Time Again to Meet the New Contemporaries at Edinburgh’s RSA

Agnes Brook-Sulman, 'Fine Cuts (3)', 2024, paper on wood panel
Agnes Brook-Sulman, 'Fine Cuts (3)', 2024, paper on wood panel

RSA New Contemporaries

Mon - Sat 10:00 - 17:00, Sun 12:00 - 17:00

From: 30 Mar 2024

To: 24 Apr 2024

Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture
The Mound
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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RSA New Contemporaries 2024 has selected 104 graduates from the 2022 and 2023 Scottish undergraduate degree shows for the 15th year of this valuable showcase for talented, emerging artists to promote their work across painting, sculpture, film-making, photography, printmaking, installation, performance and architecture. A range of prizes worth a total value of over £30,000 offer valuable promotion, a gallery exhibition and residences.  

What does the visitor expect to see at a graduate show? Perhaps innovative, ground-breaking art to set a new trend or movement in the wake of Picasso, Warhol, Hepworth, Barns-Graham, Freud, Bellany, Hirst, Emin et al. At the ECA degree show in 2000, Graham Flack’s stunning, large-scale figurative paintings were a sell-out; while still a GSA student, Alison Watt won the 1987 John Player Award with a commission to paint a portrait of The Queen Mother.

The diverse range of work displayed around the spacious salons of the RSA can be described as creative, challenging, exciting, experimental, witty, wonderful and occasionally weird. On the floor of Gallery 2, Metanoia by Niamh Mairead Cullen Dunphy is an extraordinary group of concrete and aluminium nude figures sitting in a circle, some with limbs broken off, and a pile of rubble.  Kneeling or lying sideways, arms and legs bent, it’s as if they are soft, stuffed bean bags. The Greek word Metanoia means the process of a psychotic breakdown and subsequent psychological healing.

Niamh Mairead Cullen Dunphy, 'Metanoia', concrete and aluminium
Niamh Mairead Cullen Dunphy, ‘Metanoia’, concrete and aluminium

Fyfe Daly has cleverly incorporated his studies of art history in his depiction of a dancing couple as a homage to Renoir. The girl’s shy, wistful expression seems to suggest a feeling of joy in this romantic moment. Take a time travel trip around The Old Toll Bar with a 1940s jazz band, a tipsy girl swaying on a table, ad-hoc beer drinkers and a dog sniffing a bowl of snacks. A brilliantly witty composition which sums up the disparate folk across the decades who love the ambience of a cosy pub. 

Fyfe Daly, 'The Old Toll Bar', 2024, oil on canvas
Fyfe Daly, ‘The Old Toll Bar’, 2024, oil on canvas

Winner of the Arusha Gallery prize, Kirsty Bell enjoys taking a fresh look at classic still-life. Painted with exquisite care, Date illustrates in decorative detail a Georgian figurine of a couple, (whether real or imagined), in the style of Royal Doulton or Dresden; such a glossy sheen, elaborate floral costumes, waved hair, round pink cheeks, as he gently touches her arm – a love story in porcelain.   

Kirsty Bell, 'Date', 2022, oil on canvas
Kirsty Bell, ‘Date’, 2022, oil on canvas

Nostalgic memories of people and places is a narrative theme for Poppy Fraser in her emotional recreations of sepia-tinted photographs. Red Boat captures a moment in time, perhaps her grandmother or mother with a dramatic backdrop of craggy mountains. Most evocatively, she half-turns to gaze back, dazzled in the sunshine, as if catching a final view, from where the boat has recently sailed.  

Poppy Fraser, 'Red Boat I', 2024, oil on canvas
Poppy Fraser, ‘Red Boat I’, 2024, oil on canvas

Animation and strip cartoons are a recurring theme in this show, perhaps due to today’s cult video games and the use of CGI to represent characters and interactive drama. Impressive graphic illustrations here by Summer Mapplebeck and Berti McColl. 

With a very personal vision with a hint of the naïve tradition, Kristopher Malone captures the crazy community life growing up on a Housing Estate in caricature form. Fun and games on swings and slide, getting up to mischief in the kids’ playpark in Geeing it yaldi is one of a series of colourful snapshots of his childhood experiences, sparkling with lighthearted humour. 

Kristopher Malone, 'Geeing it yaldi, Doon eh park', 2024, oil on canvas
Kristopher Malone, ‘Geeing it yaldi, Doon eh park’, 2024, oil on canvas

Agnes Brook-Sulman is drawn to the abstract language of art with the use of paper collage, acrylic and oil paint. Fine Cuts (3) is a most pleasing, balanced (although some might say haphazard), composition of form, shape, calligraphic marks, gestural lines and colour within a confined space, imaginatively created through spontaneous, intuitive expression and energetic jazzy rhythm – clearly reminiscent of the brio and freedom of the pioneering abstracts of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. 

Agnes Brook-Sulman, 'Fine Cuts (3)', 2024, paper on wood panel
Agnes Brook-Sulman, ‘Fine Cuts (3)’, 2024, paper on wood panel

Other New Contemporaries awards include the RSA Carnegie Sponsorship (winner Remi Jablecki), RSA Landscape award (Berti McColl), Scottish Parliament purchase prize (Corrie Jennison) and RSA Patrons/Edinburgh Printmakers residence (Amma Sheikh). As well as winning the Fleming-Wyfold Foundation award, the prestigious £15,000 Glenfiddich Artist in Residence goes to Charlenne Scott – a three-month residency with studio space, accommodation, allowance for materials and an exhibition opportunity at Glenfiddich, Speyside. 

Charlene Scott in front of her multi award-winning artwork
Charlene Scott in front of her multi award-winning artwork

Scott, who studied art at ECA in her 1940s, presents a series of minimalist, geometric and floral designs, Looking for Piero, finely crafted with botanical and earth pigments and wax on cotton rag paper. ‘I use line, folds, repetition and pattern along with pigments to make connections between herbalism and ecology.’ Each title reflects the delicate, decorative design – column, cone, star, diamond and flora, which looks like the skeleton of a dandelion flower after blowing away the pappus of seeds in the wind, as you make a wish.  

Charlene Scott, 'Looking for Piero (flora)'. Botanical pigments, earth pigments and wax on BFK Rives cotton rag paper
Charlene Scott, ‘Looking for Piero (flora)’, botanical pigments, earth pigments and wax on BFK Rives cotton rag paper

With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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