Gray’s School of Art show is fine for all forms

Caitlin Hynes's work is one of the outstanding collections
Caitlin Hynes's work is one of the outstanding collections
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It’s on a smaller scale than some graduation shows, but Duncan Macmillan finds no lack of quality in these final offerings

This year 50 students are graduating at Gray’s School of Art in the Fine Art area. It is a little fewer than usual at Gray’s and fewer than half the numbers graduating from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Even with these numbers, however, the school is crowded on its present campus, which is home to almost twice as many as it was planned to accommodate 50 years ago. So everybody is looking forward to a new building scheduled to be ready in three years’ time. Meanwhile, however, Gray’s loses nothing in quality for being smaller in size.

As things are presently organised, the fine art area includes painting, sculpture, print-making and photography and electronic media, though the last-named is a very small group. This arrangement, too, is set to change, however, and the disciplines reordered on a simpler basis. Everywhere these traditional subdivisions have become less and less meaningful as students range across all sorts of means of expression, no matter what they are supposed to be doing. At Gray’s this year, for instance, there is a big group of print-makers, although you wouldn’t always know from their work that that is what they have been studying. Some make prints, but they make a lot of other things as well.

One of the most striking groups of work is, however, a set of straightforward woodcuts by Ericka Smith. Strongly designed and boldly executed, they take full advantage of the starkness woodcut can achieve to present a set of powerful, if rather gloomy, images prefaced with the rather glum reflection “Death is inevitable”. Lindsey MacDonald also uses fairly conventional methods in her screen prints in which lively, freely drawn screen print overlays a photographic image. In a series of reflections on war, Roanna Scott uses relief printing to produce a very striking white relief of the Stars and Stripes. Jade Anderson’s prints of some of Aberdeen’s monumental buildings brighten up the grey granite city with well-judged Fauve colour.

Arlene Searle makes etchings of woven threads, damaged, repaired and also greatly magnified. She presents them as a reflection on the domestic, but, perhaps unconsciously, her work also invokes the primeval association of women with weaving that is linked to the idea of the thread of life itself. This idea may also underly Caitlin Hynes’s work, which is mostly knitted and stitched, although she too is nominally a print-maker. Certainly hers is one of the outstanding shows. At its centre is a collection of grotesque masks and figures knitted in brilliant colours and adorned with feathers, beads and pompoms. Mounted one above the other, they form columns at either side of the entrance to a tent-like shrine. But this all then overflows on to the walls with more figures, collages and drawings all brilliantly coloured. Her invention is astonishing and apparently inexhaustible. Although she acknowledges Steven Campbell and Grayson Perry, the grimacing faces, which somehow manage to combine the grotesque with a kind of innocence, remind me of Ensor’s strange visions.

Dominic McIvor is a painter, but his ideas seem to be essentially sculptural. He works elegantly minimal variations in two dimensions on a set of geometric three-dimensional plaster forms. But even in his two dimensional works, he cuts into the surface of the paper he uses as though it were a sculptural material. Hugh Stewart’s paintings are straightforward in execution, but seek to present a strange, three dimensional image of a state of mind as a pile of boxes. Jonathon Whitson explores the crossover between painting and photography in a series of black and white images that are low key but eloquent. Julie-Ann Simpson’s paintings are big and atmospheric. Very sophisticated, they are mostly abstract and in this they are a little reminiscent of the work of the Abstract Expressionist, Clifford Still, but hints of organic forms also suggest echoes of Monet. Catherine Ross is another remarkable painter. She paints big, icy landscapes with sinister hints in their wintry spaces of war and the territorial divisions over which wars are fought, often in the most inhospitable places. A little collection she has made of Surrealist constructions from found objects is even more promising, however, and are among the most intriguing works in the whole show.

The high standard is maintained in Sculpture, but two students stand out. Kerr Rodgie presents a set of three “vases of flowers”, pictured left, but the flowers are painted metal and the vases are cast from found objects in a Surrealist technique pioneered by Picasso and Miró. Rodgie has then gilded this cast assemblage, setting off the enamel colours of the flowers. The result is a rich and very satisfactory group of objects.

Anne Marie Coll is a Surrealist in the making. A pile of ancient suitcases and trunks suggests memory and journeys perhaps. They are lying at odd angles, some open, some closed, and within the open lids of several of them she has contrived to fit moving projections of waves breaking on the shore. Because of the odd angles, we don’t see these directly. It is as though we were catching glimpses of something going on somewhere far away, perhaps in the distance of memory. Then, as though it has indeed been unpacked from a suitcase and unfolded, one of the seascapes is hung on the wall on a printed cloth. It is very poetic.

• Degree show, Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen, until 28 June