Saturday, 25 June 2011

Manchester Metropolitan University – Degree Show Essay

On Monday 20th June I visited the Manchester Metropolitan University with my college. At the university, we visited a degree show that showcased the work of degree students studying a variety of design and art based courses, including Fine Art, Illustration and Animation, Interior Design and Graphic Design. Along with the pieces I will talk about were development sketchbooks and artists to speak to, to give more depth to the work.

A variety of specialisms were showcased to show the variety available within the courses. Within the Textiles course, for example, were some very illustrative pieces, as well as more print based work. Some work featured type also. These pieces are just examples of how broad the work can be through any of the courses, which was something I was very happy to see and very interested in.

The show was arranged by course, with labels on most of the doors to denote which course was being exhibited where. There was a map included with this to make finding the work most relevant to you easier. However, I found this very confusing. On the map, I had chosen to look for Illustration and Animation, as illustration is something I am interested in, but when I headed up to the floor, I found that a lot of what I was looking at was not what I had expected to find. I do appreciate that a lot of work on these courses is a broad mix of techniques and subjects, but it was very difficult to find what I was really looking for at first.
I also found that the labelling for the images was slightly confusing. In one particular area of work, supposedly showcasing Art and Design students, the title under one of the artist’s names read ‘BA (Hons) Religion and Ethics’, which

As my interests lie quite strongly with both photography and illustration, these were the areas I took most interest in, while I did still look at and appreciate other areas of the exhibition. I was also very surprised at how much of the Textiles show I was interested in, as a lot of the pieces featured designs I was really inspired by.


The first piece I am looking at is by Alan Ryan, studying a degree in Textile Design. His work was interesting to me because of the focus on anatomy he uses. This photograph of the postcard I picked up of his work doesn’t do it much justice, but his work features lots of calm neutral colours and anatomical references.

(own photograph)
I looked to Alan’s blog for some insight into where his ideas had come from, but sadly it’s almost totally empty. However, I could find more of his work in the form of designs and drawings, both focused on anatomy. I can see where Alan’s first ideas could have come from very easily – from life drawing with focus on muscles and from possibly looking at Da Vinci.

This seems to be the piece Alan used to develop into his final design that was printed on the postcards. In his work, I can see a lot of similarity to the anatomy drawings Leonardo Da Vinci created. Da Vinci’s work features the same outlined muscles in conjunction to the drawing of the figure. The colours used, the cool neutrals, are also something that Alan has used in his work.

Also, the chain used in place of the spine in Alan’s drawing is very intriguing to me. It could easily be a statement on human life in many ways. It could be a symbol of how human beings are just machines to do tasks of others (bosses, Gods, etc). It could be a statement on how the body functions like clockwork until one thing goes wrong like a spanner in the works. The possibilities for multiple interpretations are endless and this is a feature I love in any artwork.
Alan’s work combines the simplistic style of composition (he has not added anything to the drawing that doesn’t need to be there) with the extremely complex and precise art of drawing the body and that is something I admire greatly.


The next artist I am looking at is Catherine Parsonage. Her work on display, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ was easily the piece I loved the most in the whole exhibition.

In the exhibit, this was a series of 3 or 4 pieces, all of which featured something very clinical (one was in what appeared to be a hospital, for example, while the above one features a hospital bed). While this is a painting, I find it interesting for its illustrative quality – the style, the colour scheme and the line quality, as well as the symbolism and the emotions behind the work.
There was no development work on show along with these pieces, and Catherine was not there to speak to me. She also lacks a blog to show her influences, but I have emailed her asking about the paintings I have looked at, and she was happy to give me an insight into her thoughts in creating this piece. All the paintings in her ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ series are about mortality and medicine, and our experiences of it. The pieces illustrate medicine’s ability to support and restrain – medication and treatment easily has side effects that can be just as devastating as illness itself, along with the miracles modern medicine creates. Catherine has used the background of her pieces to illustrate a psychological space that, combined with the recognisable hospital equipment, is made to create a personal emotional response with the viewer. Catherine claims her ultimate goal is to illustrate how we as people view the clinical environment in so many different ways, and her work depicts the hospital environment in an unpredictable world that is like an alternate reality that we can never visit.
If you search the title of these works in a search engine, you will come across a book with the same name. The story is a simple one about some friends sitting around a table discussing what true love really is, but with some very sombre themes. The one particular piece that stands out is a story told in the book about an old couple who are in a car accident and end up in hospital together, both in full-body plaster so they can’t move. The man and woman are unable to even look at each other in the casts, which breaks their hearts. This could be the significance in the hospital bed seen above, as it seems to be on a cliff side, symbolising both the sheer distance they are feeling between each other, and the fact that in their eyes, one of them could easily vanish (fall off a cliff) and the other would be none the wiser in their inability to move.
I absolutely adore this work. I feel that it is very easily relatable, and brings about an emotional response in me that is entirely my own. While the piece is done in oil paint, I could easily see it translated into watercolour with as much ease.


The last artist I am reviewing is Zoe Boston, a photographer from the exhibit. Her photo ‘An Unwanted Gift’ was very interesting to me.

Zoe does not have a blog, or any development work along with this, so instead I researched the drug she has photographed. Methotrexate is the drug, and is used to treat psoriasis, arthritis and some cancers. It is considered highly dangerous, to the point where the patient is not allowed to take one tablet per day for fear of death. There are lots of risk factors and reasons to check before taking it, in a way that can make it extremely terrifying.
This piece made me think in a stop-and-stare way, where I was unable to take my eyes off of this photograph. I don’t know the artist personally, so I have no idea if she suffers from a condition and takes this medication, but I feel like there’s a deep connection between artist and subject. The black liquid (which looks a lot link ink) could symbolise the negative view the artist has on the medication, hidden behind the veil of the information given (the text on the photograph). The way the tablets are bagged to contain all of the liquid and the tablet container could be a way of symbolising how the health system protects such a dangerous medicine. If this medicine was for a relative of the artist, the bag could symbolise her inability to stop the relative taking it – medicines are kept away from children.
I really love this work for the emotional feeling it gives me – one of sadness and fear, coupled with clinical sombreness. I think it is a very interesting and well made piece, and the monotone colour scheme, punctuated by the single bright red colour of the tablet container immediately draws the eye where it’s needed.


Overall, I found the exhibition both interesting and frustrating in equal measure. I found that a lot of the colour schemes were very influential to me – I took many photographs and will probably try out some of the colours in my future works. However, the layout of the exhibit was off-putting and made it harder to enjoy the works.
Some of the work was really inspiring, using techniques, colours and subjects that really interested me. In the case of Catherine Parsonage, I felt the need to speak to her about her work and fully understand it, as I found it extremely interesting to look at, and found the emotional response I had was very profound.
However, there was a lot of work I was left not so inspired by. This is probably because I lacked the understanding to fully appreciate it, and there was no insight in some areas to assist me (some of the work I found the hardest to understand was alone with no sketchbooks or artists nearby).
I can still appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the work featured in the show, even if it doesn’t cater to my own personal taste.

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