ONE of the hazards of reviewing art school degree shows is missing out a graduating student’s work which everyone then talks about after the event… something which I always fret about when I tour these epic shows on behalf of The Herald. In the case of a new exhibition of recent star graduates at Glasgow’s Kelly Gallery, two out of three ain’t bad. I spotted the work of Rebecca Lindsmyr and Georgina Clapham, but not Sam Drake.
Luckily lots of pairs of sharp eyes end up seeing these annual explosions of creative talent from graduating students in art schools up and down the land. One set of well-honed eyes at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) undergraduate degree show last year belonged to Liz Knox, who viewed the show as an artist member of council with the Royal Glasgow institute of the Fine Arts (RGI). For several years, Knox has selected the RGI Glasgow School of Art Graduate Award.
Knox, an award-winning painter herself, attended Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1960s under giants of the 20th century Scottish art scene, such as Sir Robin Philipsson and David Michie.
This annual award usually goes to two graduating students, but last year, Knox says, there was such a fine line between the students who attracted her attention, that three artists were selected.
She explains: “Over the years I’ve been assessor for this award, the winners have worked in a variety of disciplines; environmental art, fine art photography, sculpture, printmaking and this year, painting.
“The assessor has to be objective in many aspects of the selection process, but should also find creativity and a sense of the artist’s passion for the work they have produced.
“This year, the work of these three graduates fulfilled all criteria and more. It’s a pleasure to see such a high standard work. It’s also a pleasure for the RGI to collaborate with the Glasgow School of Art in this way and hopefully in the future on other projects and joint ventures.”
The award not only gives a winning artist a sum of money to help with preparing for an exhibition at the Kelly Gallery, they are also mentored by Knox and Kelly staff if need be; receiving help with the nuts and bolts of exhibiting commercially. Knox says: “We talk to them about things like transporting and hanging their work, which coming from art school they are not necessarily used to but if you are dealing with the commercial side of the art world this is very important.”
All three specialise in painting, which will gladden the hearts of many who feared GSA was losing its flair for producing painters of note. I remember being impressed by Clapham’s work last year. One of her degree show paintings, Ideal Portrait of A Man, was used as the poster image for the whole show, appearing on hoardings around the actual and digital town.
Clapham is on a roll. The stand-out painting in this small selection of work is Aphrodite, an oil painting depicting a sensuous 21st century goddess of love, with full lips and one ample breast bared to the world. The devil is in Clapham’s delicate sexy detailing; a blue neck choker and matching blue nail varnish and a swathe of gossamer draped across her lap. It’s for sale at £2,800 and if writing about art was better-paid I’d have walked out the door of the Kelly Gallery there and then…
She has one other large oil painting on show, called Furmina, a portrait which blurs gender boundaries in the same way Ideal Portrait of a Man did. Clapham clearly revels in the devilish touches such as the subject’s lush purple satin shirt, ornate necklace, velvety eyes and black rose clutched in a seemingly over-sized hand. Hands (and feet) are always tricky to get right but I suspect Clapham will go on to bigger things and better hands.
She has several etchings – all figures – on show too which according to Knox is a new development. A tricky medium to handle but Clapham does so with aplomb.
In her degree show, Rebecca Lindsmyr created a hospital of sorts, with powder blue floor and ultra-white walls. She made paintings for the floor and for the walls on which hospital scrubs, disposable slipperettes, a perfectly-made hospital bed and functional bedside chairs were depicted.
For the Kelly exhibition, Lindsmyr, who is from Sweden, has revisited the clinical Instagram perfection of her degree show with a diptych called We and Them, part 1 and We and Them, part 2. Hospital scrubs hang pertly waiting for their public to arrive. Who will wear them, you can’t help asking? Are they real or part of a Truman Show-style illusion? Both Lindsmyr and Clapham seem to be looking at painting with fresh, conceptual eyes. It’s always good to strip something back and start from scratch before adding meat to the bones.
Before he had even graduated, Sam Drake was shortlisted for the inaugural W Gordon Smith Award in January last year. His star continued to rise when he was included (like Clapham) in the recent RSA New Contemporaries exhibition in Edinburgh at which he was given the Walter Scott Award.
Drake’s work has a distinctly crepuscular feel about it, with darkness closing in from every corner. Figures are not obviously to the fore in his layered paintings but they’re in the mix, struggling to emerge.
Apparently at the opening of this exhibition, people were overheard to remark that Drake’s work has been influenced by his GSA tutor, Richard Walker. A wee root through Google images confirms his work is not dissimilar. Perhaps time is required post-art school to push out his own boundaries? That’s why shows like this, although small, give emerging artists plenty of food for thought for audience and artists alike.
Rebecca Lindsmyr, Sam Drake and Georgina Clapham, RGI Kelly Gallery, 118 Douglas Street, Glasgow, G2 4ET theroyalglasgowinstituteofthefinearts.co.uk Until 8 April
Jan Patience, The Herald