University of Leeds

Review by Rebecca England.

Every year the University of Leeds produces graduates in a number of art and design disciplines, culminating in the final year degree shows. These students are just a few out of the activity occurring in Leeds thanks to the Leeds Metropolitan Carnegie and Leeds College of Art and Design programmes running alongside. The University’s shows are often left unnoticed amongst their student population, no doubt due to the inevitable nature of showing at the end of the academic year when the student mass-migration begins. Their courses have a theoretical approach compared to the more practical courses on offer in the city, and therefore the graduate shows are an excellent way for students to display their work in a public arena. The Clothworkers Central Building currently houses a number of shows including Fashion, Graphic & Communications and Art & Design. This is accompanied by the Fine Art degree show in the Old Mining Building that is always worth visiting.

I attended the Graphic Design Class of 2011 Graduate Show this week, running from the 13th – 17th June in the Clothworkers Grass studio. The show hosts sixty two students covering graphic design, photography, advertising, illustration, digital and editorial work. For the majority of the designers featured, this is a prequel to the hotly anticipated D&AD New Blood show at London’s Old Truman Brewery from 1st – 4th July. This showcase for graduate talent provides a platform for the next generation. Although the London show is a national opportunity, the potential to exhibit in the university is greatly appreciated. Graphic design student Steph Burningham is exhibiting a festival tent spray-painting company. She explained to me that the show is not only an excellent networking opportunity, but also a celebration of three years’ hard work for students. It is the highlight of their university career, climaxing with the private view on the 15th. For Burningham, this is the opportunity she has been waiting for: the chance to display her work and portfolio to future employers. For our current generation, the all important network is becoming much more apparent, and for her this is the practice she needs to gain entry into the profession.

The space itself required organisers Tom Elsey and Adam Morten (known collectively as Frances Morley) to be creative with the permanent fixture of a mock-turf floor with the letters ROOM TO THINK emblazoned at the entrance. The result is a series of woodchip boards to act as a ‘blank canvas’ for posters, with a table supported by breezeblocks as the central focus. Graduates are summarised by their posters with accompanying objects displayed in the centre. The posters are uniform yet unique, conveying personality as well as work experience, skills and previous projects. This must be succinct, catchy and engaging for possible employers viewing the show. The general message I received was of the diverse interests and experience of the group, ranging from commercial advertising such as Barbara Yiapanis’ slick Iron Press advert to Adam Logan’s charming book illustrations for Bert the Bee accompanied by wooden puppets. Some have chosen to simply exhibit themselves through a subtle advertisement of their skills in an example of their work. Other students have specifically tailored their display for the job market, such as Kirsty Mann’s ‘self promotion’ poster where she has arranged her skills in a pick-and-choose doll to ‘build the perfect designer’. The perfect designer, of course, being her.

The table is the most interactive element of the show, and how I identified with the students and their interests. The series of posters is overwhelming, and some seem abstract without accompanying text. However, the central area displaying maquettes, samples and portfolios was an effective representation of the students’ individual work, with the posters acting as a taster for the items on display. I was particularly impressed by a promising fashion shoot by Josh Caudwell. The high resolution and professional binding of his book, shot in the university in a lazy-summer haze was a slick presentation, compared to more amateur hand drawn or pixelated images. The diversity of the students is clear, and the majority speak of professionalism and creativity. For a course focussing more on the theoretical than the practical it is a wonderful showcase of new talent. Let us hope that both the private view, and forthcoming D&AD show provide the prosperous opportunities the students have strived for.


Rebecca England graduated from University of Leeds with BA Performance Design and is currently studying for MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Rebecca is working towards becoming a curator, and has experience in social history, country house collections and contemporary art. Her current areas of research are the use of scenography in the recreated historical environment and contemporary/alternative interpretation methods.