27 June 2009

Portrait of the artist to be

I always go to, and always enjoy, student shows. The level doesn't matter: degree shows, primary school shows in the local library, or anything in between. Whatever it produces, whether or not the product is to my taste, new vision is always exhilarating – as is interacting with the still fresh passion of those who have created the work.

Three times this past week, though, I went back to one of the most stimulating show I've ever seen. It's not in a big art school, it's in a further education college (for US readers, an institution spanning many functions of senior high school, community college and two year university). And I don't just mean one of the most stimulating student shows, either; it was an experience not to be found in the most spectacular big name, big national gallery exhibition. That sound hyperbolic, but I stand by it.

I have no connection to the college, I neither teach there nor know the students, so I could be relaxed and impartial, just enjoying the work for its own sake. The work itself, across the range, was without exception well worth seeing and in many cases truly superb. And, unusually, all of the college's art students from all courses were exhibiting at the same time on the same site. many rooms, on two floors, but one big show. Walking through the corridors and adjoining spaces took in a range from sixteen year olds on post GCSE courses to mature students finishing foundation degrees, from graphic design and illustration through fashion design, video production, photography, to fine art painting and sculpture. That was really the factor that finally made it so exceptional: the opportunity to see all of that variety, all of that range, that contrast between different ways of seeing and different levels of experience, in one place at one time.

Something which you'll frequently find at a student show, but rarely at the exhibition of work by established artists, is access to the development and research journals. These contain all the sketching, thinking, false turns, research, ideas, explorations, which led to and away from and around about the final piece shown on the wall. Very often, the most interesting work is that supported by the most detailed development work. I spent a lot of time at this show looking through the supporting material, again made all the more interesting for being represented at a variety of levels.

I'm tempted to mention particular names to whose work I kept returning, but that would be invidious. I couldn't possibly choose a favourite piece of work, or even a top ten. And if I did, it would be unfair to the rest who are no less talented or exciting for not corresponding to my own leanings. Instead, I've plucked out examples at random and without identifying them.

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