Once again the students on the art and design course at Shetland College put on the display of their year’s work and a very productive year it has been. Some use this course as a stepping stone to future study such as the college’s own textile design course, or to build up a portfolio of work prior to applying for art college or simply as a means of studying the visual arts between school and other forms of higher education. Whatever the next step is the course has come a long way in the last few years and provides opportunities for quality learning with a range of activities and excellent teaching.
Amy Gair’s work is characterised by its strong drawing and bold design ideas especially in her fabric design using organic growth, floral shapes, lichen etc. She has a good sense of colour in her textile work. I liked the delicacy in her ceramic pieces with their textural expression. She has some powerful monochromatic landscapes and a gentle take on Magritte with flowers raining down her painting.
Although her watercolours can be rather flat and a bit lifeless, her charcoal drawings are dynamic and full of gesture. There is plenty of potential for further development which Amy will take forward into her move to the textile design course next session.
Ella Gordon similarly has a good eye for design and inspired by the 1950s she has explored colour, pattern and particularly the shapes of 1950s girlie pin-ups. Her bag design using appliqué and screenprint uses a woman’s silhouette to great effect, though some feminists might grumble! Ella’s printing module work is also strong on design, exploring coloured MDF woodcuts, and her watercolours show a willingness to experiment with textures. I also liked her simple but effective ceramic decorations.
Both Letty Bishop and Vivian Ross-Smith have taken their work south for interview but the standard of work, if the few remaining pieces are anything to go by, is certainly very impressive. I was particularly drawn to Vivian’s ceramics, simple forms but decorated with patterns of lace using porcelain slip.
Rebecca Paton’s work was memorable from the Shetland Museum show last year and notably her drawing so it’s good to flick through her sketchbooks and see how the course has helped her to develop from flamboyant, jejune ideas to stronger analytical forms. These are strongest in the figure drawings leading to an excellent print, but just as bold are the landscapes, and a very good one based on Bressay. She also has a strong imagination which is evident in her ceramics and bag design. Amy Anderson also has an imaginative streak going right through her work with lively, eye-catching interior designs based on optical illusions; I couldn’t live in it though, it would drive me to murder. The same waywardness can be seen in her scarf design and ceramics. Compared to that many of her landscapes are rather staid, but not the fine collection of brooding charcoal landscapes in the corridor which are excellent.
Catriona Duncan has clearly experimented throughout the course – good research combined with imaginative design has led her to make some fine pieces especially in ceramics. It would have been nice to see some more delicate forms to enhance the lace decoration. Strongest here are her interior designs and some minimalist charcoal landscapes with their bulky forms.
Lyndsay Cheyne has taken the Mexican theme of El Dia de los Muertos (All Saints Day) and explored ideas in colour, pattern, and shape to create her bag. It’s slightly scary but not without humour. The same can be said of her large portrait painting, focusing just on the lower face complete with brace. I liked Lyndsay’s fine jewellery ideas presented simply but effectively. She also has a collection of strong monochromatic drawings including a slightly disturbing image of an old man. Her ceramics are some of the strongest here with lots of experimentation going on.
There’s also bold ceramic work from Leanna Anderson. She also has some very good analytical drawing on show, faces, figures and monochromatic landscapes exploring a range of mark making. It would be good to have seen her develop colour which is less disciplined and can sometimes jar. She has one particularly strong, expressive landscape which owes something perhaps to Howard Hodgkin.
So there is lots of evidence here of good teaching from a strong staff of both full-time and visiting tutors including Jeanette Sendler, Claire Barclay and Paul Bloomer. It’s good to have photos showing the students at work, including a ceramics workshop with Frances Wilson, another fine teacher with a host of innovative ideas which have infused into the work on show. Students are given the broadest introduction to different disciplines and media and explore techniques and develop new skills.
The course is evolving and, after its first 10 years, is undergoing some reform and self-evaluation to make it even stronger developing a more thematic approach and introducing critical studies and more digital media. As with the world of art in general, it can’t operate in isolation and a course like this needs to develop the best in the students and make them realise that to be successful they must be self-critical, self- disciplined and unlike anyone else … and not everyone is going to make it.