Artistic inspiration to the highest degree

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The degree shows look very different from each other this year at Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School of Art this year.

In Edinburgh they seem to have found more space, so the studios are much less cramped than usual. And, although it seems to make little difference to what students actually do, the College of Art is still divided along the lines of what were once painting, sculpture, tapestry and the like, and they have kept to these divisions in presenting the work.

In Glasgow though, even though they too still have the same nominal divisions in their teaching, they have accepted that the logic of those distinctions is long since gone and work from all the different departments is hung together.

While generally this works well, it does have one slightly odd effect. The photography department has evidently acquired an extra special facility for printing big colour photographs. This has proved highly popular. So in every room in the exhibition, there seems to be a group of apparently identical large, glossy colour photos. This repetition might be an installation by some student comedian commenting on the whole business of assessing artists like dogs in a dog show or vegetables at a garden fete (which, after all is what these shows are all about), but in fact if you look closely these are all the work of different students. For all the apparent sameness one or two did stand out.

Vanessa Weinweisser makes a wry comment on life with a photograph of a block of flats seen across a graveyard, and June Pedersen’s family up to their necks in the sea makes a comical portrait. The star of the Glasgow photography department, Michael Wurstbauer, works in black and white, however, making moody complex pictures by manipulating images composed from the shattered glass of car windscreens.

The star printmaker is Beinn Watson, though he takes a flexible view of print making. He has installed a coffee bar on the top floor of the School near Mackintosh’s famous Hen Run.

It seems to be called Tash, a pun on Tosh, or Toshie, Mackintosh’s nickname, and takes as its motif his moustache - his tash, in fact. It must be hard to get away from Mackintosh if you are a student at the School of Art. This does at least take that on, but when I was there it was a coffee bar with no coffee. Maybe that’s a comment too.

There are one or two outstanding painters this year. Though you might have called his work sculpture, Johnny Shaw is nominally a painter. He is certainly an individual who I expect we will be hearing more about. What he has produced, among various holes in the wall and other odd interventions, is a remarkable and rather beautiful construction that looks like an immensely tall loudspeaker. Good straightforward painters, though, are Celia Ellen Hampton, Jacob Anckarsvard and, most remarkable of all, Brendan Harrington. His wild vision of what looks like a warm day in Hell is reminiscent of Steven Campbell at this stage of his career 20 years ago.

There is nothing quite so fiendish among the Edinburgh students’ work. Gemma Coyle must win a prize for sheer elaborate nuttiness with her convoluted machines. One immensely tall construction apparently chooses between eggs made of lead and eggs made of a lighter material and if it chooses a lead egg, it turns into a bomb. Sarah Barnes has recreated her whole domestic world in papier mach. Jenny Myles may already be familiar to you, as with commendable enterprise she has taken over the advertising panels on the Edinburgh buses with her voting campaign for the public to choose the winner among the characters she has created. What they win or why they are competing remains a mystery, but then perhaps that is the whole point.

Most intriguing among the Edinburgh students are Maria Rodrigo and Kate Stancliffe. Rodrigo is into greenery and, among other things, grows cress in a wet woolly jumper with startling effect. Kate Stancliffe has taken as her notional canvas the library of St Paul’s Cathedral in London and from it has produced multi-layered images about time and memory.

Centrepiece of her display is a museum case where it is not the content that matters, but the accumulated finger prints of generations of visitors. Kate Hawkins combines the comic with the serious. Her installation looks like a class room with school desks and blackboard. The desks mutter away to themselves and what they say is based on the graffiti on the the actual desks at Edinburgh University. On the wall she has her own modern version of The Rake’s Progress, the voices in the desks personified perhaps.

One sculptor stands out and one particular work, Katherine Storm Olsen has made an exquisitely beautiful composition by stretching coloured rubber bands from floor to ceiling.

Edinburgh has produced several outstanding painters this year. Laura Drever comes from Orkney and paints it with an airy lightness that is fresh and wholly convincing. Molly Garnier works between painting and photography to produce small smoky images of the female nude that are quite memorable, and finally Stephen Hanley is simply an outstanding painter of a kind you hardly look for in an art school these days.

His pictures are small, luminous and intense. They are very personal, but what he succeeds in doing is conveying to us, by the way he paints, something of his own feelings. Who said painting is dead?

• Glasgow School of Art degree show runs to 28 June. The Edinburgh show ends today.