Hullabaloo by Bethany Coleman
In 2007 I graduated from the Illustration degree at Southampton Solent University, formerly The Southampton Institute, and now finally returned to a more proper title of Southampton Solent School of Art and Design, based in a shiny and exciting new building in the centre of town opened by Sir Peter Blake in 2012. Last week I was able to visit this year’s satellite degree show at the Coningsby Gallery, organised and fundraised for entirely by the students themselves, the theme was Hullabaloo. Amelia previously spotted some great work from these grads at the D&AD Show, this time the work was labelled, although the people weren’t, so I got to practice my networking (randomly introducing myself to people) skills.
I only ever seem to come to the Coningsby on ridiculously hot days, so thank goodness there are usually free drinks. This was no exception on both counts, but in spite of the usual outspill of private view attendees onto the Fitzrovian pavement, the artwork on display inside was more than interesting enough to get good and sweaty looking at it.
The focus on tactile, print, collage and book making skills as well as a strong emphasis on drawing that I remember from my years at Solent are still very much in evidence and I was pleased that these disciplines have a prized place in the new studios. In fact I’m jealous as I learned that since my time they’ve also acquired a laser cutter and letterpress facilities.
Bookwork by Luke Baker, and cameo by my beer.
Course leader and hipster favourite master of naïve hand drawn typographic print illustration Jonny Hannah told me that this year in particular has been an exceptional group, with a record number of firsts awarded. His influence is visible in the students’ approaches both in their use of text and print techniques, and the easy, practical, immediate no nonsense visual communication and embracing of traditional kitsch British imagery (a number of circus fonts and Punch and Judy type images were in evidence.) This year group, Jonny told me, really understood what illustration is.
Illustration by Emma Chu
I’m inclined to both agree and disagree. The work here pays testament to the heart and soul of traditional illustration, rooted in things you can touch and experience, books and prints and paper cuts. The table on which book works were displayed was the most exciting part of the show, and it’s clear that these graduates have a real understanding of how to create work that begs to be picked up and touched, to be read and experienced. There were a lot of yummy textures and colours and boundaries played with. And that’s beautiful and good and it’s true, but it’s not all of what illustration is today, in an industry that’s increasingly focused on the digital. Some of these students have clearly bridged this divide and have a foot in the each pond, especially seen in the art of Emma Chu and Bethany Coleman.
A recurring theme in discussion with the students of a course with such a strong print focus, was access to print facilities post degree. While it’s obvious that such a focus leads to exciting work and keeping important techniques and technologies alive, the question of how to produce a portfolio when the working methods you’ve specialised in are not easily or affordably available can be a stumbling block for graduates, and one I hope these inspired young creatives don’t allow to trip them up.
Here are some of my favourite graduating illustrators and their work.
This beautiful oversized book of linocuts combining some lovely use of typography and close up imagery with skilful balancing of positive and negative space very much caught my eye. It’s by Alix De Courcy who I unfortunately did not meet at the exhibition, a perfect example of printmaking as a design feature.
Grace Williams’ macabre intricate linework – she also makes a mean mandala.
Kirby Pyle uses lovely deep ink textures with smudged out monoprint designs, and also as materials to create relief collages. I spoke to her about her texture fetish and her beautiful monoprinted zine of John Masefield’s poem ‘Sea Fever’ – expect to see her on the small press scene in short order.
Greta Staron presented only original or half original work – in her limited edition art books she saves some elements to be hand added so each is unique. She hates to work slowly and likes to expose the soul of her working process, so this suits her style actually.
Emily Wilks similarly works with lots of printed textures, but cute them up to make children’s collages. Her final major project involved picking key imagery from 10 classic childrens novels, and then combining them together into densely spaced designs that would make great wrapping or end papers. I like that they are a sort of condensement of the iconography of childhood, but I’m sure this style would work equally well in a simple narrative.
Emma Chu was my favourite artist in the show, and as I said above she combines the physical organic qualities of print and collage digitally to look rich and strange and really fascinating. She’s currently looking for a graphics or illustration internship so if you have one open I suggest you snap her up.
Laura Hunt was another favourite, and I enjoyed chatting with her about her progression on the course. Interestingly she used to only do really neat geometric pencil work, and for her this hand lettered design is really loose – it looks pretty tight to me! Her combination of found materials and colourful text design has already got her a mural commission and I think this style could take her a long way.
Ellie Aaen’s clean autobiographical work is charming and a marked contrast to many of her texture rich coursemates.
Dessy Baeva’s work has a joyful freedom about it which suits her subject matter of beat generation journeys. She likes combining neat and messy text together and is experimenting with limited palette work.
Jo Porter has achieved a lot of beautiful lino cuts of animals for a children’s activity book with minimal injuries.
Bethany Coleman designed the poster for the show, and it’s easy to see why she’s poster girl for the group, her work obviously owes a debt to Jonny Hannah in the use of text and colour, but also has a real vintage travel book feel which suits her obsession with documenting the idiosyncrasies of her travels near and far – turning coffee shop sketches into reportage posters. She’s working on some design work for Southampton Council but also has exciting plans for graphic novels, and a wealth of visual material from her recent trip to Mexico to turn into more colourful, immediate pieces.
Luke Baker also has a very immediate live drawn feel to his work – very evocative book designs, I wish I’d had the chance to ask him about this work.
Jack Snelgar I also did not meet, but look at that juicy linework and limited colour!
Rebecca Deans I did get to talk to and we chatted about movement and life in drawing – obviously evident in her quirky animal characters! We also talked about the importance of always making fresh work – a theme which came up with a few different people and which is so good to see in graduates – they’ll need that enthusiasm and determination, long may it last.
Mist Sveinbjornsson I spoke to just before leaving and was interested to learn that this was another type of printing all together (so many techniques on show here!), her work is based on the charity Skateistan who fund skate boarding schools for girls in countries where they are banned from many other sports. The pictures are made from soft ply wood and use reduction printing – a risky process since once you have begun carving the second or third colour from your block, you can no longer begin a new print if you mess up. Amazingly she made only 3 copies of each print! Perhaps this is meant to reflect the risky status of skating girls in Muslim states – she didn’t say so but if not I think she should start saying it is, you can never have too much justification for your artwork after all.
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