The Art Foundation exhibition at Blackpool and Fylde College was displayed in a group of classrooms, down a staircase and a corridor or two, in the old building on Palatine Road. That said, there was plenty of bustle as bodies busied from room to room, families and friends ably guided around by the exhibitors.
There was plenty of variety in the work on offer and my eyes were full after an hour of malingering; my head filled with the visual expressions of eager minds. I am ably assisted in this review by my partner David Nickson. He was good enough to respond thoughtfully to my helpful prompts: ‘Use your art words,’ or ‘What do you call the lines?’
On entering the first room we were hit by the bold black and white narrative of Mark Hetherington. The scenes, which resembled a blown up page from a graphic novel, were playful and knowing. The ambiguous narrative engaged the viewer and there was a confident, knowing wink to the genre with a novel twist.
Immediately behind Mark’s work we found a series of etched self portraits by Rachel Ellis. These sat alongside lino cut images of her family. This collection evoked a sense of quiescence and intimacy. The fine detail in the etchings was carefully observed and suited the subject, bringing the viewer into a private moment with the artist.
From a moment of calm we moved onto a more challenging selection of paintings. With Speciesism Heather Stephenson has trawled the depths of her own politics to examine the boundaries between humans and the animals we rely on, namely cows. She used her veganism as a springboard to consider our treatment of farm animals. The image of a cow’s face morphing with her own is as unsettling as it is joyful. The contradictions inherent in our treatment of animals are thoroughly and boldly exposed.
A Bacon-esque series of heavy abstract paintings greeted us around the corner. The artist’s name was not on display but the selection was named Figure and Space. The figures in question had a solid, tangible quality to them. The forms were grotesque and expressive, with wilfully distorted features reminiscent of The Screaming Pope.
Rural landscapes came under scrutiny in Elizabeth Jenkinson’s selection of colourful landscapes and greyscale panels. Clever use of a reverse sfumato effect in the former sharpened the background and guided the eye towards the horizon. The silhouettes of tires, fences and wire were magnified in the six small panels, lending the objects a stark, naked elegance.
Another unnamed collection, Personal Mythology, infused etchings of mythological imagery and symbolism with contemporary colours and geometric patterns. The selection worked well as a cohesive whole, with the artist’s grasping for clarity in dark places very much apparent.
Sophie Hargreaves’ big, bold portraits showed smart use of composition. Framing was key, as was colour, and geometric backgrounds mirrored the natural angles in her subjects’ features whilst accentuating the roundness of the human form. These images shouted from the canvas and had a very contemporary look.
One of our favourite moments at the exhibition was turning a corner to encounter Jessica Croker’s surreal characters. We decided they resembled Lou Reed, Richard Nickson and a creature we named Bubblegum Face. The colours and lines were exaggerated with a dollop of fun but she made a good point about her practice in the accompanying text. After struggling to achieve perfection she had decided to try ‘making something flawed into something new and with purpose’. Her intriguing Picasso-esque faces show a great deal of confidence and inspiration and were a real joy to see.
Heather Johnstone’s embroidered baby clothes were a surprise in the exhibition. Both the subject, her young children, and the form were a departure from anything else on show which made me think that the artist embarked on the course with a personal agenda – no bad thing! Heather said that she didn’t know how to use a sewing machine before she started the course which makes the detailed embroidery even more impressive. This work spoke of hours of devotion and created a quiet space around it.
There was a lot more work on display, I have chosen to highlight the pieces which stood out for me. I believe several of the students are planning on continuing to degree level. The standard of work is already exceptionally high. I can’t wait to see what these artists do next.
The Foundation exhibition has ended but you can still see the Fine Art Degree show until 28 August.
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