Emergent Artists - Glasgow School of Art

Emergent Artists

First in show

Talitha Kotzé talks to a trio of emergent artists as they prepare to exhibit their work at the Glasgow School of Art

Four years ago, the exhibitions department at the Glasgow School of Art initiated a programme to support early career artists based in Glasgow. Selected artists are given the opportunity to exhibit new work in one of the beautiful high ceiling studios in the Mackintosh building, complete with large windows which provide natural light.

The programme has picked up momentum with the first open submission this year, and will showcase work by Karen Cunningham, Yvonne Mullock and Michael Hill Johnston.

Entitled Natural Order, viewers can expect to see a development of Johnston’s painted nature scenes; Mullock will show ceramic sculptures, inspired by the remnant post-industrial slag heaps around Edinburgh; and Cunningham will present ‘Cellini Jewellery, after Sol Le Witt’ – a gold necklace set in a cast concrete cube. It creates a poetic dialogue with Mullock’s large lump of coal, which has been polished to a high shine through hours of attention (and a nod in the direction of the miners who used to carve coal into jewellery objects for their nearest and dearest).

‘The programme fulfils a definite need,’ says Cunningham. ‘There is a good amount of artist-run spaces and commercial galleries in Glasgow but I think the programme specifically addresses the gap between these in a very positive way and previous exhibitions have shown local artists’ work at an interesting and important time in their careers.’

All three artists have a consistent practice under their belt, exemplified by regular exhibitions, residencies and professional development awards. They are all proactive in organising their own shows, serving on artist-run gallery committees and curating programmes.

‘It provided me with a welcome boost and the impetus to keep pushing my practice,’ says Johnston. ‘Something like this can really help when you have been working away for too long to give up, and yet haven’t quite got far enough to start paying the bills. It’s a nice thumbs up!’

Mullock agrees and also points out that it provides the opportunity to show work to a different audience than the regular crowds who frequent the same exhibition venues around town.

For Cunningham, a direct result has been that she was able to work to a scale which had not previously been possible. She explains that the group decided to give the exhibition a title to bring things together for the viewer as they realised that their practices are quite different. ‘We thought the term “emergent” is one that someone uses to describe you, not perhaps a term you might use to describe yourself. I think the idea of ‘nature’ and the nature of things, materials and systems occurs in our work in different ways but otherwise our practices are quite distinctive from each other.’

‘I didn’t really know Yvonne and Karen’s practice that well beforehand and indeed I won’t know exactly what they’re up to until I come to install the show,’ says Johnston. ‘But that’s exciting! Seeing how different work and viewpoints sit together. Will there be harmony, or discord?’

Reflecting on the exhibitions of the last few years, it is clear that the art school has developed an innovative programme, providing an unexpected and promising roster of new artists with support at a crucial point in their careers.

Emergent Artists: Natural Order (Karen Cunningham, Yvonne Mullock & Michael Hill Johnston), Studio 40, Glasgow School of Art, Thu 20 Aug–Sat 12 Sep 2009.

Emergent artists: Yvonne Mullock, Michael Hill Johnson & Karen Cunningham

The fourth exhibition in the GSA's emergent artists series.

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