RSA New Contemporaries 2017

Publication: The Times.   
February 2017


New Contemporaries 2017

Until 15 March


New Contemporaries showcases the best of new talent from Scotland’s five art colleges and schools of architecture. This year, sixty-six emerging artists and architects have been chosen, respectively, by conveners Delia Baillie and Charlie Hussey.

Baillie, who was elected to the RSA in 2008, while in her early thirties, has chosen well. The number of artists representing each art school is proportionate to final class sizes. So, whereas as Glasgow School of Art has 19 artists, Moray School of Art has only 2 – Kirsty Wallace and Penny Rees. Wallace’s eye-catching installation, Shelter, is a re-imagining of a traditional travellers’ gellie or shelter, fashioned from hazel wood and covered in sheets of felted wool. Inside, a film, depicting the artist’s vision of a potential domestic scenes, is projected on a hearth-stone.  Although the work is not unique, it does signal the upsurge in interest in traditional crafts, ethnography and culture among a younger generation.

The work here ranges across a wide variety of media and this breadth of making, and vision, is surely one of the great strengths of the current generation of artist-makers. Gone is the craft-art art dichotomy, to be replaced by an altogether more complex and open creative philosophy.  An example of this is Elisavet Christodoulou’s paintings, and her ceramic installation, Heads of Noble Soldiers which shows, in timeless fashion, the real impact of conflict on the human body – maiming, mutilation and pain.

Alison Wright describes her photographic portraits as ‘capturing a pivotal moment between awareness and self-consciousness’, while describing herself as an artist who ‘experiments with the barriers of comfort between people. Here, Wright has concentrated on facial portraits of her contemporaries and, using a combination of lighting, exposure her lens, blurs the line between intrusion and observation. Wright is fascinated by freckled or pigmented skin and in her triptych Daphne, a highly enlarged close-up, the subject is presented with unflinching scrutiny. Each freckle, spot and pore is visible; yet what we see is neither ugliness nor ‘flaw’ but beauty in imperfection. Such imagery is a strong rebuttal of the current ‘selfie’ vogue, especially among the young, where the face reveals little, being nothing more that a cosmetic, homogenised mask.

As well as being the subject of Wright’s work, the sitter, her fellow Dundee graduate, Daphne Percy-Chorofa is also pre-occupied with a form of portraiture. The artist, whose mother is Greek, has taken that culture’s rich mythology as the starting point of her work, and has developed her imagery from the starting point of the icon. The work seems mature beyond the artist’s years, and is rich, layered and skilfully executed. A series of 6 small works, Ode to Eris, depicts a panoply of discord, including the children of the goddess of strife, Atë and Lethe.

The majority of works here are of a high quality, so much so that it seems almost iniquitous to single out examples. That said, Natalie Howlett’s sardonic but serious installations and interventions on the theme of healthcare, and its ever-increasing movement towards privatisation, are a valuable contribution to the current debate. Grace Woodcock, also from Edinburgh College of Art, takes as her starting point the invisible patterning creating by swipe- screen technology, and by making these marks explicit, she delivers complex abstract imagery in A mixed media format, which makes extensive use of print technologies.

Despite some of the unnecessarily obscure and convoluted language used to describe these artists’ ‘practices’ – and the over-crowded feel of this show (surely there’s a case for slimming down the numbers from 66 to around 40) – there’s no doubt that the next generation of artists is professional, and profound.