The graduates presented in this year’s RSA New Contemporaries show - the class of 2021 - were arguably those who suffered most disruption to their studies under covid, but there can be no doubting the boldness and ambition of their work. This is evident in much of the work selected for this show by 57 artists from Scotland’s five art schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Elgin. But there is also much thoughtfulness and maturity. We pick out some of the highlights.
A graduate of the Sculpture and Environmental Art Course at Glasgow School of Art, Plenderleith is the winner of this year’s Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation Award (a £1,500 prize for a painter, draughtsperson or sculptor) at the RSA New Contemporaries. Her sculptures are characterised by strength and simplicity: a bed frame made of charred wood, a broom intertwined with a wooden ladder, a misshapen church bell. In ‘Bed of Hails’, hundreds of white Virgin Mary figurines are arranged in a grid on the floor like a bed of nails, taking the imprint of the artist’s body when she lies down on them. Drawing on her Scottish-American heritage, Plenderleith is interested in small town and rural traditions - quilting, barn-raising, furniture making - in an age of anonymous mass production, working between conceptualism and craftsmanship. She was awarded the Cass Art Scholarship while at GSA to complete her MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art where she’s due to graduate this summer.
A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art who grew up in Dumfries & Galloway, Lorna Phillips’ principal medium is clay which she likes (where possible) to source and dig herself. She has described her practice as “journeying into the biographies of the land” through the material of clay, delving into its histories, archaeology, and geology. Her clay sculptures are clear, evocative vessels, beautifully finished. However, the process of walking, digging, carrying and processing is equally important, documented in drawing, photography and film. In her third year at ECA, Lorna spent three months in Tallinn, Estonia, on the Erasmus exchange scheme, and fell in love with the country, returning there for her final year. Her work has been exhibited in Scotland, Estonia and Slovenia. She is the winner of Craft Scotland’s Houliston Craft Award and the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence Award at RSA New Contemporaries.
The abstract paintings of Lizzie Lilley have a quiet assurance about them which is unusual in a young artist. A graduate of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Lilley has been named as the Fleming Collection’s Emerging Scottish Artist of the Year (in partnership with Scotland House, London). Her practice begins with photographs, often of historical events of social or cultural significance. She then abstracts them into colour and texture, making studies in coloured pencil and then in paint. The finished work may appear to have little connection to the original image, appearing to revel in the instinctive qualities of the paint, though some retain a suggestion of figures and shapes. Lilley continues to be based in Aberdeen, where she grew up, and travelled to Florence in 2022 on the RSA John Kinross Scholarship. At Gray’s she was awarded the RGU Arts and Heritage Stand Out Work and Purchase Award.
A Fine Art Photography graduate from Glasgow School of Art, Jake Gatehouse is a multidisciplinary artist specialising in photography. His work in RSA New Contemporaries is from an ongoing series, Submerged Self Portraits, made using a large format 4x5 camera and a mechanical self timer. Working alone, he runs (or dives) into a body of water - a loch, sea or river - capturing a picture at the moment his body is submerged. The result is a photograph of an unpeopled landscape, though with ripples stirring the surface of the water (think of the ripples on a Hockney swimming pool). He said: “The project is an ongoing investigation into how we perceive and interact with our environment but also the implications of image-making at this time of climate and political crisis.” He has now completed 50 of these around the world. Originally from South London, he undertook an exchange while at GSA to the University of New Mexico to study the Land Arts of American West. He won first prize in the Jill Todd Futureproof Award for photography.
Maya Rose Edwards
A collection of mole hills on the floor of the RSA Sculpture Court and a road sign indicating “Buried Structure” is one of the playfully profound works in New Contemporaries by Maya Rose Edwards. A large ball of barbed wire dotted with sheep’s wool and a kissing gate built across one of the building’s passages are further evidence of Edwards’ ongoing project ‘Twofold’, described as “an interrogation of rural spaces and queer identities”. A graduate in Sculpture and Environmental Art from Glasgow School of Art, Edwards describes their practice as “working across conceptual sculpture, public space and participatory practice”. Originally from Yorkshire and now based in Glasgow, Edwards has received an Emergent Artists Residency with Culture Collective and a Creative Scotland Youth Arts Bursary. Earlier this year, Edwards completed the Mount Stuart Emerging Artist Residency, where the works included a Milestone Circle in Bute Forest created in collaboration with members of the LGBTQ+ community on Bute.
Describing herself as a “narrative portrait painter”, Levi is a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art’s Fine Art degree. She says her subjects are people she knows, as well as strangers she meets in unorthodox ways, for example, online in video chat rooms, reddit forums. Her paintings for New Contemporaries are depictions of couples she knows, placed in invented scenarios. Her evocative paintings on wood, which is her main medium, combine naturalistic detail and heightened reality, accentuating certain features and gestures to capture her subjects and how they express themselves. She won the Astaire Prize in 2021 and Jackson’s Painting Prize in 2022 and was part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries the same year. She has been part of Curations studios in London since she graduated in 2021
RSA New Contemporaries is exhibited at the RSA until 16 April 2023. Admission £8 / £5, free on Mondays. www.royalscottishacademy.org