On 8th February this year, nine OCA students from a wide variety of backgrounds attended a study visit in Newcastle led by tutor Gerald Deslandes. This was a student initiated visit which grew out of discussions on the OCA student forum. We were very pleased to get funding from the OCASA to pay for Gerald and for the OCA to pay for entry into the first exhibition. We began at the Laing Art Gallery with an exhibition of portraits by Laura Knight (1877-1970). Prior to looking at the exhibition we had a good opportunity to meet over coffee and discuss our experiences with the OCA. This is invaluable for a distance learning course were face to face interaction is limited.
Laura Knight was one of the most popular and pioneering British artists of the twentieth century. Her early self portrait of 1913 caused a scandal because of her portrayal of the naked figure of a fellow woman student. Before becoming the first woman to become a full member of the RA, her artistic career took her from Cornwall to Baltimore. She was acclaimed for her work as an official war artist at the Nuremberg Trials. Gerald started by giving some background to the artist and her work and discussed a few of the paintings before we split into groups to study the work ourselves. We then talked to the rest of the group about paintings we liked and why. It was very revealing to hear how different students from different backgrounds interpreted the work. We discussed the influence of photography on painting, the differences between preparatory work and finished paintings and the physical nature of paint. I may be misrepresenting other students, but I got the feeling that although we found many positives, most were not blown away by the work.
We had a quick whizz around three further exhibitions at the gallery covering a wide range of paintings including John Martin, Pre-Raphaelites, Modern and Contemporary work. I found this free form period very entertaining with plenty of opportunities to benefit from Gerald’s encyclopaedic knowledge and have lively debate with other students. Just why is a small painting in child like primary colours and crude brush strokes called “Self Portrait with seven eyes” in the gallery, but our kids paintings aren’t?
Further opportunities for discussion followed over lunch with varied and interesting topics being covered, such as whether OCA fees were a tax allowable expense!
A cold, blustery walk down the hill to the marvellous quay side and Baltic Centre for Contemporary art followed where we met up in a large retrospective exhibition of the contemporary German Artist Thomas Bayrle enitled “All-in-one”. Bayrle is an influential and pioneering figure who has been an important reference for several generations of artists. He has built up an extremely coherent body of work, combining allegiances to Pop, Conceptual and Op art, all the while incorporating a distinct sense of humour. The title of the exhibition was inspired by a Buddist proverb turned into a marketing tool. Bayrle spent two years as apprentice weaver and this gave him a lifelong fascination with woven structures and their metaphorical powers. The repetitive nature, monotony and boredom of factory work led him to see an analogy between the fabrics produced and social fabric. The format of visiting this exhibition was similar to that of the earlier exhibition. This work was on a very large scale and very bold. It is not work that you could be indifferent about and it led to some very informative discussions.
There was a limited amount of time to visit other exhibitions in the gallery and the shop before gathering again for a good socialise over tea. Two students added an extra visit to the nearby Side Gallery which had an exhibition of photographs marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As many people have commented before these visits are extremely useful, both to visit exhibitions, but also importantly to meet other students. Many thanks go to, Lucille for organising the trip, Gerald for his erudition and eloquence, and the OCA and OCASA for funding. The group hopes to meet up again in the near future