It is degree show time and years of slogging away over a hot easel/editing desk/chainsaw/laptop culminate in a brief spell in the public limelight as thousands of strangers along with your confused mum and dad gawp at wot you did when you was at school.
I go to most of the degree shows to check out if there are any artists I should keep my eye on. This time last year I saw Rudolf Reiber at Slade School of Art and exactly one year later he has a show (Supiria) on at our gallery. His degree show piece (A Whiter Shade of Pale) showed that less can be more.
Here are a few artists I like so far - and apologies for being so London-centric but I've got a gallery to run. Also forgive me if I get a student's name wrong (and feel free to correct me) but sort out your labelling (and directions) please!
It is so hard to concentrate on one piece amongst hundreds, all vying for attention. It is hard to be heard. But my one piece of advice is "turn it down". Sometimes it is the quiet pieces that grab the attention.
There is a lot of money around considering the recession. I was surprised how much some of the students seem to have spent on their final piece. I heard that one of the student's installation cost £10,000!!
Slade MA Show
One of the first pieces I came across was one of my favourites. A video piece by Robert Crosse that was also a lovely piece of cinema. The editing and camerawork were spot on. Several men are glimpsed briefly, first just the backs of the heads, swaying as if in a trance, bodies convulse involuntarily. It is revealed that they are watching some kind of racing game and they are following the toys around the track. This piece was subtle and hypnotic.
Next was Luuk Schröder who amongst other things had embedded a neon strip light in the floor. Construction must have been incredibly complicated but like all good work the craftsmanship translated into an effortless beauty. My kind of work.
Humour and art are uneasy bedfellows and in a world with very few laughs it takes a brave student to make something funny for their final show. Genuinely funny that is. Hyun-Min Ryu's video work is of himself placing a plastic cup of milk in the path of an automatic door. Just as the doors are about to close he runs past, the sensor picks him up and the door re-opens narrowly missing crushing the plastic cup. This continues until the inevitable happens. Brilliant!
Finally, I really liked Thomas Jenkins' work in the badly signposted galleries upstairs. Jenkins had lucked out with a fantastic room that resembled a Victorian belfry, and he had utilised it's oddness to perfection. At the 'altar' was a wide print of a rainbow in greyscale. I'm not sure what it meant but it was lovely to look at. The second piece was far more elaborate - an enormous leather bound book in front of the rainbow encased in a glass vitrine, that was called The Seas and Oceans of the World.
Obviously this was a fragile (and presumably expensive) piece but disappointingly it was locked in a case so we couldn't turn the page. On the opposite wall was a video of someone turning the pages so we could see what the book contained, blue pages presumably from maps of Oceans? It was really stunning but I would have preferred to see the genuine article rather than a video of "this is what you could have seen". An artist to watch for though.
Central Saint Martin's BA show
As an ex-CSM boy I couldn't wait to check out their new building in King's Cross and what a fabulous building it is too. A hyper market of artfulness. It is HUGE! And there are 5,000 students! It must be a veritable cash cow with the new students' fees. If we guess that 30% of the students are paying foreign fees of £16,000, that's £24 million. Then the remaining 70% at £9,000 makes £31.5 million. That's £55 million! Kerching!
And in the way goldfish grow depending on the size of the bowl, a lot of the students' work is HUGE. A couple of paintings were about five metres high! Presumably next year with the more expensive fees the work will get smaller? Most of the time I was wondering how they would transport their work home, and if they could would it fit in their flat? Even the largest lofts I've been to would have a hard time accommodating these gargantuan works.
Now for a massive complaint: Students, you have a limited window to show your work to the rest of the world. Many of the rooms I went to - on the opening night - were empty! This is one night you need to sit by your work and be available to answer any questions, even engage people in your work, and even (if you are lucky) be there to talk to that collector or gallerist or journalist. Why the hell should I care about your work if you don't? Is it too hard to have some printed information about your work?
Saying that, two works really stood out for me and they were both sculpture. the first one was stunning but it wasn't labelled so I have no idea who did it, or what it was made of as there was no information and nobody around to ask about it. Here it is:
The second was helpfully labelled so I know it was by Jamie Woodgate, is called Balance and is made of fibreglass. It was dwarfed in the cavernous foyer but held its own ground. Again, for me it was all about simplicity, about ideas that have been thought through and constructed with skill. His work that suggests there is more to come and that's what you want from an MA show. Nice work Jamie.
Overall a strong year so far with many standout pieces at Slade. Unfortunately CSM's new building, as glorious as it is, is a bit too overpowering for most of the student's work. Too much noise.
Follow James Payne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PAYNESHURVELL