True Colours : An Exhibition Review CCEA Ulster Museum


Current exhibition on at Ulster Museum

The work of some of Northern Ireland’s most exceptional young artists will be on display at the Ulster Museum during January and February. CCEA’s True Colours is a showcase of the outstanding artwork produced for the summer 2017 GCE & GCSE examinations. The event will be visited by almost 50,000 people over the coming months, with many schools making trips to show other young artists the standard and quality of work produced in Northern Ireland.

Congratulating the students on their work, Justin Edwards, CCEA’s Chief Executive, said:

“This is now our seventh annual True-Colours exhibition at the Ulster Museum. The venue offers a fitting setting for such outstanding work. It is also a pleasure to be able to give the public an opportunity to view the diversity and quality of work being produced by young artists and designers.”

My take on seeing the works

It would be absurd to be over critical of the work produced by students embarking on their art expression given the constraints education put them under. The variations of work attest to the dilemma and prodigious talent in the realm. What on earth becomes of it is pure speculation. What is evident is the quality this minute of each object on display in whatever form it takes.

So that is where to begin. Following a narrative seems part of the octagon of the wonders we see.

Those Dark Materilas onboard in lexicons of abrupted life.

The immersion of young artists seeking out their own interpretative, derivative direction is passionately taken as a journey of self discovery embracing work which creates fictions of realities presume innocent and observing laws of insight. Nothing is further from the truth in seeing other work then completely transcending its thought patterns to create a unique observance. Only by seeing something recognizable can it be truly dismissed. The artist is sent off in another trajectory making their own valid statement no matter how they arrived at it. Each artist here has 1. Chosen a persons work to interpret. 2. Has looked to themselves as affected by the act of making art.

The three images above converge in the piece to form the first image and  is sublime in its execution.

The symmetry of the energised triangulated sculpture throwing away precepts of tradition was one piece which would have been evidently secure in its aloneness, singularity so the added function of development stages is more the academics statement than the artists statement.

This is a scholarly path and important to negotiate while picking up techniques and skills of seeing and illuminating their work. ‘Artist as Thief’ is the name given to a parallel exhibition and the meaning of this one is of a similar formula. In seeing the Ulster Museum CCEA Exhibition work

French horn player (untitled) a coiled bell by Tom McVeigh

I was totally drawn in by the art delivered in one persons almost narrative approach. They pay homage to the skills or an artist of music. The quietude of a study room, with natural light augmented by a photographers tripod lamp is a settling peaceful restful prologue to a homage of a fellow artist. The starting point is the room. The ambience and colour it lends to solitary performance in the domestic room or retreat of a college of music is a concert of nuanced environmental choices. While large windows give an air of radiance of the seasonal changes of the everyday, the light is warmed by the barrier of the glass clear boundary separating sound and the external world. Centrally is the French Horn Player sitting on a stool in a natural balancing posture with the body caressing an instrument at rest. Both are in symmetry as one with the other able to convey in union a voice now silent. The studio is a piece and setting. A drama is unfolding of a woman’s comfortable nurturing of a chosen companion. An intrusion is taken in for the sake of art and cadences are many. Unspoken is the collaboration we see as a work of art.

The way Tom McVeigh has produced around this final painting, his progression toward it is very comprehensive as study goes. It is a work produced to ‘convince’ an examiner of the process being understood. This is quite strange given the academic is neither of any import other than the consignment by compliance with theory or method the actual approach which the ‘examiner’ is without. They are not in the process but mere witness. The tools are encouraged and some direction taken but to produce this extent of analysis is perverse. Such are educational norms.




Superb study work can stand alone

Many of the students have taken the instruction to find an artist and explain why they appeal and how they work. The choices are something of a hit or miss formula. Pinterest Instagram, Art Network, or any familiar Art arena seems to have Ben trawled and then a peculiarity sought is explored. The appeal is not in question. The work forms are varied and experimental ways of working are placed into ‘categories’ printing, installation, sculpture and painting, drawing. In a classroom there is lenient persuasion or implied progression. So as not to derail original thinking the ideas go unchallenged. The effect is often tedious and narrowing. Unlike the primary educational functions undertaken centuries before where a talent is nurtured by studio work on real pieces and learning in conjunction with an artist as assistant the ‘school’ precedes the nurturing of particular insight with work conceived is absent here.


Psychology and the human mind occupy a lot of the work

Of all types of work seen the idea is key.  Transforming thinking is the outcome sought by the artist and viewer. Where I found work which transcended the ‘method’ it had overcome the running commentary of connective narrative, important in degrees though it was in providing an’analysis’ for the pupil to find encouragement and self awareness from. The outcome is what? It is a piece which out to stand on its own. An example is one which needed no backstory but required going through the art gears to establish its own place. The process is the viewer observing it and making a story or conclusion or even lost in challenging considered thought processes to be completed after the experience of seeing.


Layered installation & other views


I often find reflection part of the process and it need not have any signposting.


Less is more. Picasso was a deceptive artist and seeing all manner of ‘objects’ as you do in the Paris Picasso Museum you see the machinations and the way a print is found or painting is brought forward. These study facilities are career products and are only in the after view are they precious in anyway. The single statement of pieces apart are more relevant as a basis of understanding. The understanding is often not the purpose but a communication of a form, a connection however tenuous is primary to arts place in our world.



Prophetic visions in diverse materials

What annoyed me was the compression of the work in a space into which the curator, teaching professional, felt no hierarchy was an issue. The work suffers by not being seen properly. One pupil had a particular set of skills and had many more dimensions to it than adjoining work. The adjoining work was a complete very profound and distinctly of another ‘camp’ while equally assured in it. So both were lost companions in need of greater exposition. This clash and compression was and is a feature of exhibition when it is sanctioned as a ‘critique’ of sorts. An end of year show will always look like an end of year show if the curator so requires it to be seen widely or in a step up of a kind endorsing education methods. The Art College in Central Belfast often fails to display work appropriately or in any depth of curation. It avoids the exposure or display of ‘see the process as us teaching/learning’ to create. One thing is certain. The work here is to be valued again and again and new work is the probable outcome while this cannot be discarded as ‘juvenilia’.


Outsider art

One artist, a Photographer was bold enough to campaign down the road of observation of their own community.  Never staying which side they were aligned to or not at all they provided one of the most illuminating and sanguine pieces of all.  In a Frankie Quinn rather than Paul Seawright kind of way the observations they made were abrupt sharp and visually coherent full of meaning.


The image in particular stànding out is of a Twelfth Procession and day two persons, an adult and a child, the former of (possibly) Ulster ethnicity and the child different race, they shared a  palm slap provocative and prescient of racial tension.  The tension of unity bound in apparent opposite pathways.  One is going in one direction and the same human nature is belonging whichever road taken.  It could have been staged or image edited and with added colour.

Some other images by the same pupil are equally observant and challenging.  One has a frame cutting off the front part of a band member and is framed on an onward heading through ,arch with a H&W ubiquitous and defining.  Others are of feet and bands passing some members, a boy recognising the photo taken for instance in a capture of memorial probably not differing much in age.



Special stages in Art

By way of variance of approach and exercising different ways of producing an image the author has gone down the route of using a drawing medium.


Assertive pieces

The dark and light of materials possibilities is sharply recorded.  Here are a few other examples and by no means is this a full study.



Material truths

Dendrite’s and neurons place heuristics in a real world or creative truths on a line of culture. So going on and based on fear protection threat assessing the life course in unreal terms is easy for artists abstracting life. Realities are adjusted and systems of obedience are liked by pupils intially but intelligible constructs can win through the conscious of a teaching environment. Compliance is often a risk which is overridden for the sake of outside. On the inside obeying the rules is a given and it constrains perfectly good thought however perverse or irregular it may be. Local exhibitors Gilbert and George will be visited by several of these artists I suggest, others will not make it to ‘the city’ to see the work. They are masters of conformity. In a altered real they implicitly comply. I saw their work decades ago and it was evident then. They are absurdists with a conservative and compliant existence. For the Brit art era it was a comfort to know they were around to play conformity for all its worth like a paid of John Major twins and grayness which they actual added a might of colour to was a tame avenue of cave weeping aspirations and endurance.

Enduring Dissonance 

I saw the problems 21st Century pupils face in their life emerge and by dint their artwork. Trina Hobson, a local artist, often goes back to the neglect and dropping of identity. It has long been around as a trait. Here the pupils decline identity pigeonholing purposely and suppress the invasion of image. Especially self image. See the photoshop and scratched identities in differing work. It speaks of an age which is harming. The adult lesson prevailing is of the wrongful placing of image as being of importance in the spontaneous exchange of their continued Facebook, Instagram and the media driven wrap is intense and unwanted as here, is seen as being declined as a value system. Scars occur in art to express this emotion purposely and I feel it is not thoroughly enough tasked because it is under the aegis of an educational process. The Course Curriculum. It is as circus performance not educational but seen isolated and apart from other subjects. This is proof of a talent and voice which the adult will not accept for its obvious lesson but will simplify and sell it back to the youth producing it in its sundry forms. The paying of the cost is pupil borne.

Dry material is evident. Not liquid or translucence altering body of altering substance is present. The intention is to allude to permanence. Therefore where is the place of performance and dissolution of spirit observed? Incremental transformation is not allowed or suggested in the work because it’s intangibles are unclassifiable. The closet to this obtuse element was a display of cement like material. It is interesting the future of materials will change apparent limitations of art as digitisation has. The phosphite and graphene tomes of solid state technological choices unseen here are a future conduit of arts material change.


It goes way beyond many art professional work seen elsewhere and deserves seeing often and in a clearer context.



On at The Ulster Museum Belfast Rooms Ground floor.

John Graham

30 January 2018


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