Chrisholm, Lauren. Freedom, Sanctuary, Solitude 1.

Chrisholm, Lauren. Freedom, Sanctuary, Solitude 1.

Finally, there is cultural initiative to bring art to Royal Holloway. The utter lack of art and related events on campus is a shame, despite the fact that the College’s founder, Thomas Holloway, paid more than £80,000 (more than £6 million in today’s money) for the 77 paintings that make up the Picture Gallery because he believed that ‘art provided an essential element for the fulfilment of a first-rate educational establishment.’ However, it is appalling how the College positions the collection:

About 60 paintings went on a tour of America between 2010 and 2011, while other paintings are currently on loan abroad, proving their international renown.

Our Collection has also been the subject of media attention, such as the Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, which featured  Tim Barringer’s ‘A Victorian Entrepreneur’s Extraordinary Collecting Project’ and Dr Mary Cowling’s ‘Pictures that Still Matter’,

The BBC also featured the Collection as part of ‘Your Paintings’. All this goes to show that the works are still relevant today and mean a lot to our students, local community and visitors.

If the College were truly serious about the collection, it would actually open the Gallery more often and make the collection an actual accessible part of the College. Furthermore, instead of general talks about the collection, the college should run actual workshops on art history so students could better know their university’s history. Lastly, if the College chose to follow Mr Holloway’s belief that art helps provide a first-rate education, and actually meant that the collection has serious value to our community, then it would invest in actual art and try to grow the collection for the benefit of the whole Royal Holloway community. The fact that we don’t have a History of Art or Fine Art degree programme, yet still have an art society and still have popular modules in various departments that would be offered in an Art History degree course, shows that this need is being ignored.

Thankfully, the student-run Art Society decided enough is enough, and on their own initiative, organised an exhibition to showcase the art of non-art students. This, being their first ever exhibition, had a few annoying quirks. For instance, Lauren Chrisholm’s ‘Freedom, Sanctuary, Solitude’ is a set of 2 history sized Romanticist-influenced paintings that were placed on two sides of a very long corridor. Although it is a problem of the space used, ladders to place paintings in high positions to keep them together could have alleviated this situation. This aside, this is our first on-campus exhibition of this sort (at least since my two years here), and this can be corrected next time, however, the various artists (16 in total) with their myriad of styles betrayed the lack of direction or common unifying theme. Furthermore, this being a student exhibition, it is of no surprise that some works betrayed their makers’ full-time student status, yet some artists stuck out for their sheer quality. It is this, in this rather unconventional space, with non-art students organising an student art exhibition, that makes attending the exhibition worthwhile. The four artists (in alphabetical order) who caught my attention are listed below:

1. Hannah Close

Close, Hannah. Fjord.

Close, Hannah. Fjord.

Close, Hannah. Founders.

Close, Hannah. Founders.

There is something magical about Hannah Close’s work. In ‘Founders’, for instance, what looks like a normal view of Founder’s red bricks is contracted with an ocean-like blue, with ripples of water (the ripples are probably exhaust fumes from the passing by aeroplanes leaving nearby Heathrow). In ‘Fjord’, there is something dreamlike to the sparkling water. This dream-state is enchanting, and somehow makes the viewer want to jump into the water.

2. Rachel Harding

Harding, Rachel. Reverie.

Harding, Rachel. Reverie.

Harding, Rachel. Why Them?

Harding, Rachel. Why Them?

Rachel Harding clearly has talent–ever the more surprising because she is entirely self-taught. ‘Why Them?’, which by the title reads as a piece of social criticism, is in a way, ironic. The bodies of the row of children are disproportional, and in a way, their forms are already becoming abstracted. The second boy from the right’s body, for instance, doesn’t even appear human, with his shoulder looking dislocated and his head too large for his frame. Furthermore, the way his head is propped into the body and its exact positioning looks like a tribal mask and hearkens back to the primitivism of Picasso–which, for me, is odd, because like our Gaugin with his Western obsession of sexualised women, Harding, it seems too, is limiting the discussion of non-western peoples to that of hungry and starving who need to be saved by us. Surprisingly, her other drawing, ‘Reverie’, draws upon tradition, that of the nude woman, which Gaugin was also known for (side note: why is it that every image for ‘reverie painting’ in Google Images are all of women?). Is Harding actually then reinterpreting previous western motifs of art for a contemporary audience?

3. Ashley Stephenson

Stephenson_Ashley_5 Stephenson_Ashley_2 Stephenson_Ashley_1

The main part of Stephenson’s work are a collection of images to go with a story. His style is quite interesting, of stencilled forms and what appears to be spray paint. The humorous story, which is about an alcoholic baby. The images, which are not in any specific order, is a child’s game: we are invited to play the game of looking for the right images and matching to the text. I won’t disclose precise details of the story so that you can go visit the exhibition for yourself. 😉

4. Jessica Vogt

Vogt_Jessica_2

Vogt, Jessica. Johnny Cash.

Vogt, Jessica. Johnny Cash.

Jessica Vogt’s images are side-by-side in the front of the exhibition. Unfortunately I had failed to see a link between the two, and this was a problem of the exhibition on a whole. However, her ‘Johnny Cash’ portrait stands out for the capture of character in the face, and the usage of trompe l’oeil. It seems as if the ash from the cigarette could fall right out of the frame and into our real-world space. Furthermore, the hyper-realistic arm is so ‘realistic’ that it isn’t realistic. As with Harding, Vogt is self-taught. This talent, for me, is surprising, because I wonder if the artists realise what art styles they are picking up on. Whatever the case is, these artists clearly have talent and their works should not be missed.

The Royal Holloway Art Society exhibition is running this weekend only. Sunday 23 March’s opening’s time is from 10am – 4pm in the Windsor Building.

Chrisholm, Lauren. Freedom, Sanctuary, Solitude 2.

Chrisholm, Lauren. Freedom, Sanctuary, Solitude 2.