RSA New Contemporaries 2011

April 2011

Publication: The Times

Since its inaugural show in 2009 the RSA New Contemporaries graduate exhibition has rapidly become one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the Scottish visual art calendar. New Contemporaries showcases the best talent in art and building design from the country’s art and architecture schools.


Its not an uncommon view that Scotland punches well above its weight in the quality of its visual arts and this show certainly lends credence to this opinion. There’s a wealth of promising talent here and it’s certain that a number of important careers will be launched, especially in painting and printmaking.  Charlene Noble, from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee uses a technique called scanography – creating prints with a flatbed scanner. In the right hands the results are startlingly effective with Noble providing visual clues to her process by placing a vase of flowers next to her floral prints. It proves, if any such proof were needed, that artists are never slow off the mark in embracing new technologies in pursuit of their ends.


Stephen Thorpe from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen is a painter of great promise and although his work here is ambitious in scale and scope, it suffers from lack of clarity by trying to achieve too much too soon so that the overall message – a kind of tableau in the manner of De Chirico full of trompes l’oeil and other tropes – gets submerged by the cleverness of the artist’s technique. Ruth A. Nicol from Edinburgh employs a simpler approach – a juxtaposition in two linked but separate works which show respectively an urban wasteland (Clydeside) and a rather more serene Highland landscape. Although the theme isn’t new the handling of paint and the keen compositional sense augur well for the artist’s future development.


Although it’s status as a university-level institution is relatively new, Moray School of Art’s two representatives - Colin Bury and Libby Amphlett - do well to hold their own amongst the sixty or so other graduates here. Bury’s installation of saplings (including oak) and scaffolding is part homage to Joseph Beuys whose work in raising environmental consciousness is well known.


From Glasgow there’s a clutch of notable work especially Paul McDonald’s photograph essay on the theme of prostheses and Andrew Nice photo-realist pencil portraits. Alex Thornton has produced a remarkably mature series of paintings indicating that the influence of the Abstract Expressionists of the 50s and 60s still, remarkably, lives on to this day.  But here Thornton manages to walk the very thin line between derivation and influence, with work that clearly belongs only in the latter category.


With only a few days left to run this show is a must for those keen to keep abreast of recent developments.