Attending degree shows allows you to have a privileged view onto the shapings and traces of influence, that amorphous, decisive and perishable force. This viewpoint is a rarity, a phenomenon that occurs only for a short time, before an artist’s voice and work is crystallised and made coherent, and influences become, invariably, references. You can see, mapped before you as if taken by one of those thermal imaging cameras, how these sections of the show have shaped that section, and how this pocket of work has touched another, as if an exclamative scarlet thread were running across the space.
And while this strange alchemy delights, the Glasgow degree show this year was marked by how distinctive each artist’s work was, how particular, even when a shared brief could be traced between rooms.
In an early room, David Sampethai, who has been chosen for the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries Exhibition 2013, showed multi-disciplinary work that also had a primitive, folk aesthetic and an outsider art attitude – two preoccupations that are rarely combined. What made them cohere here was a kind of imaginary topography, an anthropological mining of a fictional ‘Interzone’ (one thinks inevitably of Tarkovsky). The space contained Interzone objects, large-scale prints, audio guides, and postcard size pieces, which could have worked simply as exercises in colour had they also not shown such intricate depictions of mysterious narrative import – all mounted beautifully in a kind of rough and clinical categorisation. Hallucinogenic, the resultant effect was of the material remnants of a very personal mythology.
Multi-disciplinary work was not as fervent at Glasgow, in comparison to last year’s degree shows, where it took a very brave student indeed who showed work in only one medium. Kate MacKay‘s subject was the disregarded and unattended, and alongside a photograph and a poem, she built a plant bed that ran along one wall.
A special mention must go to Louise Malone‘s simultaneously ethereal and robust installation made from the most banal and profligate of materials – plastic bags, filled with water. The installation was shaped by organic forces, and transformed incrementally by natural light. An arrested waterfall, or a host of regimented jellyfish – possible resemblances were many and quick to come to mind, each time folded back into the sheer physical presence and gravitas of the work. It seemed strange that something so fragile could be so potent, even muscular.
This achieved lyricism could also be found in Anne Broe Kristensen‘s series of photographs, which found an intimacy and a poignancy in that most over-told of stories, the relationship between two people. The series had a ‘secretiveness, silence, sadness’, the most wonderful photograph being when the photographer made a vast desert of a rumpled bed. This image showed what photography can do at its best, awakening us to that which is hidden in clear sight, a vignette of the unsaid.
Andrew Black, Bradley Davies and Sumin Bak all used disruptions in distinctive ways. Black perhaps took this to the furthest extreme, with a high level of technique occluded by radical cutaways in the surfaces of the work. Bradley Davies disrupted a seemingly denotative painting with a splendid breach of blue. Sumin Bak‘s paintings managed to be both radically obscure, and somehow architectural (hints of military aircraft could be made out) as if they were the subjects of some mysterious but rigorous elision. Her disruptions were strange and unfamiliar, not all the fashionable obscurity that hides a failure to make choices.
Both Petter Yxell and Karen Grant used the influence of other artists in interesting ways. Yxell’s work nodded to Rachel Whiteread, though vastly reduced in scale. A solid Jesmonite cast of a perfectly proportioned miniature building could be viewed through a transparent life size cast of a lap top made from polyester resin, though the words there inscribed ’through these words I remember the now’ seemed more a testament to radical concision and evocative power, as well as the limitations, of one of the oldest technologies – writing. In one painting Karen Grant‘s work evoked Paul Klee, but transformed the markings characteristic of him, playing between what could be read as simply a happy accident of perspective or the coercing of them into signifying – all within the framework of a figurative painting that seemed to have a dialogue at its heart.
Xiao Wang explored abandoned spaces, which bordered on the apocalyptic, with crisp white lines showing a Pop Art heritage (in particular Patrick Caulfield) and which brought out the endangered structure of the buildings, while other parts of the painting were more akin to Gerhard Richter’s blurred filmic style. Mixing painting techniques was very effective in creating paintings that were simultaneously lucid and shadowy. There was also some sense of being at the limits of the land in Qiheng Liu‘s distinctive paintings, which seemed both frank and open in their presentation of self, while also depicting a strange disembodied doppelgänger who attended to the figure of the artist in bizarre ways. Most wonderful of all was a painting of a radiator placed at a distance dictated by habit, just so, a very human arithmetic.
Sally Webber paid tribute to Eva Hesse and Carl Andre in her pitch perfect space. Displaying a delightful aesthetic insubordination, Webber‘s work was simply beautiful, and was made solely of industrial found materials.
Robin Everett, already a prize winner, and with work purchased by the Friends of GSA, produced some of the most intelligent landscape painting I’ve seen. They seemed to be composed of a variety of techniques, including silk screen, and showed undulating planes, the effect of the wind on the landscape, and could be misty while being also startlingly crisp and lucid in places, having what Francis Bacon admired in a Van Gogh painting, ”the violence of the grass”, and achieving that ”shorthand of sensation” that was the intention of Bacon himself. It is truly something to marvel at, that the painter can so often give the painting up to the facts of the material, to gamble so often with chance, and yet the painting still coheres; this kind of felicity shows that something is on Robin Everett‘s side.
Lisa Schmalstich‘s paintings were truly brilliant, in both the qualifying and literal senses. Showing a long immersion in art history, especially the old masters and with hints of the baroque, the artist showed paintings that were alternately burnished and glowing, for example one in a burning orange – the sun’s swan song – while others seemed ghostly. One painting would suggest a 17th century drawing room, another would present the matter of factness of a single sheet of paper. This technique of presenting, as if woven in a plait, two stylistic threads, put the decision making process about subject matter at the forefront. All faces, it suddenly dawned on one, were intimated. These paintings are in actuality abstract, very abstract, except the minute you turn away they are figurative. The eye, or the mind’s eye, informs them fondly and instantly.
Over at the Glue Factory for the MA, Claire Moore‘s textured and rich paintings in oil and sometimes wax, managed to present an epic historical narrative in a cinematic way, in moments. The artist explored the possibility, the hope, that painting might act as a cultural memorial; made more poignant by the fact that the paintings seemed already to have some intimacy with decay.