When it comes to Fine Art Degree Shows, Newcastle University’s has got to be up there with the most anticipated.
And this year will be no different.
For two weeks, from May 29, visitors to the Hatton Gallery will be able to wander among the creativity of the next generation of artists, who have combined their efforts to produce a huge range of work, from Matt Antoniak’s massive charcoal canvasses of flowers to Ruth Pickering’s tiny corners in shadowy watercolours.
Caitlin Donaghy’s work aims to replicate the immersive experience of giant, exotic plants through photography and print-making. Flora McAlpine uses natural materials and media to capture our engagement with the sea. Fragmented yet infinite spaces are explored in etchings by Toni Hollis, while mankind’s destruction of the natural world is the subject of Katie Henery’s work.
There are also several live performances in this year’s show.
Charlotte Valletta’s work challenges us to question whether four female characters – mother, manic, comic, lover – are all independent, all the same person or even reflections of our own characters; while wearable sculptures created by Maddie Venus aim to reflect our modern selves made up of material possessions, but distorted out of recognition.
The show is the culmination of four years’ work for the students, and they are the driving force behind the entire event.
Not only do they create the work that is displayed but they are also responsible for staging the exhibition, first at the Hatton Gallery and then taking the entire collection of paintings, etchings, photographs, sculptures, performances and video installations to the Scin Gallery in Shoreditch, London, where it will enjoy a five-day stay.
As final year artist Charlotte Valletta explains: “To take the show to London, we do everything from sourcing the venue to raising the money to pay for hiring the space, transport and install everyone’s work. We also produce all the marketing and publicity materials and organise invitations for the preview night.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get first-hand experience of the realities of curating and staging an exhibition. It’s a big job, but everyone’s really excited as the show allows us to display the very best of our work.”
To help them put the shows on, the students carry out a year-long fundraising programme, including a postcard auction, pop-up thrift stall, quiz nights and other events.
They also opened a café in the University’s Fine Art building and set up a Kickstarter campaign.
Newcastle University’s Fine Art department is one of the most respected in the country, with a strong reputation for producing successful artists.
The university has consistently maintained an excellent reputation in this area and was ranked second in The Guardian’s University Guide 2015 league table for art.
Many distinguished artists have been associated with Newcastle University, either as students or as teachers, and include Richard Hamilton, Victor Pasmore, Sean Scully and Susan Hiller.
Many of the current staff are successful artists in their own right, and have their studios within the Fine Art building at Newcastle University, meaning that, from day one, students have the opportunity to work alongside – and learn from – some of the country’s leading lights.
The students are keenly aware of this heritage, and of the baton being passed from one year group to another; a number of students from other years are involved in this year’s show – a group of second years have put together the exhibition catalogue, while first years feature in some of the live performances.
Professor Andrew Burton, head of fine art at Newcastle University, says: “Newcastle has a fine pedigree in contemporary art, and the breadth and quality of the work our final year students have produced this year is keeping us at the forefront of this area.”
And, after the degree show, what next? Many of this year’s graduates are choosing to stay in the North East to launch their careers. As Prof Burton adds: “Newcastle continues to be one of the best cities in the UK in which to study and make contemporary art. The growing number of studios, strong networks and vibrant scene mean that there are more opportunities than ever for artists, which allows our students to continue making their mark long after they’ve graduated.”
The Newcastle University 2015 BA Fine Art Degree Show runs from Saturday, May 30 to Saturday, June 13 at the Hatton Gallery. For more information, see the exhibition website at www.ncldegreeshow2015.co.uk