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Carmarthen school of art degree show 2017

June 3, 2017


The Carmarthen school of art degree show is upon us again. There’s so much good stuff that I can only really cover my favourites. So what follows is a personal selection from the delights on offer. I’m told that not as many people as usual finished this year, but those who did put on a really spectacular show.

The first thing you see when you walk in are Carmen Friedman’s assemblages. These are totemic, gutsy pieces, like tribal artefacts- perhaps those of the art tribe. She references Eva Hesse in ‘De muras ’84’, an artist known for using unusual materials. There is something peotic also about these assemblages of bone, horns, fabric, etc. In a way, each piece is a visual poem. In her other cluster of work in the main sculpture exhibition, there is something that puts me in mind of a female Anish Kapoor, but perhaps a more cerebral one: She references feminism, surrealism and abstract expressionism. These are very well thought out, well realised objects.


Carmen Friedman’s assemblages. My own photo.

In what is in college term time the seating area next to the café are Dorian Cava’s huge arial photographs. These are vast images showing records of every trace and path on the ground, in a paeon to the landscape of both the artist’s native poland and his adopted country. Little areas of colour, such as the yellow of the machines in what I presume is an open cast mine, carry great visual weight. It’s almost a nonsense to talk in terms of composition here, given that these are arial photographs of actual sites, but there is a certain craft to how these elements are treated. The best way to experience these photographs is from above, and one is mounted on the floor to facilitate just this. The viewer is placed at a great height, considering the marks on the ground. Looking into these industrial, abused landscapes offers a genuinely meditative experience.

Jou-el King’s bulky tree-like frames surrround haunting images of people with impossibly red hair and show a cunning use of artificial light. Check him out here:

There is always one sculptor in every degree show who just has to produce something absolutely enormous. That’s not a criticism incidentally- it seems every sculptor has their own natural scale. Some just require more exhibition space than others. David Gunther supplies the enormousness this year with a huge square of sprouting hair-like metal forms. The piece is much enhanced if you accept the invitation to walk inside it. The impediment to movement creates a sense of claustrophobia and angst.

The most visually arresting object, or rather collection of objects here, is the ‘lion hunt’ installation by Beverley Jessop, featuring a dramatically realised wounded plaster lion. It’s a dramatic piece of visual theatre that shows a sharp wit and great attention to detail- she’s even made her own labels for cans. No doodles or photographs of mine can really do this justice. You need to go see it in the flesh.

The biggest surprise though is Julie Hutton’s exquisite cermaics that lie concealed behind a curtain. The belief in an animating spirit arising from the earth is really well illustrated by a cluster of abstract pieces.

Well worth a look are Sian Reason-Jones’ succinct series of works on mental health issues. Each perspex box is like a portrait of the inside of someone’s head. One has a stack of slabs seemingly ready to fall. Another overflows with little boxes. Still another holds a brain-like form constricted with rope. Each is a poetic, finely judged conceit. She has an etsy shop here: but it really doesn’t give a great idea of the power of her degree show work.

Finally in this room, Dwight Asomoah-Shalders’ effervescent ceramics are both visually rioutous and culturally authentic. They’re almost like folk art, but with a much sharper mind behind each of them.

Ceramics put on an excellent show this year. Naomi Doudswell’s political samplers go down very well. Emma Thomas’ small but well conceived ceramics provide a quiet note in this noisy show. But when I visit exhibitions I like to play a little game called ‘what would I steal if I could get away with it?’. This year’s winner is Jacob Chan’s incredible pots. The intricately modelled three-dimensional forms offer a fresh dimension to what are very finely crafted traditional ceramics. The potter’s dual Chinese and British and heritage are drawn on to create absolutely compulsive works. I can see these things changing hands for serious money in years to come. You can see some of his work here: but the work in the degree show is on a whole different level.


After a detail from one of Jacob Chan’s pots

In painting, I’m very excited about Miira Hyvonen. There have been times when landscape has been practically out of bounds to contemporary art, and when it hasn’t, it’s been mined as a resource. Mirra’s work instead is a participation in the mythology and symbology of landscape. The wall full of drawings showcases a prodigious talent for drawing. Apparently she works at lightning speed. There is a cricular canvas which, incredibly, works. The naturalistic, detailed, yet speedy execution reminds me most of all of oriental painting, and as it happens she also produces works on chinese astrology. There is also a piece of sculpture by her in the corner, a tree branch painted with the same mark marking as in her other works. It’s a lovely example of what I call ‘painter’s sculpture’, something produced by a painter almost as a locus for thought about a painter’s work (the idea first came to me when looking at Cy Twombbly’s assemblages, and that should show you what I mean.) Miira is, incidentally, selling works on cardboard and paper for 10 pounds a pop. I’d buy now if I were you, because that’s not going to last long. Check her out here:

Along one wall are Polly Dixon’s miraculous essays in the printmaker’s art, depicting figures dressed in elizabethan costume, referring to Northern early renaissance imagery. The sheer detail is striking, and the overall effect is of a packed, busy surface that works great in monochrome.

Possibly the most visually energetic work here is by Sophie Kumar Taylor. It’s a walk-in op art installation, and you pass briefly through some of the brightest colours I have ever seen. One wall is a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured small squares, with passages of folded paper likewise decorated. It makes you think that Bridget Riley, Jim Lambié and Mondrian got drunk one night and sat up until the early morning with a box of coloured pens and paper. It’s stunning.

I’m also going to mention Samantha cook’s documentary black and white photography, Nerys Edward’s charming ‘cardiland’, Tomos Davies’ figurative assemblages (, Natalie Chapman’s coulourful pictures of life in West Wales (  and Ffion Evans’ challenging and visuall rewarding wire creations. There’s more to see, and I recommend you go see it. This is one of the seminal moments in our local art calendar, and it never dissapoints.


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