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’40 years of here’- a staff show at Carmarthen school of art

February 16, 2018

40 years of here_Welsh.jpg

To repeat what I said in an earlier post, did you know that you can actually walk up to Carmarthen school of art and take a look in their gallery? I recommend you do because at the moment there’s a display of work by the staff, and it gives an excellent flavour of the sort of thing that Carmarthen school of art does.

This show was conceived to mark 40 years of continuous education at Carmarthen school of art. Some of the lecturers have been here the whole time and have become elder statesmen of the college. The collection of ties by Mike Williams is very eloquent and funny for what is just, in its elements, a box of ties.

What’s really great in this show is that it captures a sample of the fizzy, raw, creative ferment that goes on at this college. I’m told that the students were queuing around the coridoor to see this show as soon as it was ready to open. The attitudes and approach of the staff filters down to the students, and the staff seem to combine teaching into their creative practice. The clearest example of this is Andy Griffith’s meaty, tactile sculptures. His ‘cult chariot of the sun’ appears like some sort of immense juggernaut made out of earnest pop culture references. The cast bronze my little ponies are a great touch. Some of this work is very recent- ‘breathing space’ for instance, I am told, was literally warm to the touch when it was mounted. This work depicts the column of hot gas that a space rocket throws behind itself as it launches, frozen in bronze. It’s an amazingly tactile work- you want to reach out and touch the column.

In the same vein are Lee Odishaw’s works that stand poised on the boundary between cast sculpture and assemblage. ‘Chameleon conversation (karma chameleon), for example, at first appears witty and light, and then gets darker when we realise that these are real (quite dead, the artist assures us that no chameleons were harmed) chameleons.

Another distinguishing feature of this college is the consistently high standard of making skills. This is one of the colleges that still offers life drawing, for example, and it shows, even in the photography- the basics of image making here are obviously very well drilled, take Mandy Lane’s sculptures- they are obviously more than just casts- you can feel the visual texture of the modelling.The cracks and breaks are a clever intervention, too- it saves the work from going full Ron Mueck. Not that any of this work is derivative. There is clearly a personal, intimate dimension to much of it, which reaches its apogee in Amelia Kilvington’s brilliantly cropped little photograph of the moment of contact between a mother and an infant.

untitledlapislazuli

Untitled (is lapis lazuli a conflict mineral?) by Amanda Blake.

Another heartening element of this show is the voracious, high-powered intellectualism. The fact that there are definitions of the word ‘staff’ on the walls points to this, but perhaps the keenest example of this is Amanda Blake’s work. Take untitled(‘is lapiz lazuli a conflict mineral?). The work, on the surface is simplicity itself- an isometric projection of a cube, drawn with tight lines of marble dust mixed with lapis lazuli. The art historical references are clear- the drawing brings to mind the sort of underdrawing that was done in renaissance times, and yet this is a thoroughly contemporary image that also asks the question in the title, relating to morality and the ethics of artistic production.

Another work by Amanda Blake is also very simple in appearance- it consists simply of text carved into a gesso surface, but again the references to art history and the idea of fugitive pigments it describes lifts it, conceptually. The word I would use about this art is apollonian: it’s rational, balanced, clean and minimal. The same could be said of Catherine Fairgreaves’ laser cut drawings: there’s no flab anywhere in them. They have an enigmatic, almost spiritual aura.

A show like this could have been too disparate, with so many different cooks, but what ties it together is a certain kind of metaphorical symbolism, that uses representational language, but doesn’t work entirely through representational means. The clearest example of this is probably Daniel Trivedy’s film, ‘misdirection, which works as a kind of film collage, with words, symbols, numbers and clips of film working together, almost in a surrealist way. The way the paper fish curls up in somebody’s hand on screen, for example, is a simple but brilliantly evocative visual conceit that ties back to the words and images. This film, in fact, ties the entire exhibition together.

It’s this kind of metaphorical visual language that pervades much of the student’s work, year after year. And it’s a great thing precisely because it is so adaptable- it forms a core of interpretive and aesthetic power that is easily capable of incorporating new influences. It’s good to see new blood here- take Ray Church’s ancient Greek pots that, on closer inspection, turn into friezes of contemporary life, with nude women in nylons. It’s a great thing that the faculty receives constant injections of new ideas and different perspectives, and yet manages to work them into its unique weave of creative ideas.

You can find the details on Carmarthen school of art’s facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCarmarthenSchoolOfArt%2Fposts%2F1834359666608424&width=500

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