Student Work-in-Progress Show, Royal College of Art, London
Thursday 19 January 2012
An interim show is a nerve-racking business. Just think about it. You have been
at the college since October and now, just three months into the business of
being an MA student, you are expected to put on a credible show of work. No
wonder the press is not allowed in until about five minutes before the official
And yet an interim show is good for both student and art lover. After all, these students are not absolute beginners. They had to be very good to get here in the first place. And now they are at the RCA to extend and refine their practice. We are seeing them at the beginning of a new leap forward - we hope. What is more, because these students are not yet media savvy, to see such a show as this one helps us to take the temperature of sculpture and painting now. Are either of these disciplines sickly? Or are they in rude health?
From the evidence of this show, painting is now in fine fettle, sculpture much less so. There is a quartet of painters here who possess both singularity of vision and remarkable depths of skill. Their names are Tobias Teschner, Neil Raitt, Benjamin Brett and Katrin Koskaru. Teschner is the strongest of them all. He paints scenes straight out of northern European painting traditions. The largest of his works here (look out for the three very small ones, too, which hang almost exactly opposite) is a finely detailed hallucinogenic landscape that harks back somewhat to Hieronymus Bosch in its mystery and its love of grotesquery. Neil Raitt is a fantastical painter too. Rave shows us a rising hillside of a human head - the way he has made it reminds us of Arcimboldo - strewn with wrecked cars. The trees are Stanley Spencerian, the entire scene bathed in a weird, spectral light.
I wouldn't bank on sculpture having much of a future from the evidence of much of this show. So many of these sculpture students seem to have no conception at all of what they think sculpture ought to be - other than an unruly agglomeration of disparate objects shown together in bizarre combinations, bizarre enough to make you laugh. Is this really all that sculpture amounts to? Could a sculpture not be made from a single material? Would that make it too serious to be laughed at?
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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