MA Degree Show 2017

There is a very nervous group of people making their way to London tonight. I may add that it’s a very talented group who have just finished their Master’s Degree in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art. 

Their degree show is at Candid Arts House off Angel tube station from Feb 7th to Saturday 11th, but tonight is the private view, where most of British children’s commissioning editors and publishers get to explore the exhibition, and meet their potential collaborators. I may be biased as a graduate of Cambridge School of Art (CSA), but there is a buzz surrounding the output of this centre of excellence, as alumni and students excel in international and UK illustration awards and have a great catalogue of published books worldwide.

This exhibition shows the work of master of illustration students with a surplus of ambitions and talents. From superb craftsmanship, character development, eloquent drawing there is work here by great storytellers and by some great writers, and sometimes those are in the same book.  Of course not everybody writes all their books, so there was a great offering of retold classics such as The Jungle Book by Sally Walker.

Sally Walker

 With CSA’s access to a print room, it is no surprise that this course attracts illustrators who are interested in exploring print media, such as Beatriz Lostale, who's understanding of the medium of screen printing is evident in her Greek hero’s collection; or Chie Hosaka, and her maze like animal adventure screen prints.

Beatriz Lostalé

In a change from previous editions, this year’s exhibition is in two floors, allowing plenty of room for each student to display. I only had a few hours and had planned to do an overall scan before reading anything, but my plans were thwarted early on as I became captured by dummies here and there. For the uninitiated a dummy is the trade name for a book prototype. The opportunity to read work at dummy stage of development is one that I always take. As a practitioner, it excites me to see processes and innovation in books. I indulge in reading this version of a book. Before it is taken by a publisher, it has a very distinct vision, undiluted by the considerations of marketing departments, so books here exist in a form that will not exist in the bookshops. Mostly.  

The spectrum of work on display ranges from sketchbooks, portfolios,  conceptual dummies to quite accomplished “almost finished” offerings such as a biography of Ada Lovelace, with a very defined and coherent aesthetic by Anna Doherty.
Puck Koper, who’s work is on the cover of the exhibition catalogue,  is one of the first displays of the exhibition. Her work just beckons. She has a simple and efficient use of line, a minimalist approach to colour, and an instinct for fun. Her story follows a mother looking for one of her daughters, who she has lost in the department store. A relatable plot and delight in observational detail. The “lost” theme is one recurring in other student’s work. But this is hardly surprising as it is such a common occurrence in childhood and something so relatable. 
Patricia Uresti

Besides common threads in the stories, there were lively probes into book forms: there were several concertinas and comics.  Tommy Fry’s Wormhole followed a parallel story from and alien and earth children, the stories are connected by having two covers; Patricia Uresti’s Are you sure it is this way? was a delightful board book that plays with the binding and direction of the reveal; and completely unbound “book” such as Letters which made me yearn for the time to unravel it slowly.  Alina Kasparyants book Who and Why explores alternative narrative combinations by rotating segments. 

Rachel Stubbs

There were also innovations on the ABC type books such as Rachel Stubbs A big day out, which has delightfully fresh and detailed drawings; Ali Roberts who’s understanding on pattern and experience with children has produced the beautiful ABC Come dance with me; and a brilliantly detailed and composed offering by Shih-Yu Lin in The Shops Alphabet

Jessica Meserve

Form apart, I found myself laughing out loud with Ronghao Li’s Story of little Squirrels teeth and Niveditha Subramanian Don’t let the monkey drink your milk.  There was delightful observation and space in Jessica Meserve’s book  Time for Tea where toys wait for the children to come and play with them. In  Animals can animals do  Jessica uses counterpoint very effectively: Professor Know-it-all (I wonder who inspired this name?) stops looking at what is in plain sight, the story develops around him as he guides the children around a zoo, making pronouncements about what animals can or can’t do. I bet children are going to be delighted in pointing out how wrong he is! Jessica’s output is generous, eloquent and hilarious. I spent a happy while looking at her work. 

Roxana de Rond

Roxana de Rond’s Monty and Mortimer follows a dog (Mortimer) that feels out of place amongst the boisterous family he has been adopted into, then finds a kindred spirit in the quiet and reserved boy cousin. I saw it as a very tender way to explaining  how children with ASD may not join in in the same way as other children,  and how this does not mean not being participant or not caring. There is such lightness in her approach that it could be good for anyone who feels like an outsider. It ticked all my boxes. 

Old age featured in several books. Elina Ellis offers a very refreshing look at this group who ware routinely portrayed as vulnerable and past all fun. It had the same subversive charm on this subject as Dimange. The father and child relationship and how it changes as time goes by was beautifully treated by Kate Young in Fish Dada and Ellen Vesters in a very minimalist book reminiscent of Mon Tout Petit by Germano Zullo and Albertine.
 Some of the student’s voices are  already sharp and non equivocal, some are still close to their illustration heroes, but I’m sure that time and work will drive the outcomes into more distinct areas. I look forward to seeing their  voices evolve in the following years. There was a great homage to Eric Carle in Jacqueline Rayner’s The most hungry maggot.
Jo Loring Fisher
Kate Milner

The political always finds its way into the exhibition and I was blow away last year by Kate Miner’s  My name is not Refugee which went on to win the VA Illustration award 2016.  It is no surprise that content mirrors the world as it is, and I’m delighted with the engagement of students, and the freedom and space their tutors give them to explore and develop such subjects.  Just like you by Jo Loring-Fisher reads as a reinforcement of empathy, page after page and it’s only at the end that the conditions surrounding the child in who we have come to see ourselves is revealed. A picture book where text and images really complement each other. 

Ana Gordillo’s Refugiada follows a girl from her comfortable home, in a journey of danger and fear. Her angle on this story is concerned with the loss of a whole community which is the extended sphere of the child,  not an unnamed crowd, but named characters of her daily life, escaping with their families (the man that gave her free oranges in the market, the boy that picked his nose). It is heartbreaking.

Rose Robbins

Rose Robbins combines great storytelling with an important message about our relationship with objects in Elena’s Shells: The purpose collecting is sharing. This work echoed with another environmental concern in Phoebe Swan’s King story of a character who could afford to replace any possession but for his teddy, a book that invites us to not throw away, but to mend. And skipping the material altogether, Lucy Morris  tackles the visual representation of a non visual experience, in this case sweet music that flows from a window in a street, touching several characters that come to be surrounded and changed by it.  
Yeseul Cho

Yeseul Cho

The artist that captured me most was Yeseul Cho. The sheer ambition of her concertina: A Chronology of the Universe, again portraying visually the non visual had such force! Consistently through her work she is a master of shapes and composition. 

Her bold use of the page is just fantastic. Her Sisters of the Revolution is a book I want to buy NOW, and if I did not have time to go slowly over many other great at Candid Arts its because I was glued to her sketchbooks. 

All students have accomplished great things and time spent looking around their exhibition was well worth while. Ahead of them come big challenges: continuing to work and to believe in their stories unassisted and unprompted by the academic environment;  pursuing their voices and methods and their commitment detached from the groups where they have evolved ;  and finding their places in and out of the the publishing world. 

I wish them all best of luck! 

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