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“Another day, another doily” is Hayley Beard’s self-confessed strapline, and with over 350 of them on her desk alone it’s not difficult to distinguish this artist’s dominant working material.
Playing with the ambiguities of gender stereotyping, Hayley handcrafts beautiful paper dresses and coats them in an iron paste. This gives the dresses a deceivingly metallic look as they adopt the aesthetic of armour, and makes the garment appear much stronger and durable than its flimsy paper reality. She juxtaposes the fragility and femininity associated with the fussy housewives’ doily with the robust masculinity of metal, tricking the viewer through reversing traditional expectations.
Working primarily with doilies means that the dresses are incredibly elaborate and ornate, with an aesthetic that I cannot help but compare to Renaissance style. Despite these visual connections to historical attire and being quite obviously outnumbered by mannequins in her studio, Hayley does not see her practice as having vast links to fashion or textiles. She is a sculptor at heart, and describes her dresses as ‘sculptural garments’. Unusually she never designs her dresses beforehand, and claims that you won’t find a single preliminary drawing or sketch in her work. She starts with a simple vision and then lets the materials manipulate themselves; the structure gradually takes shape from her own intuition and experimentation rather than a detailed plan and a concrete sense of outcome. Hayley’s interest in this theme started back in first year, and after a swap to something more wax-based in her second year she professes that she has now officially found her niche. Choosing to hang her dresses from the ceiling in the past, there is undeniably a sense of daintiness and delicacy in her work – the soft sculptures eerily floating in mid-air.
Whether delicately hanging from the ceiling or displayed like suits of armour on rigid mannequins, Hayley’s work is successful in that it encourages a questioning of pre-conceived assumptions. However, despite her pieces having clear conceptual value, she maintains that her primary emphasis has always been on the aesthetics of the pieces. As an admitted perfectionist she strives for aesthetic precision and flawlessness, which she definitely accomplishes as her dresses are – dare I say it – very ‘pretty’.
Hayley is now working towards her final piece for the degree show, which she hopes to be the most elaborate, ambitious and ostentatious doily dress ever created. She well and truly gives the humble paper doily a stunning new lease of life, and luckily she says she’s not bored of them just yet.
Kelly Smith is the creator of what she calls ‘mysterious specimens’. Her work pushes the boundaries between art and science, drawing and sculpture, interior and exterior, and both the physical form and creative process are seemingly ambiguous.
Kelly works on a mixture of Polypropylene plastic and transparent papers, putting pressure on these materials to create new forms and textures out of these once-smooth surfaces. Through drilling right into the plastic Kelly is able to make sculpted drawings, combining her background as a 3D artist with her love of drawing. The etched result is extraordinary; the drawings look almost like organisms trapped in space, with a commonly observed similarity to tentacled sea creatures or microscopic specimens on a petri dish.
Simply looking at the sculpted drawings encourages the viewer to question the artistic process, and the technique used to create the work accentuates a contrast between the fact and logic of science and the mystery of the artwork. Kelly’s technique is actually very digital and grounded in technology, and armed with science goggles and a dust mask she certainly doesn’t look like the stereotypical artist. Drawing from macro and micro images of the interior of the human body, she uses a laser cutter to etch out her pencil drawings onto the plastic, which she then manually etches on top of using a Dremel tool. It is a procedure of constantly layering and removing; Kelly painstakingly works on top of these etchings by hand and drills right into the middle of the plastic to create the illusion that there is something trapped inside. The process plays an important part in the concept behind her work, but Kelly doesn’t want this to be visible to the viewer. The plastic creations are then displayed back-to-back so that the places where the marks were made are hidden; a poignant deception that makes links to the notion that many aspects of science are still shrouded in mystery. Scientific knowledge is growing as we are constantly discovering, and what Kelly does in a sense is to mimic this feeling of encountering and unearthing the unfamiliar.
Aesthetically, the pieces are incredibly beautiful. The drawings are so detailed that you cannot help but praise the artist for her patience, and although they are based on something so physically real there is a definite sense of the ethereal. The meticulously made marks are frozen in the transparency like spider webs, with clear similarities to lace in arrangement and delicacy. The process may be time-consuming but it definitely pays off. Kelly’s work is completely unique in process, and her confrontation of opposing forces is both sophisticated and effective in producing stunning visual work.
Jess Oliver’s main subject matter is definitely one that lies close to home. Based on the boundaries of mother/daughter relationships, Jess questions these unspoken barriers in her work and confronts their rationality. Having centred her artistic practice on the depiction of family for a while, Jess has now concentrated particularly on her mum; her current work dealing with the line between daughter and friend and why this line exists.
Jess has always had an interest in the human form and her work to this point has rarely strayed from the genre of portraiture. What makes her work so seemingly controversial is that she draws her mother in the nude, and through doing so she questions why this is such a taboo subject given that the finished products are far from explicit or disrespectful. In fact, Jess’ mum is very willing to pose for photographs and you can see this in the drawings, as the poses are completely natural and relaxed.
She may use inks and paints but Jess would always describe herself as a drawer. She is concerned with marks and lines rather than the painterly and starts her pieces with pencil and fine liner before adding ink. Jess’ work is instantly distinguishable due to her pooling technique and she has certainly developed her own sense of style in her portraits. Through working on Mylar plastic sheets, the ink and water stays on the surface and dries in pools, creating a distinctly eerie and mottled effect. Despite the ability of the ink to run and flood, Jess manages to control some areas for tighter detail, and accepts the accidental marks and drips in more blurred sections. This style is something that interestingly came about completely by accident, but Jess has developed and mastered it over time. The ink is often unpredictable and is put down tentatively, which she then contrasts with confident thick black lines that contour and lift.
The pieces are on a large, life-like scale and are undoubtedly impressive. Jess has managed to capture the expression of her mother despite doing so in a style that is largely gestural and based on the accidental. She is currently working towards two final portraits of herself and her mother side-by-side, portraying in the most poignant and striking manner the bonds and assumed boundaries of their relationship.
Rachael’s work has a basis in family portraiture and relationships. This term she has focussed primarily on the depiction of her grandfather, in particular drawing upon the aesthetics of ageing, loss, and forgetting.
Her choice of medium is liquid graphite, a substance with clear connotations of trace and decay due to its powder form. Rachael has been working with liquid graphite for two years now, and she has found it to be the best material for this subject matter. It has the ability to be used for both exceptionally precise detail and a blanket of hazy mark making, allowing Rachael to merge the figurative with abstract areas. Detail is crucial to her work given the personal subject matter, as she aims to pick up the seemingly insignificant features that you would only notice in a face you have studied for years. Rachael starts off by working from photographs but explains that through this process of repetition she begins to be able to work from memory.
She places a strong emphasis on the representation of the face – what she believes to be the hardest hitting element of the portrait; the scale of her portraits allow the viewer to come face-to-face with the image, allowing for a greater impact and a sense of encounter. Rachael goes straight to the issue that she wishes to confront, and through blurring and obscuring the face with abstract marks she accurately portrays this sense of confusion and displacement in a direct and emotive manner. The paintings manage to balance a capacity to elicit a strong personal response through tackling the subject matter with honesty, and a beautiful subtlety in aesthetics as she works solely in monochrome. What becomes apparent in the paintings and Rachael’s process is that as her grandfather gets older and becomes more displaced from his former self, she will become more fluent in his portrait, increasingly able to work from memory and not to rely on a photographic reference.
The limitations of photography are something that I believe comes through poignantly in Rachael’s work. Through painting her grandfather in such a way, she shows that an instant snapshot is not enough, as the processes of ageing and forgetting are gradual and cannot be conveyed by a simple photograph. In her portraits she goes beyond the boundaries of the literal image; the movement into more abstract territory encourages the viewer to confront these universal issues of time and mortality, and to dwell upon personal relationships with family members.
Megan Pickard’s artistic creations definitely fall into the weird and wonderful category. Her sculptural installation work deal with themes of fragility and femininity in regards to processes of incubation and reproduction, and her pieces aim to juxtapose the ability of natural forms to protect what lies inside them with their fragile and delicate reality. Megan does this through making sculptures of pods in two different sizes, both human-sized pods that are modelled on the foetus, and smaller ones based on seedpods.
Material choice plays a key role in Megan’s illustration of her concept. She has been working with glass wax for a few months now – an unusual medium with the materiality of wax but the aesthetics of glass. The wax is incredibly brittle and will snap under very little pressure at all. Its look and physicality are completely contradictory, as it appears strong and secure and yet will break with the lightest of touches. We tend to think of glass as something that protects and encases; used in panes for windows and lenses for glasses, but in reality glass is a highly vulnerable material that is prone to shattering. Megan demonstrates this condition in her sculptures, as when the glass wax melts into liquid she wraps her objects in strands of it like spun sugar. The wrapping adds to the alien-like characteristics of the objects as the strands have aesthetics strikingly similar to spider webs or the product of a supernaturally large insect.
Despite their bizarre quality, the forms do have an organic, primitive feel about them. Megan produces the seedpods on an impressively huge scale – aiming for three hundred to four hundred of them. The process is arduous and repetitive, but through it she aims to accentuate the notion of safety in numbers and pays homage to the dedication involved in recreation. With hundreds of them clustered and nesting on a light box, the installation shows that together they are strong despite their individual fragility. This contrasts beautifully with the larger pods, which Megan plans to make three of and will display leaning against each other with lights illuminating from the inside. Lighting is vital in Megan’s work, as the spun glass wax has a stunning shimmering quality when illuminated. The light from the light box under the seedpods will be softened by white feathers, encouraging connotations of maternity and warmth, and the illuminated foetal pods convey most delicately the processes of incubation and the reproduction of life.
Megan’s work is certainly different and like nothing I have ever seen before, but through it she is able to demonstrate truth about natural vulnerability in a remarkably simplistic and thought-provoking way.
Our very own Stephanie Bell has also been rather busy with the degree show looming.
The theme of memory is what interests her most, her work dealing particularly with the notion of shared memory and looking at how events and situations are photographed similarly in different times and places. There is a clear sense of nostalgia in Stephanie’s work; she uses old family photographs as her basis for exploration, and questions the similarities between them through displaying them on a large scale facing each other. The photographs she is using for her final pieces are of her mother and father being held as babies, and although taken at different times and in different places by different people, the composition and poses in the photographs are weirdly similar.
Stephanie sees old photographs as having an enchanting quality, and her practice is concerned with how they translate into our digital age of editing and sharing. There is an inevitable pixilation that comes with digitalising old photographs, which accentuates changes in time and how things have progressed, but also looks at how events will still be the same and worth documenting through photography regardless of time. Stephanie also explores dual-perspective in her work, looking at photographs of different perceptions of the same event. Through examining this shared moment in time, Stephanie confronts these two personal viewpoints through blurring them together and looking at the views and experiences of the individual.
Stephanie’s whole body of work is an incredibly personal response to these ideas of transience and memory. The photographs she uses lie close to her heart, and she doesn’t create the work for anyone but herself. Despite this, the themes she explores are definitely universal. Through blowing up these old family pictures she allows the viewer to reminisce about their own childhood and relationships, as photographs play a key role in our remembering through documenting and archiving moments that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The way in which Stephanie displays these photos is a labour of love in itself. She prints out the photographs on transparencies, painstakingly cuts out each individual pixel (4000 in total… yes, four thousand) and attaches them subtly to the wall with tiny dressmaker pins. The end result promises to be something quite spectacular, as pixelating and fragmenting the photographs on such a large scale means that up close the work will seem very abstract and blurred, but stepping away the images become more clear. This effect enables Stephanie to make poignant connotations to ageing, forgetting and memory loss, as often the events represented in seemingly-distant photographs are in fact much more memorable than the events of yesterday.
Born and raised in Cyprus, George’s art practice has always been firmly rooted in the country he originated. The Turkish invasion in 1974 forced most of the population to abandon their homes, and thousands of innocent lives were lost in the struggle. George knows first hand the destruction and devastation of war, and with it resulting in personal family tragedies it has certainly had a lasting effect on him and those he loves.
It is of no surprise that George uses his art practice as a means of memorial. He only started working in sculpture at the start of his third year, but has found that the materiality of plaster is perfect for the subject matter and a fitting means to represent the dry land of Cyprus. Taking inspiration from stories and photographs kept by his grandparents, George makes strong links between the brutality of war and human mortality. His whole body of work is based entirely on plaster casts of gun magazines; symbolic in that they are essentially empty shells yet with the addition of bullets they become vessels for killing. George has made over four hundred and seventy of these casts already, and in a sense this repetitive process of making and the overall effect of so many of them reflects the mechanic and cold nature of war.
His degree show work comes in two different forms. George makes connections between the shape of gun magazines and graves, and through displaying them in formal lines they definitely give off an eerie and sombre atmosphere. The whiteness of the plaster casts contrasts with the dark installation space, and is a direct and poignant means of tribute and memorial.
George has also used the gun magazine casts to make a model of a small town. Each house is made up of four to eight casts, and their uneven surface along with the addition of plaster fragments to look like rubble gives the impression that the buildings have been partly demolished. Representing the country’s basis in Catholicism, George places a church in the centre of the church, but it is made out of a cast of a soldier’s helmet. The controversial connection he makes between religion and war has some autobiographical links with his own religious doubt, but also encourages the viewer to think about the significance of war in a country so rooted in the Catholic church. Amongst the rubble and partially destroyed houses that intensely demonstrate the destructive power of war, George places lights illuminating the plaster houses. Displayed in dim lighting, the glow from the buildings symbolise a lasting hope for peace and a longing to return to what was lost.