few students address the pandemic directly, there’s still plenty of lockdown anxiety in evidence at this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show, writes Susan Mansfield

Work by Eva Brown at the Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show
Work by Eva Brown at the Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show

It has been a tough year for students at Scotland’s art colleges with periods when access to studios and equipment have been severely limited. However, the work of the Fine Art and Art & Philosophy students at Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee is surely proof that ingenuity has won out over coronavirus.

Painters, ceramicists, printmakers and those working in digital media have got around the restrictions to produce as ambitious and varied a show as ever (though there is a dearth of big sculpture). Plus, the improved digital interface makes this year’s online show easier to navigate than last year’s.

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Surprisingly few students address the pandemic directly. Ellie Jamieson is an exception, creating The Covid Collection, exploring issues of isolation, social distancing and nostalgia for the pre-covid age. She has also recorded a series of moving testimonies from the past year. Rather more describe their work as a way of coping. Expressive painter Calum McFadyen writes simply: “Covid-19 forced the whole world into a collective corner. My corner was full of paint.” And paint he does, with energy and confidence.

Work by Rowan Mitchell at the Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show
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A fashion for craft has been creeping into degree shows for several years, but lockdown has inspired increasing numbers to knit, sew, embroider and crochet. Eva Brown has created an impressive series of crocheted outfits and fields of sea anemone-like creatures made of fabric. Holly Jamieson made her own Map of the Mind using free motion sewing, swirls and cul-de-sacs mimicking the motions of many a brain in lockdown, while Angharad Jones uses embroidery, ceramics and paper-making to explore the relationship between women and craft.

While it requires more specialist equipment, there has been no stopping the rage in ceramics that seems to be sweeping Scotland’s art schools. Of several highly competent potters, the work of Ruby Leeson stands out, capturing the essence of the wild outdoors in colours, textures and even sounds.

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Duncan of Jordanstone tends to produce good painters, and this year is no exception. Lucie Robbie is a fine figurative painter with an expressive style, though her work does not make easy viewing, capturing all too well her own times of lockdown anxiety. John Lilly, like all true abstractionists, doesn’t make work about anything specific, but his handling of colour, texture and shape is highly assured.

Rowan Mitchell paints fish and birds with flair and a generous helping of good humour, a fish in a surreal setting (the sky, for example) becoming an affirmation of a different way of seeing the world. Tilda Williams-Kelly makes impressive portraits of black women who have inspired her.

Work by Lucie Robbie at the Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show

Themes of self and identity are common in degree shows (as surely they are for all young adults) but this year has brought about an increase in introspection. In lockdown, after all, who is there to confront but yourself?

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Photographer Isla Morgan planned to photograph others, but was forced by covid regulations to turn her camera on herself. Her photographs are striking and brave, and she adds more bravery by publishing a selection of the abusive comments her work attracted when she posted images online. Another photographer who becomes his own subject is Csian Jemecel Canave, and his images capture something of the difficulty of nailing down a person on film, even if that person is yourself.

A number of students explore their roots. Chenoa Beedie has two rich heritages in the Native American community in Arizona and in the Scottish Hebrides. She creates a pair of films juxtaposing the two. Emma Ramsay, who is Scots-French, has made a film about Brittany, with voiceover in the strange, beautiful (and increasingly rare) Breton language.

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Kate Wilson, who is from Aberdeenshire, combines crafts and stories by making a vessel – like a large lampshade adorned with the work of local crafters – to house the songs and anecdotes of native Doric speakers (as a Doric speaker myself, I salute her). Hannah Feuerstein contemplates how the fleeting gestures and memories which connect us to past generations might be preserved and valued.

There is so much more I could say. Check out Dulcie Ghost, queering Welsh myth with stop-motion animation, Finlay MacIntosh’s photographs, inspired by unique moments of thought and vision which are untracked in cyberspace, Owen McKie’s drawings of Dundee architecture, Hooligan Sadikson’s interdimensional flea market and Elvey Anna Steadman’s tiny fragile structures housing birds’ eggs and acorns. Check out the whole thing. The next generation of artists deserve it.

To view the show online until 21 June, visit

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