BA (Hons) Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art

“My work has changed in the time I’ve been doing my course due to the education I never had where art is concerned. I was in my 40s when I started the course; I wanted to learn how to paint, but instead I learnt something completely new.

My work has gone from something I wanted to do to something I am just doing because I have to. Education in art is so complex. It’s not ‘read this, write that’, it’s understand yourself and act through a medium and stop caring what others might think. It’s self-realisation that this is a place you’re never going to find an answer to.

For the show, I am working out how I place 222 paintings and numerous sculptures in a space – learning from Rauschenberg and alumni and tutors about space and moments within it. I am still painting, but my degree show is my Munro with Everest in the distance. I have a room to myself, I need to make it work, but subjectively that is unlikely to happen. It’s titled ‘above and beyond’, which may give some context.

I work with oil on 70mm film aspect ratio, creating western and Australian landscapes. My own time in the desert, war and Bedlam are not visible to visitors to ECA except through my work. As paintings they are somewhere else, not here and now. So is my degree show, transient as shadows.

I would be happy if someone walks away feeling different about life, that someone looks and sees what is above and beyond. Small changes can alter things. I would feel a sense of achievement if other veterans with trauma found art. If anyone can grasp the essence that this education saved my purpose that would be something.

I worked to this point but I am already working way beyond it. ECA has been an immersive and overwhelming experience and it has changed my life, for good. I approached this time in my life as an anthropologist might, fully immersed, to try and see.

My legacy as a third generation ECA graduate felt like a destined path to follow. The hybrid in me – my father was a soldier and my grandmother and mother both went to ECA – swerved hard towards art and the philosophy of action within art. As a human being the significance and importance of that swerve, well it’s seeing beyond.

Beyond graduation for most of my friends is a new departure – a step into adulthood. Personally, I am terrified of leaving the first place I can call home. I walked into this college for the first time aged eight with my godfather John Paterson and I am leaving aged 48 with a life lived a thousand times. If I can find the cash I will do a Masters, then perhaps become a teacher, then Principal of ECA? No plan survives first contact.”

Degree show: 1-9 June. Aidan Stephen.

Interview by Jack Hutchinson