Ruby Pluhar - Ella Lifted in Space, archival pigment print
Ruby Pluhar - Ella Lifted in Space, archival pigment print

Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh: RSA New Contemporaries 2020

Exhibition: 15th February – 11th March

Collective shows are something of a mixed-bag in themselves, quite apart from the mix of work they contain. The worst can be art-fair crowded, poorly lit, and the work difficult to appreciate, or even see properly. The best, however, give the pieces space to assert themselves without rubbing-shoulders with neighbouring works, giving the viewer space to encounter and consider them – a dialogue, as art-writers are wont to say.

This exhibition rises to that challenge by balancing the work across two ample floors of the splendid RSA, judiciously limited to sixty-odd artists and architects, selected from Scotland’s five major art and architecture degree institutions, in a space that in more crowded shows might ordinarily complement up to 300. The space afforded each work is especially important when, rather than merely considering how appealing a piece might be, we’re required to pause and absorb a story, idea or information underpinning what we see, which is often the case here.

Annually, a team from the Academy, this time lead by Professor Lennox Dunbar RSA, visits the Scottish art schools to make a selection of the most notable artists and exhibits in order to present in a balanced showcase – a subjective process involving much discussion and fine judgement. Once selected, the artists are invited to work further on their degree show ideas or present new work, which adds an interesting further aspect to the show, making it far from a compilation of revisited degree show material, but something much more live or fully-developed – a snapshot of young graduate artists at an important stage of their development, ambitious and with fresh unfettered ideas to put across.

I’d say this important balance has been largely achieved, across a range of media – sculpture, painting, photography, video etc., although those looking for the reassuring art-school basics of expression in line, drawing and proportion, will maybe have to look harder than those who are looking to be engaged by well-executed expressive personal ideas. But this is after all a personally-expressive age, and the directions this generation of artists take have the potential to shape the paradigms and archetypes in years to come, and that’s probably the greatest strength of New Contemporaries – that we take away with us new ways of seeing art, new perspectives on the world, and how we respond to it ourselves.

I’m going to run through some of the pieces that resonated strongest with me, in no particular order of preference – it is a wide-ranging show, but as I mentioned, curated carefully to allow both contrasts and coherence, and a highly-worthwhile visit that will reward with close attention to each piece.

Sam Renson‘s metallic, carefully-textured oils on boards, show a finely-judged harmony of tones and abstract, flowing shapes and a mastery of technique.

Sam Renson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Sam Renson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

Renee Hunter‘s meticulously-detailed screenprints, with their unique colourways, show her technique to great advantage, with a curiously lonesome stillness at the heart of her depictions of dark folk tales.

Renee Hunter - Johnnie Faa, Screenprint
Renee Hunter, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

From Gray’s School of Art, in her prominent, angular, shadowy acrylics on canvas, Naomi McClure offers her somewhat macabre series July 3, 17 Rue Beautreillis Paris, where Jim Morrison died in 1971 – one of a notable litany of modern-age celebrities to have died before reaching 28.

Naomi McClure, Gray's School of Art
Naomi McClure, Gray’s School of Art

 

Also on a historic, investigative note, the video’s of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design two-person team McLaughlin + Williamson draw the viewer in to their understated, still-photo and type documentaries on the heroic and perilous creation of such giant icons of iron construction as the Tay Bridge and Eifel Tower – reminiscent of modern-day broadcast and visitor-centre graphics, but aiming at a more focused, concentrated, experience.

McLaughlin + Williamson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
McLaughlin + Williamson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

A vigorous and well-established painter, Krisztina Horvath from Moray School of Art, University of Highlands & Islands has arranged a series of eleven smallish digital prints on Dibond aluminium composite that have a shimmering detailed quality to their angular, controlled coloured shapes – this The Big Blue Painting.

Krisztina Horvath, Moray School of Art, University of Highlands & Islands
Krisztina Horvath, Moray School of Art, University of Highlands & Islands

 

From Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Katherine Fay Allan has taken the analogy of surgery being likened to gardening in her installation The rest of us… we just go gardening, which replaces not only the patient, but the attendant life-supporting paraphernalia, with medicinal plants – recalling the times I’ve used medical nomenclature for the care of my own doomed plants – resuscitating, hydrating, etc.

Katherine Fay Allan, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Katherine Fay Allan, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

Again from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, and taking the botanic analogy a dark step further, Hannah Crooks‘ back-lit treated close-ups of cut and re-stitched flowers are of course beautiful, but troublingly so when closer examination reveals evidence their having been defiled or mutilated, before repair of sorts.

Hannah Crooks, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Hannah Crooks, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

From Glasgow School of Art, Aqsa Arif‘s immersive video installation was among the more personal, introspective works – shimmering soundscapes accompanying surreal decorated re-imaginings of faces – staring, duplicated and colour-filtered, on a large scale but a touch unsettling, maybe hinting at a fragility inner uncertainty.

Aqsa Arif, Glasgow School of Art
Aqsa Arif, Glasgow School of Art

 

Also highly decorative, but alluding to an aboriginal style, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design graduate Emma-Louise Grady‘s large-scale, intricate fabric-like paintings are more about the free intuitive enjoyment of painting and dense pattern-making.

Emma-Louise Grady, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Emma-Louise Grady, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

Maybe along similar lines, certainly from the same School, Lucia Pearla‘s meandering, curvilinear renditions use limited colours but let the lines and marks somehow find their amorphous way, informed both by Kandinsky’s colour theories and by rapid and intuitive technique.

Lucia Pearla, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Lucia Pearla, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

 

Back to Glasgow School of Art, Alison Campbell Glass‘ installation George’s Chair is a quiet, affectionate, extended dialogue about her upbringing in a campaigning socialist family, focusing on the objects and stories of the struggle against the prevailing systems – CND and Daily Worker pin badges, photo’s, a restored armchair, and a great example of a display that seeks not to impress but, by asking the viewer’s time and attention, to involve.

Alison Campbell Glass, Glasgow School of Art
Alison Campbell Glass, Glasgow School of Art

 

A quick word about the architectural element of the show – in the dedicated single room I enjoyed by the detailed mixed-media tableau articulating Andrew Chavet and Kate le Masurier‘s project to build ordered pavement on the chaotic shifting wet river clay of old Calcutta – a good example of architectural modelling as a stand-alone piece of art.

Andrew Chavet and Kate le Masurier, Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture
Andrew Chavet and Kate le Masurier, Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture

 

Finally, to Glasgow School of Art’s Ruby Pluhar, whose large-scale pigment-print outdoor photo’s of friend Ella show colours strikingly-juxtaposed with her red hair. Showing an instinctive spatial handling throughout, by inverting one of them – Ella Lifted in Space – has created a perfectly memorable signature image for the show.

Admission £6/£4. Free on Mondays.

Princes Street,
Edinburgh EH2 2EL

Image: Ruby Pluhar, Glasgow School of Art – Ella Lifted in Space, archival pigment print

Many thanks to the RSA for their assistance.

See here for the list of award-winners, announced 14th February.