Wirral Metropolitan Degree Show

Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, until Sunday 4th July

Reviewed by Barbara Jones

A Fine Art Degree Show is a strange event to review but, then again, the fact that Wirral Metropolitan College traditionally holds its degree show in a conventional gallery setting is an unusual matter in itself.

The work is shown within 5 rooms of the gallery-no mean feat when you consider there are 23 students’ artwork to display this year. Only 8 out of the 23 could be described as “painters” and each one shows their individual stance on what drawing, painting and mark-making is all about. There are “traditional” examples of representational paintings, both landscape and figurative. But also there are intriguing uses of paint and drawing materials, such as Steve Roberts’ work where he appears to be striving to connect with “what is real” within our world. So, the path of a stray insect is recorded upon the paper he is using, alongside the stain of his mug of tea, and the “busy” movement of passers-by is hurriedly captured in scrawled crayon marks together with snatches of overheard conversation. Everything becomes a part of the finished work. His accompanying statement, about rediscovering reality, almost moved me to tears!

There are several other strong pieces in this show worthy of a mention. Jane Copeman has created her own version of the Wailing Wall by casting elder branches in ice and plaster. She invites visitors to the exhibition to write their own messages, roll up the scroll of paper and place it into the many beautiful cracks and crevices within the wall. Alongside she shows some delicate and sensitive soft ground etchings of natural materials such as ferns and leaves.

In fact there seems to be a common theme of organic creativity and beauty running through this show, whether it be Mary Green’s kaleidoscopic slide show of natural found materials or John Hayes’ corroded copper abstract panels or Dawn Parry’s hybrid, Reminiscent of Helen Chadwick, constructed and screenprinted blooms. I also particularly like Sarah McCauley’s red felt organic forms, complete with human hair! As well as the walk-through science inspired installation by Marie Louise Williams.

In contrast, the work of Georgina Calveley returns us to the narrative tradition by taking children’s fairy tales and making her own small scale model versions which she then photographs. Presented with these child-like, but unsettling, images we are reminded of the disturbing nature of the fables with which we spoon feed our children.

There is one video in the exhibition by Cheryl Meikle, which shows a lone figure travelling aimlessly up and down shopping mall escalators against a soundtrack of a woman singing a Bulgarian folk song. I found this video mesmerising and powerful, although I would need to consider the link she makes between this piece and the story of “Orpheus in the Underworld”.

It is extremely difficult to give a representative overview of this exhibition but I would say that it is a refreshing challenge for degree students to show their work in a gallery setting and these artists have managed to rise to this challenge and put together an extremely stimulating and professional looking exhibition which I would recommend you to catch before it finishes!