The inaugural exhibition of the MA Painting course at Coventry University has ended on a high with an exhibition of works by the first graduating students – and they have set the bar high for those that follow.
The top floor of the Graham Sutherland building on the corner of Cox Street in the city centre is the venue for the show, open Saturday, September 10 and Monday-Wednesday 12-14, and it is worth detouring to see (if you can get in the building). There are works by just three full-time and two part-time students.
The works that drew me in most were by Zhen Zhai, who also calls herself Dakota Zuch, and who comes from the south of China. She has created a number of paintings of life in China for two very different groups of people. Some of the works are ‘normal’ painting-size, but there are also dozens of small postcard-sized ones with an extraordinary amount of detail.
The whole collection is called They Don’t Want to Live With Grandparents. Some paintings feature the glamour and wealth of the big city, where a bright highway cuts through dark sky scrapers, and contrasts with village scenes of poor homes and pylons, trucks in quarries, and people gathering berries or selling fruit by the roadside. Zhen Zai told me they were about the children left behind with grandparents when parents went off to the cities for work. They stayed poor, whereas the children that grew up in the cities were rich – shown in these images of university graduation, glamorous hotels and schools. She had been to the rural north to meet the children left behind, some of whom didn’t even know what the glasses on her face were. The poignant story has created some confident, skilled paintings; Zhen is returning to China to complete another MA there.
Matthew Morrison Macaulay’s work is familiar from previous exhibitions in the city, but studying for the MA has led him to rethink and look anew at paintings, and he said this collection is “paintings about paintings”. In particular he had become interested in Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus from the Ashmolean in Oxford. Some of his works feature lines bisecting them, and this comes from the balcony and shutters in the picture, and there’s also more blurring of colours and seemingly smudging over “in a Richter-esque way”. It’s interesting to see where his works will go in his future studies.
Susa Lee works with textiles and paintings; some, which she said come from her imagination, showed cats in colourful, abstract scenes, plus one which brought back nightclub memories. The textile works involve cutting, painting and arranging in flag-like ways. She said the MA had been all she hoped it would be, and said she has realised she has to see other people’s artworks ‘live’ to be inspired by them.
Part-time MA student Andy Farr has just finished showing his work at the Deasil Gallery in Leamington, but they focused on movement and speed and the three here are very different. They are large, and more concerned with social issues, The Third of January 2015 links to Goya’s The Third of May 1808 which is shown on one wall of a room, seemingly looking over New York, and featuring an image from an IS killing on the table. Ideal Home is clearly anything but, a chair laying on its side in another room, and trails of red streaking down the painting. In the third painting, children’s toys merge with more adult videos to draw attention to the loss of innocence. They are accomplished and show his versatility.
Doris Tissington is also part-time so half way through her studies; her paintings are extremely colourful, involving lots of bright circles and patterns, one seeming almost like a mandala.
Graham Chorlton thanked the students for their commitment to the course and each other, their hard work and spirit of adventure, but he has also clearly brought out the best in them, and it will be interesting to see those who follow.