If you ever feel the need to assess your belief in your own artistic talent just take a trip to your nearest MA art show. The work at Camberwell College MA show 2012 is astounding in its accomplishment and creativity. My own attempts at artistic production, though still valid in their own sphere of inception, pale humbly in comparison. To those who claim nonsensically that art today is of a lesser standard than years gone by, I challenge you to explore the rooms of the illustration section and still stand your ground.
An immense maze of rooms, the MA show presents work from all courses; Book Arts, Designer Maker, Conservation, Digital Arts/Online, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, and Printmaking, of which I sadly had time to view only a single section – that of Illustration. Approaching to see the entrance brimming over, I entered the crowded room filled with students, teachers, families and friends, and was immediately introduced to Huanxi Jiang’s darkly surreal storytelling. The series of works, including ‘Where Are You’, use intricate pencil marks and spatial exploration to tell a magical tale of otherworldly events. A stark contrast with others in the show such as Mel Winning, whose mix of digital and traditional media results in unsettling figurative portraits situated somewhere between dream and reality.
The undertones of these works, which emanate a sense of foreboding, are not unusual in this show. As I traverse the corridors and rooms of the building, working my way through a maze of bold graphics and enticing narrative, I am struck by two things. The first is that a great amount of the work is inherently ‘dark’ in its symbolism, its imagery and undertone seemingly encapsulating a dreamlike or nightmarish state. I wonder if the module gave a related topic as a suggested theme? Or whether the emotion of a whole generation of disillusioned twenty-somethings collectively majors on the sinister? Possibly both. It ties in with the second thing which struck me as I wandered, taking in lonely clouds and illuminated furniture; that a large proportion of the students in the rooms I encountered were from eastern and oriental backgrounds and those that weren’t often incorporated a similar eastern illustrative style. I pondered on why this might be. Traditional Chinese folk art and calligraphy could often qualify for the criteria of the modern illustration sector and have, in recent decades, entwined with digital media to propagate styles such as modern Manga and Anime. My own experience of these genres are that they can often be quietly shocking. Reminiscent of Grimm fairytales, traditional stories are presented in animation form initially invoking childlike sensation; fairies, bright colours and fantasy settings, but soon introduce malevolent characters, understated violence and frightening imagery. The combination of sweet childish dreams and nightmarish situation is exhibited quite regularly in the pieces at this show. Sofia Lobato’s works, particularly, struck me for their initial saccharine appeal, which on closer inspection morphed into sinister connotations.
I find this type of work inherently absorbing. Not only is the technical aspect detailed, imaginative and beautifully presented, but the subject is provocative. Reaching out to the child in each of us it often challenges the idea that children are naive, less able and intelligent than adults. Children feature in pieces such as Shadow & Other Stories by Dong-In Kim, or Boy in the Box by Fei Wang, as brave characters facing the unknown and terrifying. Children in manga cartoons often also take this role, dealing with the worst creations of our imagination and standing tall against them.
Contrasting this ominous emotional thread are works by artists such as Olivia Whitworth, whose roots in architecture and design imbue her pieces with careful craftsmanship. Exploring the theory and symbolism of modern life, she combines a tongue-in-cheek style with serious questions, inviting the viewer into her illustrative world. Alix Bigois Jeambrun creates patterns and textiles for home interiors. Her storytelling, using collage and bright colours often feels like still animation, drawing your eye instinctively through the dialogue.
I could have spent hours more searching through the art-warren, discovering the many other artists on display at the show. Whether young or mature, male or female, domestic or international, the work created by these students proves without doubt that London art schools are indeed awash with stupendous talent.