The class of 2018 look anew at established materials and techniques to explore key themes of visual culture on their own terms, writes Paul Caffrey
Art college degree exhibitions display the work of the latest generation of creative talent. They act as a platform for an engagement with the future. It is remarkable to witness the avid curiosity and questioning which leads to such fresh thinking and original results. In the age of high-quality instant imagery this can be particularly challenging for visual artists and designers.
Painting comes with such a legacy of history, using traditional materials and techniques that it is extraordinary how unique images can be created. These compositions can still arrest the tired spectator and make an emotional and intellectual impact on the jaded consumer of our visual culture. The immediate question of how painters create images that comment on, record and reflect on the world may be seen in the work of Róisín O’Donnell (NCAD). She achieves this through an intense engagement with paint. Robert Armstrong has been an influential presence at NCAD where he has been noted for his gentle encouragement of generations of painters. This summer marks his retirement as Head of the Department of Painting, a position he has held for the past 16 years (he has been a lecturer since the early 1990s) and marks the end of an era. It will be interesting to see what happens next in this key department.
In a similar way the exploration of long-established materials and techniques is central to the craft tradition. Distinctive Irish vernacular furniture and textiles have been a strong influence on designer Conor White (GMIT) who works in ash, oak and Donegal tweed to create new forms and structures in furniture design.
The language and techniques employed by artists and designers have been transformed and rethought in a 21st-century context with references to digital technology, photography, film, installation and fashion. Wanderley Massafelli (DIT) is a photographer who connects with wider cultural practices in a highly original examination of the adherents of Umbanda in Ireland, a specifically Afro-Brazilian folk religious cult that combines ethnic, Catholic and indigenous beliefs. Eleanor Rogers (IADT) takes a humorous look at female friendship, desire and sport in her short film Breast Friends. Anna O’Doherty (LIT) engages with a range of materials and colour combinations to grapple with the problems of mental health, therapy and exam pressure in her eclectic and unconventional fashion collection Discord.
Our relationship with nature and the built environment has been a recurring influence. Rachel Grainger (NCAD) explores the sea and the strand in her work which mixes film, sound and textiles in a highly original way. Sue Dolan (CIT) is interested in social responsibility and engagement and reflects on the prevalence of ghost estates in her installation which consists of a very wide range of media including film, sculpture and found objects. Derelict sites and decaying architecture are the subject of Phoebe McDonogh’s sculpture (LIT). She uses the materials of building, such as concrete, scaffolding and industrial paint to create new forms and insights into the cityscape. In architecture, Seán Crilly (University of Ulster) has designed a public house for the 21st century for the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast. His conceptual approach is based on an innovative plan arranged around a series of terraces, courtyards and a garden.
BA Honours Degree, Photography, School of Media,
Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)
In Wanderley Massafelli’s work, The Children of Oxóssi, we see the practices and adherents of a minority faith called Umbanda. The project consists of a video piece and a series of photographs, collected in a substantial publication. It is the dialogue between these elements that emphasises the necessity of giving the subjects of the work an opportunity to speak for themselves, rather than just presenting an outsider’s view as an ‘authentic’ portrayal of this little-known community.
The practice of Umbanda is based on aspects of African faith brought to Brazil by slaves, where its iconography was overlaid with borrowings from Christian mythology to produce a distinctive hybrid. Massafelli’s video piece allows the adherents of this sect to describe their various beliefs, which have a strong mediumistic component, with different entities being channelled in the ceremonies. Massafelli ably captures these rituals as well, with their striking rhythms and colour. Perhaps most important though, are the sympathetic portraits of individual believers, each being shown in the space used for Umbanda ceremonies, with shelves of different icons behind them symbolising particular spirits or deities.
What emerges is how this faith gives its followers a sense of community, especially important for the several young immigrants we see here – many of Massafelli’s subjects are Brazilian, but live and practice their faith in Dublin. That it is an important part of their identity becomes clear as well, with one woman tearfully recounting her embrace of Umbanda and the sense of direction it has given her in life. Overall, this is a sensitive, nuanced study of belief and belonging.
Darren Campion is a writer and critic with an interest in contemporary photographic practice.
BA Honours Degree, Fine Art
Limerick School of Art and Design (LIT)
I Dwell in the City and the City Dwells in me, is a sculptural installation which prompts us to reflect on our built environment. It is derived from an exploration of derelict, decayed and abandoned sites across Limerick. A scaffold-like structure supports, displays and barricades sculptures which have been made through repurposing industrial building materials. McDonogh appropriates materials associated with the building industry such as rebar, wood, iron sulphate, metal, oil and paint.
‘It is important to me to create most of the pieces within the installation such as the concrete mixes, and although some items are readymade, I have altered nearly everything through the use of paint and chemicals. I also decided how this piece would look and be assembled through the use of drawings and notebooks, which are an important part of my practice.’
Lightweight concrete sculptures created from vermiculite and expanded clay mixes, are prominently situated yet contrasted within the scaffold tower. One is firmly planted on the ground, exposing upwardly rooted rusted support bars. The other structure partially covers a rusted beam and balances diagonally from an industrial chain, creating a suspended sway. Overhead a wooden box is perched on a shelf, while another rusted beam rests on the support bars. A pool of oil on the ground is divided by a painted bar. It reflects both the construction and the surrounding environment, creating a contemplative dimension and focal point to the fragments of this installation. This installation is not a reconstruction of one particular environment, rather it fuses traces from many sites and creates a new space through sculptural processes to dwell on the evolving nature of construction and deconstruction.
Eimear Redmond is the coordinator of Open House Limerick and the public programme coordinator for the 38th EVA International.
BA Honours Degree, Fashion Design
Limerick School of Art and Design (LIT)
Limerick School of Art and Design fashion graduate Anna O’Doherty represented her college in June at Graduate Fashion Week in London. This event showcases the best university graduates from all over the world, and O’Doherty presented her avant-garde collection called Discord. Based on the idea of rising problems in mental health and her own personal experience of exam stress from earlier years, her swirling, twisting shapes and forms using craft techniques like boning, pleating and topstitching were fashioned from mixed materials and colours to express technically and imaginatively the chaos and discord that can occur in the troubled human mind. ‘People can relate to (mental health) as so many don’t want to admit that they have anxiety and depression’, she says. The overall effect is one of offbeat, unconventional elegance.
From Newcastle West and the daughter of a furniture maker, craft skills come naturally to O’Doherty and her twin sister Kate, a graduate in fashion from LSAD in 2017 now working in costume design in the Troy Studios film hub in Limerick. O Doherty’s passion has always been art, but found a new expression in fashion and in making. An admirer of the ground-breaking Belgian designer Martin Margiela and nearer to home Irish designers making their mark, Richard Malone and RCA graduate Michael Stewart, she now plans to further her experience in London or New York with the ultimate aim of returning home and setting up in fashion with her sister.
Deirdre McQuillan is a journalist and fashion writer.
BA Honours Degree, Fine Art Painting, National College of Art and Design
Róisín O’Donnell paints with expression using broad brushstrokes that make pronounced marks on the canvas, board, paper or rough wooden surface. The range of colours employed is muted, mostly shades of green, grey and brown which create a subdued effect.
Each painting is approached in a highly personal and distinctive way, capturing a specific moment in time. The subjects hold significance for the artist in their reference to cryptic personal memories and associations. Figures are solidly placed in cluttered rooms which feature complex compositions and perspectives. Sometimes they are inhabited by people from the past who appear as rather ethereal figures. The characters appear to be deep in thought or ill at ease at being disturbed by the viewer. The men and women that inhabit these pictures are calm, sleepy and timeless. These serene characters may be historical or contemporary and they seem to move from one period in time to the next. There are stylistic references to Francis Bacon and the work of Lucian Freud has influenced some of the brushwork in the sketches.
The most finished compositions are the large interiors with solitary figures but there is also a considerable range of work. O’Donnell is adept at capturing individual faces, children, nudes, still-life painting and interiors too. We can look forward to watching her progress.
Paul Caffrey is a research fellow and a director of the MA course in design history and material culture at NCAD.
BA Honours Degree, Textiles Art and Artefact, National College of Art and Design
Rachel Grainger is a highly innovative textile and fibre artist. Her work is conceptual and is expressed in a range of media including performance, sound and film which is brought together under the title Siren. In this work Grainger explores the sea and the foreshore as an active, social and political force. Far too often the sea is taken for granted. Here she attempts to give a voice to water which is an essential element and to the oceans that are a powerful influence on the environment and human life. The title refers to the sea creatures of Greek mythology, in this instance the 21st-century artist-activist intervenes on behalf of the sea.
Historically, the cultural practices of textile art and needlework have been expressed through banners which were so important in public processions and demonstrations. The stained-glass artist and suffragette Mary Lowndes who established the Artists’ Suffrage League is referenced as a source for Grainger’s work.
Siren is a platform for the sea to create its own banner by making its mark on fabric. Movement is documented in a film which was made on Sandymount strand and sound is incorporated into the presentation of the work. The film was made in collaboration with Will Hamilton and the audio material was made in conjunction with Fearghal Breslin.
Paul Caffrey is a research fellow and a director of the MA course in design history and material culture at NCAD.
BSc Honours Degree,
Furniture Design and Manufacture GMIT, Letterfrack
A native of Co Meath, Conor White has just completed the Honours Degree in Furniture, Design and Manufacture at GMIT Letterfrack. White takes inspiration from the natural environment. He is a keen observer of nature and his creations often follow an organic path. It was this close observation that led him to create the Infinity table as a second-year student. The inspiration came from a fallen beech tree witnessed during the severe winter of 2010 on the family farm in Ardcath Co Meath. It was the shape of the tree’s exposed roots that led to its creation. Infinity is a coffee table, made in solid ash using stack laminated blocks. Once the overall shape was achieved, an Arbortech grinder was used to achieve the natural flowing shape. The piece was hand-sanded and finished using linseed oil.
Conor White’s studies in year three of the programme included a six-month work placement with bespoke furniture-maker and woodturner Shane Tubrid on the rugged Hook Peninsula in Co Wexford. This experience afforded White the opportunity to hone his skills of craftsmanship and attention to detail. His final-year work reflects this experience when he designed and made his chair Samhlú, a superb combination of two Irish traditions of fine furniture and woven textiles. The chair is made from solid oak and Donegal Tweed and is finished in a durable osmo oil finish. The result is a celebration of Irish tradition and skilled craftsmanship both of which are expressed through contemporary design.
Susan Rogers is a lecturer in Furniture and Design History, Design, and Education at GMIT Letterfrack.
BA Honours Degree, Fine Art
Crawford College of Art and Design CIT
Sue Dolan’s installation was a definite highlight of the Crawford College of Art and Design degree show. And with five awards and accolades bestowed upon her, the future looks bright for this emerging artist.
Dolan negotiates processes and media effortlessly, unifying film projections, sculptural casting techniques, neon light and found objects (such as a pregnancy kit, a boomerang, a telephone receiver and even sound waves) with intelligence and sensitivity. She is drawn to themes that address injustice and the misuse of power to serve vested interests – in particular where communities are displaced and bodily rights constrained.
The inexplicable immorality of ghost estates in Ireland became a focus as she appropriated unused paving slabs on which she projected static and moving images; including a suitcase and the advancing tide. Meanwhile, in synchronicity, the destruction of favelas in Rio to make way for the Olympics was potently represented by the metaphorical uncoupling of the symbolic rings, using these as a physical conduit by which complex dialogues on politics and the elasticity of human emotion are explored.
Social change is well underway in Ireland and art college graduates like Dolan demonstrate an ability to unpick the fabric of entrenched thinking within this island and beyond. And with a sense of balance and fairness extended to all citizens, many will surely become important voices through art practice, community engagement and education.
Mark Ewart is a lecturer in Education at CIT Crawford College of Art and Design. He is also an art teacher at Ashton School, a writer and artist based in Cork.
BA Honours Degree, Film and Television Production, The National Film School,
Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design &Technology (IADT)
Carried by an ensemble of talented young actresses, Breast Friends is a tender and timely short film about female friendship and the complications of sexual desire. It is funny, carefully observed and charged with an erotic energy that is neither coy nor exploitative. Eleanor Rogers wrote and directed the film with terrific intelligence and verve. ‘My sexual awakening came from a moment I had shared with a close friend while we were drunk. We were speaking about our bra sizes and she jokingly touched me. A wave of fear and euphoria came over me. So I wanted to use my sexual awakening as a device for this story.’
The film’s narrative about a school relay team and how a kiss threatens to disrupt their solidarity is pitched at a popular audience and underscored by a collection of pop songs that enhance the vivid colour palette. It is a coming-out story and Eleanor’s message is clear: neither breast size, competitive drive, nor sexual orientation, matter a hoot to a proper bunch of girlfriends.
Slaney Power plays Ash, the alpha female, with delightful conviction. Eleanor ‘had seen a lot of LGBT stories following the hopeless protagonist with low self-esteem trying to find their way, but I hadn’t seen a confident and a closeted LGBT person negotiate the blurred lines of female intimacy.’
This kind of pop sensibility is hard to achieve in a first outing and Eleanor’s editor Frances Healy and cinematographer Robin J Kavanagh managed to deliver on Eleanor’s upbeat sensibility without compromising the emotional insight of the piece. Breast Friends will play well with festival audiences offering humour and warmth to the debate around sexuality and gender.
Paul Freaney is Academic Tutor on the Film Degree Programme at the National Film School at IADT.
BA Honours Degree, Architecture,
University of Ulster
Access to the site for Seán Crilly’s project for an urban pub is fitting for this part of Belfast, through an arch and down an alley off Lower Donegal Street, located in the centre of a city block.
The pub fills a gap site in the laneway, between two narrow existing buildings and it also acts as a boundary between the lane and a courtyard. The courtyard aspect faces south and the new spaces prioritise this orientation, letting light in and allowing the bar to expand into the courtyard
Crilly has designed the major spaces to sit on top of a terraced plinth. Ancillary functions are tucked away below, out of sight. The public bar, lounge bar and beer gardens occupy the plinth, the latter sculpted into stepped terraces, looking south into the courtyard and also over each other for spectating and people-watching.
This stepping device makes a constructed ‘landscape’, a continuation of the ground plane. Tall spaces are given definition using large concrete planar elements, which bring light along their surfaces through roof-lights down into the tall salons of the interiors.
A concrete external envelope wraps around both interior and exterior spaces and completes a compact, hard urban composition. It is a deceptively simple box containing a complex, poetic synthesis of light, form, material and occasion.
Though this project will never be built, we can nevertheless imagine it as built, in which case it would make an interesting addition to the life of the laneways in this part of Belfast.
Jim Luke is a lecturer in architecture and year 3 studio coordinator at the Belfast School of
Architecture, University of Ulster.
Visit the 2018 New Generation Gallery on www.irishartsreview.com to view the work of art and design graduating students from National College of Art and Design, Limerick School of Art and Design, Burren College of Art, IADT, DIT, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, and Crawford College of Art and Design.