2016 Degree Shows: Slade School of Fine Art and Central Saint Martins

May 26th, 2016 /

Every time we head into summer, our minds turn to third year Art Students. It’s degree show season and squeezing all your thoughts and passion into a ‘final’ series of work (especially one you might have to explain to Grandma) just ain’t easy.


All the same, it’s the challenge that awaits every Art Student – to reach a degree’s end and reveal what you’ve been working on for the past three years. Yet for Fine Art students at the Slade School of Fine Art and Central Saint Martins, the challenge has arrived early; both schools opened their degree shows this week, well ahead of the usual mid-June dates for degree shows.


Here at The Art Student, we recommend visiting degree shows as a smart way to get to know an art school. They’re a chance to see the ambition of the students there, to slink around studio spaces and enjoy the kind of work you could be making in future.


But don’t worry if you can’t make it – we went to take a look at both. Of the hundreds of pieces on show, here’s a few of our favourites.




Slade School of Fine Art 

Saturday 21st May – Thursday 26th May 2016


Whereas most art schools have long since left their original buildings for hard edged, practical, buildings, the Slade has stubbornly stayed put in their graceful old site on the main UCL quad since the 1880s. We love its well-worn, self-effacing, atmosphere and were surprised by the generous proportions of the building, which meant most students had a really enviable amount of space to show in.


But before we talk about the work, did you know Fine Art has a smell? Well it does and it’s wonderful; a dusty mix of oils, paper and Stan Smith shoes. And had we followed our nose around the Slade’s warren of studio spaces, we would have found Madeleine Pledge‘s work first.


Pledge’s list of works reads like a recipe, including cayenne pepper, blueberry and chamomile screen prints, but it was overwhelmed by the tangy smell of leather rising from the floor, which was covered in thick grey leather. Two sofas (yup, more leather) stood in the centre of the space and were draped with clay frills and a luxurious blue jacket (yet more). Frankly you’ll have to ask Pledge what it all means, but we were thrilled by the intensity she achieved through her deliberate repetition of material.


Madeleine Pledge, Slade Degree Show 2016. Also visible, work by Joshua Way.


Next on our shortlist is David Donald, who presented laser-cut ice cream wafers, a large rolled pencil drawing and some very pure paintings of shirts and dogs. Donald’s simple approach is deceptive though, because his gorgeous sense of colour and pattern reveals the depth of care and consideration he’s given this work.


David Donald, Slade BA Degree Show 2016.


Lastly, up on a hard to find third floor mezzanine, we took a selfie in Duncan Gibbs‘ scene of toxic vandalism. Apparently it’s an unfolding work that has grown every day since the show opened. Stretching across the windows, walls and floor of the space were vivid marks of some mysterious violence – it felt a little like 90’s slacker art meets Mike Nelson.


Duncan Gibbs, Slade BA Degree Show 2016


We look forward to visiting the next Slade degree show in 2017 and pray that Gibbs isn’t still cleaning up.



Central Saint Martins

Wednesday 25th May – Sunday 29th May 2016


Remember those colleges that moved to hard edged, practical, new buildings? Well CSM is one of them and their new home at Kings Cross is flipping enormous.  It’s got a great energy and must be an exciting place to work – perhaps not ideal for quiet, more thoughtful work, but it really benefited the students who chose to work at large scale.


A multi-story cascade of foil by Blanche Teston had echoes of Warhol’s silver-lined Factory, and conscious or not, seemed to be one of several efforts we spotted to introduce some mess or otherwise rethink CSM’s huge main atrium.


Blanche Teston, Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art Degree Show 2016


We found a quiet rebel in Leo Alessandro Lopez, whose series of three paintings used taut rope work to create layers, folds and pockets containing objects that seemed to have rusted, giving both form and colour to the canvas. It was a refreshing arte povera exception in a studio that was hot from the glow of HD screens.


Leo Alessandro Lopez, Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art Degree Show 2016


And now for a confession. After four hours of practicing our slow-gallery-walk, we were getting tired. We almost didn’t make it to the top floor, but thank goodness we did, because it was there that we found our favourite work of the day.


High Art Priestess, Marina Abramović has said that art must be disturbing, ask questions and predict the future. But that’s just wrong – art can crack a joke sometimes too. Max Hollands says he’s “desperately trying to make sense of the world through humorous videos”, we reckon he’s basically a Vine-generation William Wegman.


In a space papered with white woodchip, Hollands’ playful video shows him calling family, friends and strangers to ask them a perplexingly open question: “What should I do for my degree show?”. We weren’t the only ones who stood to watch the full 20 minutes.


Max Hollands, Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art Degree Show 2016


Answers the artist received included ‘a massive drawing of my face’, ‘a video that explains the history of Japan’ and a suggestion from the University of Arts London switchboard that he should speak to an administrator or course tutor if he’s struggling to come up with ideas.


Happily, we saw no shortage of ideas at Slade nor Central Saint Martins. Both were confident, vigorous, shows – and Hollands’ question epitomised for us the utter freedom of degree shows and indeed, of making art.

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