“We are quite blessed at university, with the time, space and support,” says Joella Wheatley, winner of the inaugural Platform Graduate Award. “So when all of that is taken away, you’re left to fend for yourself, trying to juggle the struggles of being an artist, and finding the space to do it.”

Taking your first steps as a new art graduate can be daunting. The Platform award for emerging artists, developed by some of the South East’s major galleries, has helped recent Bournemouth graduate Wheatley get a head start through a £2,500 cash award and a tailored professional development programme.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” says Wheatley, “and to have this straight after graduating will create opportunities that aren’t usually accessible so early on – it gives me recognition and a platform to carry on making. I’m excited to work with Aspex, Modern Art Oxford, Turner Contemporary and MK Gallery for the next 12 months – they’ve been very supportive.”

Wheatley is a painter interested in exploring the mind as a channel for restructuring the concept of space. “I tend to live the subject before I use it as my main focus,” she explains. “For example, my current work involves the idea of isolation, therefore I isolated myself beforehand so I could honestly experience the mental and physical challenges. Paintings that have always interested me are the ones that perfectly capture a moment in time, like Francis Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’: you can hear that high-pitched screaming in your head when viewing it.”

Wheatley is quick to praise the support and advice she received from her tutors at Arts University College Bournemouth. A stint as an intern at Charlie Smith gallery, London, was also incredibly useful. “The director has been very generous, sharing his knowledge,” she says.

Wheatley has also found a-n to be an important resource: “It’s really important to find what’s happening around where you live, to get involved with the artist community. I live close to London where there’s so much going on. One of the great things about a-n is that it brings everyone together. I’m interested to start a blog on Artists Talking and to find out about residencies and opportunities through Jobs and Opps.”

At this point in her career, when good advice is so valuable, what’s the best she’s had? “The main message has been to be yourself,” she says. “To know what’s happening around you, keep going with your practice, don’t stop.”

More on a-n.co.uk:

Read more new graduate profiles

Find out about AIRTIME events in 2013, for artists and final-year art students

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