Everything Starts From Something: The MMU School of Art Degree Show

The 2019 Manchester School of Art Degree Show is entitled ‘Everything Starts From Something.’

For around 1,000 students across a wide range of creative disciplines graduating from MMU this year, their start was undoubtedly around eighteen or so years ago when they first made a mark with a crayon or glued pieces of cardboard together with PVA.

Half a generation later those first creations have refined and grown into works which combine thought and skills on show at MMU.

The couple of hours I spent at The School of Art revealed, quite naturally and rightly, levels of skills and intellect that are the next progression in creative careers. An installation – a shop awning carrying the words ‘Have faith in yourself’ – perhaps sums up the next stage for the graduates of fine art and photography whose work I saw. I know a lot of artists and photographers and it’s tough; most also have jobs to support their passion.

I hope that many will be able to forge a creative path, but in my observations, I can only write my own views on a handful whose work moved me in different ways. So let’s have go…

Three photographers intrigued me the most. Christina Diakou’s observations on her Cypriot family roots. A series of photographs of family members, all with backs to the camera, supported by – in the piece shown – what I assume is a textured and decaying Cypriot wall and olive oil cans.

Diakou comments about, “The sacrifices her grandparents made and how with uncertainty they embraced a new culture.” The photographs and installation are haunting and poignant.

Contrast that to Melissa Hodgkinson’s colourful and playfully bright images looking at how ‘Objects are represented in the media‘ and Kealy Robinson’s elegantly beautiful combination of a decaying room scape partly concealed by flowing fabric.

Two large paintings by Sarah Rowlands captured me in the same way as Edward Hopper’s works. I know that it’s not good form to compare artists’ work, but in a Hopper painting, something is about to happen in the stillness, although only our imagination can speculate.

In Rowlands’ paintings, something has already happened, again leaving the viewer to speculate. Although whatever it was, it was sinister.

Works by Isabelle Bradburn and Daniella Tadeschi (Tadeschi’s work large format, maybe 1.5 metres high) demonstrate the absolute essential of art, whatever the final work, the ability to draw. In discussions about art, it is often difficult to define how even a simple shape – as in Bradburn’s work – can encompass the ability to observe and draw. Her work is beautiful, the colour sublime and the drawing exquisite.

Whilst Tadeschi’s is drawing viscerally and with raw emotion.

But I have left what to me is an astonishing piece of work to try and describe. I was captivated by its beauty before approaching to have a (much) closer look. And when I did the caption told me that the piece had won the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts MAFA Presidents Award for Painting 2019.

The piece by Andrew Willoughby is a complex explosion of colours and textures; from a metre away I couldn’t work out how the paint effect, the composition had been achieved.

I just stood and admired it in all its beauty. But from a few centimetres away (although I still have no idea how this was achieved) the work is ‘made’ from thousands of (I think) dried paint ‘leaves’ peeled from surfaces and assembled, flecked and adhered to the canvas.

Willoughby describes work as, “A process of complex layering alongside working within the physical limits of the medium.”

I held my breath when looking at the surface closely, as I felt that barely fixed constituents might flake off under the pressure. A long, long way from crayons and PVA glue.

I have commented on just a tiny part of the School of Art show. Half a dozen from hundreds. The show is open at The Holden Gallery (and annexes) until June 19th and, of course, well worth a visit.

The Holden Art Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University, Grosvenor Building, Cavendish St, M15 6BR
0161 247 1705

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