RSA New Contemporaries 2009
By Jan Patience
The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) is as venerable an organisation as you are likely to find on a day’s march through Edinburgh. Education and mentoring has always been at the heart of its core values and when its constitution was drawn up in1826, one of its main aims was to establish an Academy of Fine Arts, which would ‘instruct students free of expense’.
This teaching element of the RSA transferred to the newly established Edinburgh College of Art almost a century ago, in 1911 and, in its place, the Academy continued to aid and encourage young artists through a series of scholarships and awards.
In recent years, its hugely popular Annual Students’ Exhibition proved a magnet for young artists from Scotland’s art schools, all of them eager to parade their wares – and, thanks to Sir Robin Philipson, who instigated the open exhibition 35 years ago, guaranteed a place to exhibit.
This rather unwieldy exhibition developed into a smorgasbord of artistic endeavour, which suffered from a lack of direction and, for that reason, the powers that be at the RSA have decided to tear up the rulebook and start again.
Colin Greenslade is RSA Programme Director and one of three curators of the New Contemporaries exhibition, which will take over all 12 of the magnificent RSA galleries from 14-25 February this year. Alongside renowned artists, Will Maclean and Sandy Moffat, as well as tutors from all five Scottish art colleges, Greenslade helped to select 54 artists from the 2008 undergraduate degree shows and invited them to make new works for this exhibition.
According to Greenslade, the changeover from students’ free-for-all to curated exhibition of emerging artists has been a long time coming.
“The students’ exhibition had become a victim of its own success,” he explains. “The show got too big and, for the last two years, we have been taking a good hard look at it.
“In the past, all the work would arrive on the Monday and we had a week of panic to put it together. It wasn’t doing anyone any favours.
“The RSA has had a reputation in the past for being too elitist and a closed shop but this is all part of a programme to make it more open and, through increased residencies and funding for new work, we want to forge relationships with young artists at the start of their careers.
“This is an opportunity for these young artists to show work in a curated exhibition in one of the finest buildings in Scotland. We can also help them to market their work, which is a key element of survival as an artist.
“There’s been a real sense of excitement here as the young artists have started to send in details of their work. This will be a showcase of painting, sculpture, film-making, photography, printmaking, architecture and installation from the cream of Scotland’s emerging artists.”
If you want to pick up on a young Howson, Gordon or Hirst in the making, this is the place.
As a taster, here’s our pick of five of the best young painters on show.
Polish-born Grazyna Dobrezelecka graduated with first class honours last year from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and her delicate work, which attracted many admirers at her degree show, focuses on the feelings that stem from being a stranger in a strange land.
Objects and materials that have a personal connection to the artist are arranged to great effect in her work. These compositions are created through a combination of painting and rearranging. Her work is heavily influenced by the French avant garde sculptor, Louise Bourgeois. Film directors Jim Jarmusch and Krzysztof Kieślowski, who work in an episodic way, are also cited as influences, as is the American minimalist composer, Steve Reich. Dobrezelecka’s recent work shows her veering towards portraiture narration and abstraction. She is currently one year into a two-year long Master of Fine Art course at ECA.
Mary Ramsden, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, was winner of the RSA’s Sir William Gillies Bequest Award in 2008. Ramsden’s approach to her work carries on a theme that has long fascinated her – the potent visual stimulation of basic sign language set against an abstract background.
For this exhibition, she is working with archived material of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who wrote about his infant son’s early linguistic formulations. Working with abstract forms, she is reducing this nonsensical language that we all recognise in children, back to distorted expression. The result is a delicately provoking image saturated with symbols and earthy colour and tones.
Painter Ross Brown graduated with a first class honours degree from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee last year and received the Linda Clark Nolan/Rendezvous Gallery Landscape Award at the last ever RSA student exhibition in 2008. As part of that prize, he received a residency on the island of Lewis last summer.
Brown’s work for his degree show focused on landscape, which is littered with wasteland and abandoned structures.
“The wasteland is used within my work as a vehicle reflecting the difficulty associated with establishing a sense of place within a landscape that is in a constant state of flux.”
Brown’s paintings are almost filmic in their perspective, conjuring up a dystopian fragile beauty.
Sean Ambrose graduated last year with a first class honours degree in painting from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and has recently returned from a three-month scholarship in Florence courtesy of the RSA’s John Kinross Memorial Fund. Leading artists such as Joan Eardley have benefited from such a trip, which gives the student £2000 and free access to major galleries and museums in Florence.
Ambrose’s work reveals a fascination with industrial architectural forms, both complex and simple. His painterly work reveals a high level of skill as a drafstman and an insightful use of colour and tone. ‘Through my encounters with industrial shape,” he says, “I have endeavoured to understand and interpret the mood, presence and space of the industrial environment.”
Fellow Gray’s graduate, Teresa Sciberras has also been the recipient of a John Kinross Scholarship to Florence this year. Without a doubt, her ongoing interest in medieval icons and iconography, early maps and an innate curiosity about the integration of text into painting will have been excited by this historic Italian city.
Sciberras, who is originally from Naxxar in Malta, works on a grand scale using oil and collage to produce exciting works that pull the viewer into the midst of the canvas.
“A central motif [in my work] has become that of the walled city with its double-edged connotations of protection and confinement, security and threat, insularity and exile,” she says. “My working method involves building up different surfaces and layers of marks and traces using both additive and reductive painting, printing and collage processes.”
RSA New Contemporaries 2009
15- 25 February 2009
RSA Upper & Lower Galleries, The Mound, Edinburgh
- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)