On the long, yet invigorating, slog through the fine art degree shows each year there’s something rather irksome in finding the Royal Scottish Academy has got there before you. The sight of the extremely prominent label announcing that a graduate has been nominated for the RSA’s annual New Contemporaries exhibition does rather annoy.
It’s not the prize itself, the RSA scheme does a fantastic amount including distributing more than £40,000 of prize money to young artists and that is emphatically a good thing.
New Contemporaries | Rating: *** | Royal Scottish Academy
Richard Slee: Work and Play | Rating: **** | Tramway, Glasgow
It’s the sense that this early branded endorsement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chasing that sign becomes the edited highlights for many visitors, the open and chaotic democracy of the degree show already subject to hierarchy, narrowing and winnowing.
Looking through the other end of the telescope however, bringing those selected students back to The Mound the following spring is a more joyful encounter. There are 61 graduates on show this year from all five art and architecture schools, selected under convenor Stuart MacKenzie and all benefiting from the opportunities of the glorious gallery space and the advice of the RSA’s Colin Greenslade and Alisa Lindsay.
The energy is palpable, the atmosphere fun and the work, well some of it is very good. Painting, a traditional RSA strong point, is rather weak, but it is saved by the vast Philip Guston-like works by Glasgow graduate Leo Arnold, whose monochrome paintings depict the grim yet comic rites of passage of sex and intimacy. Imagine the humour of Steven Campbell spliced to the angst of Goya and you get some sense of the awkward corners his young lovers find themselves in. There’s Jamie Limond from Glasgow too, whose degree show I also admired. He continues the insouciant practice of painting on coloured vinyl of the sort you find in children’s soft play areas, freighting even the innocent subject of a couple of milk cartons with a lovely substantial touch.
It’s emphatically a sculpture year. If young artists are channelling a single figure my money is on Claire Barclay, the Glasgow sculptor who will show some major new works at the Glasgow International next month, but amongst these rather pale imitations are some exciting young sculptors including Emily Binks from ECA who has won this year’s Glenfiddich residency for her strong assemblages crafted from old sofas and found materials. Sound and performance are present. The prestigious Fleming Wyfold Bursary, which provides both financial support and practical mentoring from gallerist Susanna Beaumont has gone to George Ridgway who uses sound, painting and sculpture.
Are there artists here who are already making the transition from student potential to developing the mature and considered practice that might follow? If they can stay in it for the long haul, the long game, there are a few who really stand out: Guy Titterington from Dundee who uses simple venetian blinds to clever effect and Thomas Woods, a Glasgow graduate whose complex works in film, print and sculpture examine the phenomena of aural and visual rhythm. The works that will stay with me however are those of Miriam Chefrad who has looked beyond the studio and out into the world. Her short film of a refugee camp being constructed on the Syrian border reminds us that these exciting young artists are graduating into an era of suffering and infinite complexity.
• Until 30 March