Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art adn Design

Punctuality has never been one of my strongest suits, but even I was surprised when I turned up for the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art Degree Show 2009 a day early. Returning for the private view the following evening attributing my previous attendance to a hideous ‘calendar malfunction,’ I was greeted by what seemed to be the entire population of Dundee.

The degree show this year was held in conjunction with the SSA (Scottish Society of Artists), and situated in the cavernous surroundings of the ‘Vision building,’ (situated halfway between the college and the DCA,) liberating this collection of student artwork from the usual enclosed spaces and stifled corridors usually experienced at these sort of events. The SSA exhibition was surely drawing a crowd as well, but after a quick look around the only things that caught my eye were some form of stuffed toy and a version of the Empire State Building made out of biros.

Three large rooms upstairs played host to the Fine Art and Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices work, with offerings from both courses seemingly interspersed with each other. Usually there is a tendency for a strong bias towards painting/2-D medium, and to realist and photo-realist styles at these sorts of events, happily the sculptors were out in reasonable force, and, well you can’t have everything your own way. That said there was a reasonable diversity of styles on show and some impressive individual exhibits. The degree show this year seemed to truly benefit from its new surroundings with few exhibits feeling overly claustrophobic. On the whole the show was well curated, and despite the number of exhibitors it held my attention, if anything it left me wanting more.

Artists of particular mention included: James Kingdom Smyth with an impressive interactive installation; a complex construction involving a typewriter, some pulleys and an array of apples and hands cast in various materials. The screen prints of Angus Little were difficult not to appreciate, if only for his technical competency with his chosen medium. Speaking of technical competency the ink and wash drawings of Bruce Shaw were truly astounding. Having spent many years trying to master a fineline pen just to write with, seeing it used here to create compositions of such detail and scale was if nothing else humbling. Shaw’s work also retained a curious narrative element, creating a certain sense of mystery and intrigue, and also exhibiting a dynamic sense of movement.

Following the vein of technical skill leads this discourse aptly onto the work of Heather Crowther and Ryan Gordon. Crowther’s nudes presented not only strong technical painting skills, but a keen eye for composition and also enough symbols and repeated elements to keep the mind as occupied as the eye. Gordon’s portraits in contrast were pure glamour, obviously heavily influenced by 40s and 50s American pop culture and meticulously executed in graphite, leading to compositions it is hard to believe were completed with the humble pencil.

From here the show began to explore slightly darker territory, and it is impossible to comment upon the work of Antony Connell without referring to the obvious influence of Francis Bacon. Connell’s work, while outwardly disturbing, just didn’t have the pure visceral element of disgust present in the work of Bacon. If this was the works intention it seemed slightly over-worked with too shiny and composed a finish. The graphite and chalk drawings of Jamie Irvine were paradoxically more and less disturbing, his abstract compositions drafted with such subtlety and delicacy also retained just enough visual triggers to suggest some form of organism or biological material, creating a cognitive wonderment but also a visceral disgust.

For me though the star of the show was Jay O’Reilly’s ‘laser cone,’ if ever there was an artwork I wish I’d had the idea for first, this is it. Green beans of laser light arranged in a smoke filled room to create an hourglass like shape was both a unique use of materials in the show and amazingly visually stimulating.

I left Dundee with the nagging feeling that I’d missed something, and in some ways I still feel that way writing about it now. The show was good, but that really is the strongest adjective I can think of to describe it, for all the flash and publicity I couldn’t help but think the show was missing something, quite what though I cannot explain. As with all degree shows there was the odd exhibit that didn’t quite live up to the standard of the rest, but I don’t think this was what I was reacting to. Fundamentally I think I found this show just a little too ‘safe,’ as previously mentioned there were some exceptionally talented students here, but very few of them were pushing boundaries or causing any controversy. Call me a drama queen, but I would have liked to have seen something with a little more bite, something to fight about, something to defend, something to love rather than just admire.