Artists Simeon Barclay, Evan Ifekoya, Joanna Kirk, Cathy Lomax, Helen McGhie and Damien Meade look back at the ambitions and anxieties of their own degree shows, and reflect on the long-game of being an artist.
We were asked to submit an exhibition space request proposal. Up to this point I had been engrossed in a sustained and turbulent examination of my studio practice and was a bit disappointed to have to divert my energies away from my work. Despite the growing anxiety [REALITY CHECK] I was faced with good problems really. In hindsight the process forced me to synthesize the concept for the show whilst helping me to consolidate my body of work and try to figure out the best way to harness and convey the concerns I had been wrestling with within my practice.
2014, MFA Fine Art, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Simeon Barclay lives and works in Leeds.
My BA degree show was the culmination of a lot of growth and change for me. It was in my final year that I began to really work seriously with video. I developed an interest in archives as a result of the rich and varied magazine library at the art school. Perhaps more importantly, it was there that I came into a queerness that continues to permeate my methodology. It was operating within the confines of the small historic town of Winchester that I really began to address concerns with how gender, racialisation, sexuality, technology and popular culture intersect.
2010, BA Fine Art: New Media, Winchester School of Art.
My Degree show was a time to show who I was. I was working in 3D and using pastels. I had a nativity scene with motorised angels. Extremely theatrical. It was a time to be seriously ambitious with the work, to let people know one’s energy. A bit look-at-me, really. A time to be noticed.
1984, BA Fine Art, Goldsmiths.
Joanna Kirk lives and works in London.
My BA show at what was at the time London Guildhall University (now the Cass, which is part of London Metropolitan University) was my first opportunity to show my work to an audience that extended beyond friends and family and was both exciting and anxiety making. My strongest memory is of my paintings falling off the wall as my inexperience meant that I had not hung them very well.
I remember being pleased with how my work looked but a little disappointed that I didn’t receive more feedback / offers of shows / general appreciation of what I had done (although I do remember Bob and Roberta Smith saying that my paintings put him in mind of Luc Tuymans which made me very happy). It was a lesson in lowering expectations – showing work has a cumulative rather than instantaneous effect and sometimes things happen a very long time after the show.
My MA show at Central St Martins was a more positive experience – I fought hard to get the space I wanted and I was determined to display the work so that it created a mini exhibition experience, rather than just disappearing into the mass of the huge MA show. I was again disappointed by the lack of feedback and offers but I was happy with what I had done and it made me determined to show my work in the way I wanted it to be seen which led quite directly to me opening Transition Gallery.
2000, BA (Hons) Fine Art, London Guildhall University.
2002, MA Fine Art, Central St Martins.
Thinking back to my MA degree show, it was so exciting to present the result of two years’ creative development. I displayed my series (M)other and finally felt I’d discovered my visual language as a photographic artist, which was fantastic! Although studying at the Royal College of Art could sometimes be a real challenge, I certainly benefitted from my critical experiences there – particularly as I’ve recently embarked on a practice-based PhD at the University of Sunderland, where I’m exploring Astrophotography, gender disparity in science and the imaginative potential of dark skies.
2014, MA Photography, Royal College of Art.
Helen McGhie lives and works in Manchester.
My MA show seemed to me like it does for all art students – a matter of life and death, but more serious. There was then, as there still is now for students, immense pressure for the show to have a bold identity, a conclusiveness, fully formed with no loose ends.
But my work seemed still to be searching, the opposite of conclusive, which I saw as weakness. But with time I began to see this searching quality in the work of other artists I admired, even began to look for it, and learned to appreciate it in my own work.
The pressure for success often produces a need for an end, a product, a brand, which in a way is also a form of dying. Now I see being an artist as not about what you become, but about being in a constant state of becoming.
1993, MA Fine Art, Chelsea College of Art.