Every year I look forward to the RSA New Contemporaries. It always fizzes with energy. Here are the young showing us how, while the so-called grown-ups drag us through the grisly farce of Brexit. Nor does this year disappoint. There are 63 new graduates including a small group of architects. The show is on both floors of the RSA and so there is room for them each to have their own bit of wall or floor. Thus their work is not scattered and they can spread themselves out a little. One or two individual works have been in the recent group shows, but here the artists, among their peers, have a better chance to make a statement.
RSA New Contemporaries 2019, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh ****
Setting a mood of creative excitement, you are greeted at the top of the stairs by a wonderful fountain of foam spilling out of an enormous flower in pink and yellow perspex by Amy Truscott. You might say it owed something to Jeff Koons and Karla Black, but it is much more fun than either. There is another foaming fountain by Matthew Rimmer on show downstairs, together with other assorted water-works by the same artist. Also downstairs, and like Amy Truscott’s piece equally overflowing with fun, is an installation by Molly Lambert. It includes all sorts of inventive details, brightly painted chairs, a miniature golden toilet, a velvet rose, a silver balloon question-mark and an @ symbol. There are paintings, an enigmatic pointing hand on a coat-hanger on the wall and much else besides. In a somewhat similar mode, Rachel McCreadie has made a collection of strange and suggestive objects including a small thing like a volcano labelled Asshole. Colonoscopy seems to follow a similar train of thought. So, rather painfully, does pushing through a pink and spiky variation on Giacometti’s Disagreeable Object. A wig in a basket hints at a severed head. A large blue object by Nina Stanger suggests a huge, autonomous perambulating phallus. There is also a matching video. Another nice piece of surrealism is a pair of gigantic scarlet cowboy boots by Esther Gamsu. In a similar mode, Natalie Morgan-Klein makes big abstract plasters which are not exactly figurative but still manage to be anthropomorphic, as though there was a figure inside struggling to get out.
Zen O’Conor is another young surrealist and has made a collection of paintings and digital prints on wood which are startlingly weird. A set of 17 small, circular prints, for instance, show figures set in landscapes, but in various stages of metamorphosis strange enough for Hieronymous Bosch. Indeed they come close to quoting Bosch, but nevertheless manage to keep an individual sense of the weird. Samantha Cheevers also works on a small scale. Her 14 small paintings are a delight. Richly coloured and intricately detailed, they record odd buildings and messy interiors. An abandoned chair in a claustrophobic interior, consciously or otherwise, seems to be a memory of Steven Campbell’s Artist’s Chair, but that’s no bad thing.
Karolina Bachanek has built a shack from brand-name plastic bags and labelled it in neon, Discontent, Build your own. In a red-lit interior there is film of a person in fish-net tights of ambiguous gender. Two sides of consumerism perhaps, both dark. Nearby Rebecca Thomson, perhaps prompted by similar thoughts, has created two huge banners, one from a Tesco till receipt and the other advertising Angel Delight.
There are also artworks in what at first may seem more traditional modes. A series of tempestuous black and white drawings by Lara Orman, for instance, turn out to be an experimental mixture of lithographs and other media. The effect is very striking. Equally so is a series of swans painted by Gregor Horne using thick, shiny black paint around reserved white canvas for the swans. Nearby Marcus Murison’s big, gestural abstract in orange, black and blue is impressively assured. Using wax and oil paint Emily Herring has painted three enormous, close-up faces. They seem conventional enough, until you get closer and you see that the paint surface is battered and peeling. Reversing Dorian Gray, the picture anticipates its own dissolution and so too perhaps that of the sitters.
In quieter mode, Gaba Uvarov has created an exquisite series of drawings in light on dark of a whelk shell moving progressively closer out of darkness into eventual close-up. They are quite beautiful. David Whitelaw’s work is equally understated and nevertheless impressive. Using a digital print he has made an outsize portrait of a fingerprint. Fingerprints also feature in a set of small sculptures, little columns each impressed with a single fingerprint. Faces apparently peering out of some foggy photographic world make a striking set of portraits.
Amongst various films, a short drama by Yixin Huang is arresting. A figure entirely covered in clown’s white make-up and wearing a red velvet cloak moves through wood and water to end up floating like Ophelia. There are also various interactive works. In several pieces by Nancy Dewhurst, if you touch two sensors, one with each hand, you join a circuit and a light comes on. It seems rather a nice metaphor for the business of looking at art. Finally I particularly enjoyed two interactive pieces by Emily Dunlop. In a film, an apple and a banana shriek as they are attacked with surgical instruments. Best though is a group of plants, so cleverly wired that when you touch their leaves they squeal with pain. A metaphor for suffering plants and the careless human agency behind climate change, perhaps. There is a lot more to enjoy in this show, too.
Until 3 April