Graduates 2023: Shirley Archibald: MA Fine Art

“There are many but the main highlight is having a supportive group of like-minded creatives who make incredibly inspiring work. Having discussions about artists ideas and techniques with my peers has pushed my artwork forward.”

Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences

My practice is situated somewhere between paint and the assemblage of objects. I explore non-patriarchal and queer issues and respond to historical and current events in the world connected with injustice and equality. Recently I have been looking at the history of witches who were cast out of society in the 15th-18th centuries. My interest is in how the witch can be a potent feminist symbol. I create uniquely shaped canvas stretchers that that are constructed from household objects resembling hybrid female forms. For instance, recently a dirty, used mop seemed to transform into hair dangling from a contorted body and a section of a broom resembled a motor in an assemblage that appeared to be hovering or flying.

My work has a punk ethos. The idea running through my assemblages is about trying to reconstruct a new reality from a broken patriarchal system and putting it back together. I use the canvas stretcher as a symbol for the system and the body and I intend these irregular forms to represent non-conforming, autonomous bodies. I mainly work intuitively, embracing experimentation and risk without a predetermined outcome. Whilst these assemblages remember the persecution of witches and women, they re-imagine a future encompassing the feminine and reclaiming the magic of the witches in a riotous manner.

Three artists that have been influential to my work are Francis Bacon, Angela de La Cruz and Katy Moran. I am drawn to the sensation, drama and raw emotion in Bacon’s paintings. With Moran I am interested in her playful method of working and how she has redefined the frame by often incorporating this into her work. De La Cruz also represents the body playfully and subverts the canvas even further and I enjoy the humour in her work.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey to your course and made you choose it?

Since completing BA fine Art at Liverpool in 1990, I have mainly worked in creative industries. I have created animations, worked on short films and as a Video Editor for TV in Edinburgh and Rome. I had a pause from my creative work whilst bringing up my two children for several years. However I have continued to paint on and off and exhibit since my BA course. I signed up for some painting classes with Denise Harrison a local artist, just before lockdown and these really inspired me and gave me confidence in my ability as a painter. Then lockdown happened and one of the upsides of this was that I painted every day even for half an hour. Painting got me through lockdown. Denise encouraged me to apply for an MA in Fine Art and I realised my dream when I was accepted on the course. The timing was right because my children had now grown up and it was a good time for me to focus back on being creative.

What were the highlights of the course for you?

There are many but the main highlight is having a supportive group of like-minded creatives who make incredibly inspiring work. Having discussions about artists ideas and techniques with my peers has pushed my artwork forward. You can easily feel isolated as an artist so it’s so important to have an artistic network. The course has also encouraged me to try new methods, materials and approaches. The tutors have been very helpful too and I have benefitted from their expert guidance and experience in the art industry. They encourage us to put on our own exhibitions which is invaluable experience. The tutors also encourage us to apply for residencies. Last summer I was chosen to go on the Open Plan Residency at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. It was inspiring to work alongside and chat to other artists about ideas at the residency. I loved having a dedicated space and the whole experience encouraged me to be much more experimental. It allowed me to make mistakes which are necessary for the creative process but scary too, especially as the public were invited into our space! This Residency was a turning point which led to my new body of work. During the first year of the course there were regular mentoring sessions to discuss the development of my research and professional practice. My Mentor Yvonne Feng was very knowledgable and helpful for developing my practice and these sessions really moved my art forward.

Was the location of your course in Brighton important?

I wanted to study at Brighton because I am local and the MA fine Art course has a wonderful reputation. Also I wanted to study in a University where students might live nearby and hence be part of a community.

What are your plans after graduation?

What’s next for you? I currently work from my bedroom so am discussing the possibility of finding a studio space with other students in which we could possibly run art events. I have a few ideas that I’d like to explore but i’m going to continue my research about witches and paganism and incorporate this into my work. I also plan to organise some exhibitions so that I can keep my momentum up. I will be exhibiting in a group exhibition with artists from the MA fine Art course at the Bermondsey Project Space in London from 28-30 July 2023. I will apply for some more residencies too.

What advice would you give to someone considering doing postgraduate study?

I can only talk about the MA Fine Art Course which is designed to stretch you. Giving presentations where you talk about your work and influences is a part of being an artist and also a part of the course. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of giving a 15-20 minute presentation of my work but I’ve now given three presentations and it’s getting easier every time. I have developed a sense of achievement by attempting this demanding task. There is quite a lot of written work which can be overwhelming but there is help with this if you, like myself, had not been involved in education for many years. I think it’s a good course to prepare you for working as a professional artist. You create a digital portfolio of work, learn about curating exhibitions and how to appraise yours and others artworks which are all essential skills to prepare you as an artist. Also if you would really like to be accepted for the MA course then my advice is to believe in yourself. You have nothing to lose by applying.

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