Review: FUAM Graduate Art Prize at Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery

Zoe James, Untitled, 2016, Photographs on MDF

Zoe James, Untitled, 2016, Photographs on MDF

The FUAM Graduate Art Prize is a multi-disciplinary celebration of the talent from some of the most prestigious art institutes in Leeds. The award, now in its fourth year, features entrants that represent not only their graduating class but their specialism, with each artist illustrating a part of the spectrum that is representative of not only the universities’ art scene, but of Leeds and beyond.

We have such a vibrant art scene in Leeds, it does beg the question of how the Art Prize could possibly get a flavour of everything that is going on in the city without erasing subcultures that are just as important yet not as established as those in conventional academia.

The selected artists, consisting of students from the School of Design and the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, have produced disparate pieces that deservedly take their place in the shortlist and are not only provocative in their own rights but are varied in their style and approach, not to mention  in their finished forms.

It’s unclear whether selecting these pieces was a conscious decision to appeal to all visitors to the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, as opposed to those ‘in the know’, but learning about the artists behind the works does provide some insight into what is on the rise in the art world, and how it is being created by those up-and-comers. One of the main arguments that is often dragged up is that of what the difference is between fine art and contemporary art. Some say that fine art is just contemporary art with a date stamp, and that art is only deemed fine once it has proven its value, either with a price tag or popularity. School of Design graduates Zoe James and Francesca Ivaldi have taken this into consideration when creating their work.

James’ ‘Untitled’ is an example of the interdisciplinary phase that contemporary art is slowly edging through, combining traditional painting with techniques in design technology – layering and distorting brushstrokes in photo-editing suite Photoshop – and providing a platform for conversations about the role of computers within art.

Similarly, Ivaldi’s excerpt from her larger collection ‘Greener Pastures’ uses mixed media – including poetry from acclaimed professor Paul Gilroy – to explore identity and what it is to be British and black. The use of another person’s art will always invoke talk of postmodernism.

The two entrants from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies have a much more technical vibe to their works with India Pearce and Emii Alrai both using installation to convey very different subjects. Pearce’s and Alrai’s respective pieces focus on the social and technical importance of film within photography and the significance of ordinary objects across eastern and western cultures.

The winner and runner-up of the FUAM Graduate Art Prize will receive a cash prize to further their careers in the industry. However, perhaps more significantly, two of the judges in the Art Prize are curators of two top galleries in Leeds. Bryony Bond is the creative director at The Tetley and Derek Horton is the curator and co-director of &Model (along with Professor Frank Finlay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Leeds). It is arguable that these two are Leeds’ tastemakers. So should we be paying attention to what ultimately wins, as a precursor to what we should be expecting to see more of in the upcoming months and years? Not a question? Rewrite as… Both Bond and Horton are arguably two of the most influential tastemakers in Leeds, and thus we should be paying attention to which piece ultimately wins. It will be interesting to note who is received most favourably within the gallery and who is inevitably crowned winner, as precursors of what we can expect to see more of in the coming months and years.

Find out more about the FUAM Graduate Art Prize 2016 on the website.