National Art School Grad Shows

The National Art School’s (NAS) end of year graduate exhibitions are testament to why Australia's oldest art school still stands at the forefront of art education in this country. NAS has been celebrated for nearly a century for its intensive studio-based, artist-led learning environment. This year’s graduates join the ranks of esteemed NAS alumni including John Olsen, Margaret Olley, Cressida Campbell, Fiona Hall, Guido Maestri, Fiona Foley and Mitch Cairns.

The 2019 MFA exhibition featured the work of thirty-four final year postgraduate students from all departments – ceramics, drawing, painting, photomedia, printmaking and sculpture. A crucible of creative talent, the show garnered over 3,000 attendees at the launch and sold $100,000 of artwork, testament to the caliber and collectability of this year’s Masters students. Among the many highlights were Belle Blau’s minimal geometric and text-based paintings, wherein a gentle feminine voice resounded over the conventionally masculine tropes and forms of abstraction. In the photography department, Gabriella Lo Presti’s works – printed on acrylic and fabric, or wrapped in plastic – twisted suburbia and nostalgia, mundanity and sublimity, into strangely familiar compositions of interior and exterior space. A common thread weaving many of the graduates’ works was a focus on the Anthropocene and a quivering anxiety about our contemporary ecological crises. Inspired by biology and molecular structures, Annette Bukovinsky’s delicate ceramic forms paired with industrial materials addressed our fraught relationship with nature. Leaf-like mounds of ceramic leaves precariously positioned on a trolley, or an amorphic clay form draped over a sawhorse, represent Bukovinsky’s ‘search for a new ecological philosophy that can address the challenges threatening the vitality of our planet’. Meanwhile, Danja Derkenne’s sculptural works – which incorporate welded steel, ceramic, found plastics, bone and metals – looked at the Australian bush environment and issues around solastalgia – the psychological distress caused by environmental change.

Following the recently concluded MFA show is the biggest emerging art show of the year – the Undergraduate exhibition. After three years of refining their skills, 135 Bachelor of Fine Art graduates represent the next wave of talent to be set free from behind the tall sandstone walls of the former Darlinghurst Gaol.

The Undergraduate Show transforms NAS into a giant exhibition space as each department opens its doors to display installations of student work in their own studios and the galleries. Many of the artworks cast a curious eye back to history, engaging with early techniques, themes and genres to critically consider our present and future. Justine Roche’s haunting series of Tintype portraits depicting fellow graduating female art students marks a poignant moment in time. Created with the wet collodion photographic process, the works pay homage to the female artists that have gone before her whilst also postulating about the future in a world where gender disparity is still pervasive. The textile weavings of Aerial Morallos fuse hard-edged geometric abstraction with soft tactility, with allusions to the female domestic experience unpicking the masculinised fabric of abstract painting. Other works that position our present in conversation with the history of painting and abstraction are Brydie Greedy’s paintings and drawings, which explore the ontological currency of voids, veils and distortions, and Nina Walton’s thread-based paintings, where modernist grids are hedged with considerations of ephemerality, perception, femininity, labour, mathematics and meditative spirituality.

The grad exhibitions present important new voices – some whispering, some roaring – in the ever-morphing world of Australian art; voices that will explore and shape our contemporary national identity.

EXHIBITION
NAS UNDERGRADUATE SHOW 2019
5 – 15 December December 2019
National Art School, Sydney

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