Review: Belfast College of Art Degree Show 2014...


Caroline McElroy

- Visual Artist (Drawing & Painting)

Rachel Lister

- Fine Artist (Drawing & Painting)

Susan Burnett

- Textile & Graphic Designer (Textiles)

Cara McCaughey

- Textile Artist and Illustrator (Textiles)

Hannah MS Granger

- Textile Designer (Textiles)

Amy Caughey

- Fashion Designer & Maker (Textiles)

EDIT: Gorgeous photography by Jonathan Graham (thank you to 'anon' for the tip-off!)

Grainne McKee (Fashion Textiles)

Karen Hanna

- Embroidery / Print Designer (Textiles)

Daniel Nelis - Fine Artist (Drawing & Painting)

Claire Mc Elduff - Fashion Knitwear Designer (Fashion Textiles)


We attended the Degree Show at Belfast College of Art a couple of years ago, and left frustrated and disillusioned. It was the first time I had seen the output from the College here since moving to Belfast from Glasgow and I left, frankly, annoyed. 

I was cross at the seemingly (displayed) low skill level of the graduates, the derivative nature of the work and the lack-luster display... I felt cross because so much of this is down to the teaching behind the work, (though of course you can just get bad years) which needs to be the driving force of a school, and is the standard that gets set and that 'must be maintained'. All this is down to the educators. If a student is copying another contemporary artist or designer, verbatim, it's up to the teaching staff to step in and put their foot down, and notice... if a year-group isn't brought up to skill level, it's hard for them to realise their concepts in their final year to a really great standard of work.

It all just felt 'not good enough'.

That made me really sad.

As a successful luxury brand based in Northern Ireland, and one half of us trained here, we want the art and design talent coming out of the art school here to be *dazzling*... we want it to be able to stand up to the work of other designers in the UK, and around the world. Being 'good enough' for Belfast isn't enough, Belfast can and should be world-class, and there's no reason for young design talent not to be aiming for that peak.

So... we tentatively ventured back this year, and I'm really glad we did! There was some fantastic work at the show this year, with particular strength in Textiles (Fashion, Print and Weave), Drawing & Painting, and a real talent in Photography - our highlights are above. As Textiles designers, we were particularly happy to see such interesting and original work in Textiles & Fashion (and with potential for Interior applications) - it was an incredibly strong show... and we met some really engaged, professional, and well trained individuals presenting their work - market ready, and raring to go. Particular mentions go to Susan Burnett, Hannah Granger and Cara McCaughey whose skill level was really clear to see. It was good to have a chat with Susan and Hannah and hear about their plans for the future.

As a former jeweller, I was disappointed with the show from the Silversmithing & Jewellery department.  Concept, and trying to challenge convention is one thing, but to do it well, there needs to be an excellent under-pinning of practical skill and I felt it lacking. Keen to see what next year brings, though. 

Illustration had some fantastic work, but the presentation was a very strange choice and made it hard to identify each artists work as it was all mixed in together. It's a shame it was all digitally, and identically presented (and for this reason we have no photo's of it), so an important thing to consider from a business point of view, you never know who is coming to hire, and they need to be able to see YOUR work, clearly!

They have a great Pinterest board, though, which makes it easy to see their lovely work. Check it out here

> http://www.pinterest.com/DrawnInBelfast/

Sometimes, it's very easy to get in to a discussion about art & design and whether you like something, and it all being 'subjective' and about 'taste', or even, that you just don't quite 'understand the concept'. And, while that's true to a certain extent, when someone has SKILL under-pinning their design/concept/collection, their work is instantly stand-out. Whether it's your jam, or not. You can love the aesthetic of other work, perhaps even better, but when someone is good, they're GOOD.

Your time at Art School is about learning your Craft, and honing it. The real work of becoming an artist and designer only starts once you've left school, and begin to really flex your (conceptual) muscles... but, you need your muscles to have trained, and learned, in order for them to grow. 

I'm really glad to have visited the show and seen some work that I can whole heartedly say was GOOD. I think it would stand up against graduates from other schools, and that's what Belfast, and Northern Ireland needs. There are fantastic resources in this country for artists and designers - CraftNI, The Arts Council, InvestNI (to name a few) - so it's good to see the seeds of our design future planted and flourishing at this years show.

Finally - a note, and a plea to all graduates and staff at Belfast... PLEASE put out your business cards and keep them topped up, or centrally organise them to be left with whomever is manning your department. You've worked too long and too hard to miss out on opportunities when people visit and might wish to contact you. There were several people whose work we loved but had no way of contacting.

Overall, good job Belfast! And a huge congratulations to the Graduates of 2014!!

Please visit if you can!

Degree Show at Belfast School of Art is on until the 14th, so you can still catch it tomorrow.