The pandemic has not been kind to current art school graduates, but the best work from this year’s graduate show at Gray’s in Aberdeen demonstrates both maturity of thought and sophistication of presentation, writes Susan Mansfield
Graduation Exhibition 2022, Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen ****
Emergent, Look Again Project Space, Aberdeen ****
Students graduating from Scotland’s art colleges this summer were halfway through their second year when the pandemic hit. They endured little to no access to studios and equipment for nearly two years, eventually returning to college full-time earlier this year, just months before graduation.
This year’s graduate exhibitions are shaped by this experience in different ways. Some students have responded to the restrictions to do the biggest and most ambitious work they can. Some involve too much work, or too little, or don’t fully solve what they’re doing (and who can blame them?). .
Gray’s School of Art, the smallest of Scotland’s four major art schools and the last to present its theses, has a remarkably high number of students in this last category in its show completion. The Fine Arts students (now in just two departments, Painting and Contemporary Art Practice) achieve a consistently high level in the way they create and present their work. As difficult as the last two years have been, they have come out determined to do their best.
There are some very strong paintings. Emma Hall describes herself as “a kind of botanical painter”. But their works are not botanical art as we know it. They look at plants through a contemporary lens, bringing influences from the virtual world of games and asking big questions about how plants shape the world and how humans shape plants. They are also beautifully painted.
Working between painting and drawing, Caroline Hendry creates images in ink and India ink that explore a nostalgia for the early days of the internet. The large dollhouse picture is particularly impressive, packed with cute collectibles and old desktop computer monitors.
Lachlan Wilson sees himself as an outsider in the rural world and explores this sense of alienation in his strongly tonal paintings, which consider the oddity of regular patterns, such as geometric rows of haystacks in a field. Duncan Fisken’s fine figurative work celebrates queer intimacy and the beauty of the everyday, while Tama Marie Gray is interested in the fleeting things that bind us to memories. Her images feel like these things: small, delicate, but full of meaning.
Nature was an important theme in all diploma exhibitions this year. Emma Caldow says she “works between painting, environmentalism and materials science,” collecting matter from Scottish beaches to make organic and inorganic pigments. These are then embedded in discs of algae-based bioplastic and arranged to form a spectrum of colors on the wall of an otherwise white room.
Katie Taylor’s exploration of nature feels more instinctive. Your film of an outdoor choreographed dance sequence is superbly put together. Jenny Ross paints very well with natural pigments and also makes objects: antlers made of glass and a bowl made of seed pods. Allana Paterson crafts exquisitely detailed unfired clay vessels that break apart over time as part of their own natural process.