Own Art: RSA New Contemporaries

Feature by Jac Mantle | 02 Apr 2013

A grand and stately building on Edinburgh’s Mound, the Royal Scottish Academy looks every inch the beacon of intellectual brilliance that the term ‘academy’ originally denoted. What you can’t tell from the outside is that these days the RSA is ‘down with the kids,’ playing host to the art stars of the future, most notably in its annual New Contemporaries show.

New graduates from the Scottish art schools are selected on the basis of their degree shows, for many of them their first major exhibition since graduating. With work in every medium from painting to performance, New Contemporaries is superficially similar to a degree show – the key difference being that a panel has selected the cream of the crop to exhibit.

Having had a few months to regroup, consider their work in cold light and firm up their interests, the artists are at some kind of emergent peak, on an exciting precipice. It’s a no-brainer that this show seems a harbinger of new talent.

A case in point is Gray’s graduate Stephen Thorpe, who featured in the show in 2011 and won the RSA New Contemporaries Award and The Skinny Award. Since then he has exhibited widely, including at The Saatchi Gallery in London, as the recipient of the prestigious worldwide competition held by Saatchi Online. His winning work, painted in oils on a massive canvas, shows an interior landscape of a room where an ominous figure appears to be approaching the viewer amid optical illusions that play with your perceptions of space. Typically busy and overworked in both plane and surface, Thorpe’s paintings seem to refer at once to literal everyday life and the abstract.

His recent solo show at Summerhall was titled ‘Once it is in you it never goes away’ – with any luck, an unwitting reference to his continued success? If sales of his work are anything to go by, it seems likely – he has already sold well through the Own Art scheme, including at Gallery Heinzel in Aberdeen. Thorpe now works full-time as an artist as well as moonlighting as an Assistant Curator at Summerhall.

Another raging success of New Contemporaries is Duncan of Jordanstone graduate Chloe Gough, whose show in 2010 was a sell-out. She was quickly snapped up for the RSA’s online Culture Label collection, and two years later, was chosen for their first-ever online exhibition on Culture Label. This included a new series of paintings and prints and two specially commissioned films about the artist and her printmaking process, shot in Peacock Visual Arts, where she created the works.

Borrowing from traditional portraiture and then subtly drawing the viewer away from a prescribed way of looking, Gough’s work is heavily backed up by a strong theoretical process. A graduate of fine art and philosophy, she cites Sartre, Lacan and Barthes among her influences – a weighty roll call that informs but doesn’t burden her works, which appear as light-hearted studies of ordinary bodies in a way more reminiscent of art of the past. “By removing the gaze and also perhaps the face, I hope to draw more attention to the details present in posture, pose and physical quirks that appear in a person’s stance,” says Gough.

One of Culture Label’s best-selling galleries, the RSA offers a great opportunity to get your hands on the work of emerging artists who will fast become household names. 

RSA New Contemporaries is supported by the Own Art scheme. http://www.ownart.org.uk