It’s the time of year when students, having slaved for months, can finally stand back and present the fruits of their labour. The art courses at Blackpool & Fylde College have always had an outstanding reputation for superlative tuition and the encouragement of practical skills which enable its students to stand out. The student exhibitions are always worth a look; an image of a small sobbing bird from an exhibition seven or eight years ago stays with me as firmly as anything I have seen in the mainstream or fringe galleries since.

Artist Mark Hetherington has just completed a course and is exhibiting next week. He told me a bit about the program and where it has led him:

Blackpool & The Fylde College’s Foundation Art and Design course (or UAL Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art & Design) Level 3 to give the course its full title) is one of the college’s flagship art courses. Bridging the gap between Further Education and Higher Education – between college level and university level – it gives a solid grounding in several different aspects of artistic practice. Students learn the basics of techniques such as measured drawing, painting, printmaking, textiles and graphics, while learning about various aspects of art history.

More than this though, the Foundation is about opening the students’ eyes. Students are encouraged to question what art is, what makes something good or bad art, and to discover these things for themselves as much as possible. Broadening a student’s horizons and encouraging them to leave their comfort zone is as much a part of the course as the practical aspects of making art.

Course leader Peter Layzell and his team guide students through an intensive year of learning with various assignments, based on such subjects as Identity, Human Interaction and Storyboards, with assignments becoming more self-directed as the course progresses. At the end of the course students work on a final major project which is entirely self-directed but with input and guidance from tutors. This project is assessed and verified both internally, by college staff, and externally, by a representative of the University of the Arts, London, which is the awarding body. The work produced in this project is put on public exhibition after assessment and this year’s exhibition runs from Monday 15 to Thursday 18 June, opening from 9.30am to 7pm at the Palatine Road campus.

One of the most interesting assignments we have tackled, the storyboard assignment, was based on a series of pictures telling a story and after some discussion with my tutor it became the basis of my project. In this assignment we told the story of a journey using a series of twelve ‘frames’, utilising odd viewpoints and exaggerated angles, and then combined them into a single composite painting.

I had become very interested in lino cuts and the strong contrast between black and white often evident in them, especially those of the German Expressionist illustrators, and nude figures had also become a recurring motif. Combining these strands, I decided that rather than melding the images into one or having a series of single images, I would compose a small story and arrange the frames on a canvas in the form of a page from a comic book. The nude figures would form the characters in the story and the whole would be rendered in a highly contrasting black and white reductive idiom. However, influenced by Frank Miller’s Sin City comics, I decided to include small areas of colour in each piece to add a focus and drama.

In keeping with the comic page theme I decided to include a caption in the last panel to explain the situation, perhaps to say something about the story, but I then had a more interesting thought. If I made the caption ambiguous it would leave what illustrator Charles Vess calls “poetic space” and allow the viewer to make up their own story to fit the pictures; they could decide for themselves whether the events showed abuse, a deserved punishment, a strange kind of game or had some other explanation. I put in a caption reading “Insert Caption Here…” to let the viewer make up their own mind.


The college’s Fine Art degree exhibition also opens next week and runs until 28 August at the Palatine Road Campus. For more details, see the Facebook page.


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