The evolution of work coming out of Moray School of Art (Moray College, University of the Highlands and Islands) can be described as a cultural Madagascar: isolated and without interference from the invasive influences of national art institutions. Once upon a time, when I was a student there, I felt that the lack of access to contemporary art was a hindrance. Now, coming back as graduate, alumni, and artist in my own right, I can see the remoteness from the rest of the Scottish art scene creates a purity and sincerity which makes the work emerging from Moray School of Art unique.
Dominating the centre space of the beautiful building, with its parquet floors and decorative exposed oak beams, hangs a friesian cow giving birth to a unicorn. The authenticity of Shaun Pearson’s work is tangible. This is someone who has not one care about what art is meant to be. The walls, top to bottom, are covered with paper plates decorated with gauche portrayals of crisp packets, watermelons, frog faces… the kitsch, the tacky, and the low brow. It’s as if he employed a hoard of primary school kids to go crazy in the arts and crafts corner of their classroom. The work would be perfectly at home in a John Walter exhibition and I really hope that comes to fruition one day.
The usual tropes we see in graduate shows are almost non-existent here. There is a genuineness, and a playfulness, which radiates from many of the works, which is not to say that they don’t hold a strong social message. Sadie Stoddart’s papier mache installation consists of a constructed greenhouse with planters adorned with colourful mono-printed slogans. The work calls out a message of collectivity: the artist is nurturing the seeds of revolution literally and figuratively. The apparent message of activism resonates with the current zeitgeist of protest where the adhoc aesthetic of low-cost materials and simple making processes screams of recent leftist movements. This is a work of the people which is rare in Moray, where the culture is less of rebellion and more of ‘let’s write an angry letter to the local paper.’
In contrast to the day-glo rainbow of Pearson and Stoddart, the restrained colour palette of Madeline Daly’s work investigates the binary tension between all things. Clean structural lines cut into patterns reminiscent of the natural colours of the north; dark blues, grey-whites and sea greens. The multitude of concrete cast objects arranged on the table are both unique and uniform with each holding its own individuality. The work proves to be an exploration within colour with texture and shape being almost incidental.
Muriel Hughes’ continues the theme of social and cultural commentary as she dedicates her space to Ruth – the personification of ‘The Female’ in narrative. The installation fills the space with stylised depictions of a depersonalised woman in various forms of nakedness and exposure. The prominent cut outs are echoed with reflections of their own negative space. The subject beautifully relates the social narrative of the contemporary female to the literal interpretation of womanhood.
Forging a creative career in the northern hinterlands is not the easiest task. The challenge for the graduate artists will be not only in cementing a place for themselves within the local cultural activity but also to find their niche within an already niche industry. The secret, which they will not discover until much later, is that their work already holds a uniqueness and honesty which is not easily matched by their peers from the big cities. In the near future, the graduates of Moray School of Art will contribute to the development of a distinct Northern style. One which should get the national recognition it deserves.
Further information from: Moray School of Art (Moray College UHI)