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Interview with Brian Griffiths, 3rd Year Tutor at the Royal Academy Schools, London

The RA Schools Show, the annual exhibition of works by final year students, opens tomorrow at the iconic Royal Academy Schools. Held in the historic studio spaces of the Schools, situated in Burlington Gardens the exhibition invites students to show works developed over a three-year period of study, providing visitors with a rare opportunity to view and buy exceptional pieces from an aspiring generation of international artists. The RA Schools support a broad range of contemporary art practice, and visitors can expect to see work that includes painting, sculpture, performance, video and digital media.

Aesthetica spoke to Brian Griffiths, 3rd year tutor at the RA Schools to discover more about the Schools unique course programme and the works on display at this year’s exhibition.

A: Can you tell us about some of the up-and-coming talents we should be looking out for at this year’s show?

BG: The Royal Academy Schools is a small Art School, so this year there are 17 artists in the RA Schools Final show. Even though it is small, there is a wide diversity of artworks, modes of production and critical positions. Each artist’s show is incredibly different – they ask different questions, employ a variety of visual languages and of course have particular sensibilities. So in this diversity the word talent is subjective; many of these artists have different ambitions for their shows, their art practices and their lives. They are all individuals testing, experimenting with ideas, histories and narratives. So we have final shows this year with: introspective, small monochrome paintings; operatic installation with a pleasurable interior environment; Kool London radio station taking up a residency for duration of show; video installation that examines are complex relationship with objects; painting restaged as unstable fragments and units; hallucinogenic landscape painting, and highly coloured cast things that confuse the relationship between image and object. I believe the audience should come along, see the shows and choose the “talent” via the art work.   

A: Amongst the works on display, can you identify any common themes or trends this year?

BG: This is a common question asked about each final show. What identifies them collectively is not the artwork or how the final shows look but their desire to question what art should or can do now in 2013, so “What is art’s role?”, “How can art have a social value or even how can it describe or attempt to examine our lives now in this heady late capitalist global society?”. These 17 artists are a knowledgeable, innovative and imaginative bunch who are confident to propose different ways of thinking or different ways of being in the world.

A: The 2013 graduating students follow in some formidable footsteps, and the schools are unique in the programme and opportunities they offer. Can you talk about some of the major benefits of undertaking study with the schools?

BG: The RA Schools is an ever-evolving and developing contemporary art school that offers a three year Postgraduate Fine Art Course. The three years is unique within the UK and most of the worlds art Schools; this allows a period of prolonged and intense study.  It gives the rare opportunity for artists to scrutinise their art practice, to be challenged and to develop their work in a critical and supportive environment. The opportunities at the RA Schools are numerous and multi-layered. These run from being taught by the RA Schools’ diverse and experienced staff who are all practising artists to having tutorials or group seminars with visiting international artists, academics, curators, writers and Royal Academicians.

There are fantastic lecture programmes from international renowned academics and, as well as a rich artists’ talk programme, there are also chances to do exchanges to Germany and Japan, travel bursaries, a beautiful studio space, workshops in traditional print and digital print, woodwork, metal work, video editing, and of course to have a final show in Piccadilly London. Also there are no course fees…I could go on!

A: Can you give us some insight into how the works are displayed within the space this year?

BG: Intelligently, so that it looks after the work they have produced and hopefully restates their ideas and interests with confidence.

Each space is then necessarily different – so there will be a marked change in how work is displayed or installed. In many of the shows this year, the mode of display will be integral to how you encounter and understand the work.  So how something is held up to be looked at changes – from the institutional white plinth, to perfunctory tables, to bespoke veneered stands and the screen.

The audience will go from the full-to-the-brim show – the bombastic – as an immersive environment, to the more modest and quiet intervention. Also, importantly, there are a number of artworks that disperse out of the RA Schools and are relocated into the world and reframed – Adham Faramawy artwork can be downloaded from the RA Schools website at http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/raschools/exhibitions/download-work-by-adham-faramawy,1036,MA.html

A: The Premiums Interim Exhibition earlier in the year affords us the opportunity to see the students’ work in the middle of their studies. What kind of progression and development are you able to chart between these two shows?

BG: The Premiums show is for the 2nd year students and is a large group show outside of the RA Schools. The final show is at the end of the 3rd year and marks the culmination of the artists’ study and is in the RA Schools.

These final shows are solo presentations, so they allow for a more individual statement without the compromises that inevitably arise when curated in a group exhibition. The progression and development occurs in different ways for each artist. So, some of this years graduating artists will have changed their work drastically – say, from sculpture to video/filmmaking – but have followed a consistent line of enquiry, and other artists will have clarified, refined and focused their work over the last year. The final show is generally more assured and insistent.

A: What sort of things can we expect this year’s cohort to be moving on to? Do you know of any future projects any of them have lined up?

BG: All of the students have future projects of different types and scales. To mention a couple of projects: Marie Von Heyl won the prestigious Deutsche Bank Award and, in collaboration, will be developing a radio play over the next year, so listen out for that. Michael O’Reilly is doing a year long artist-in-residence in a school, and Tom Owen has a exhibition at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Berlin.

RA Schools Show, 19 until 30 June, Royal Academy Schools, Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD. www.royalacademy.org.uk

Image: Joe Frazer, 3rd year RA Schools student

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