migrated to www.danchina.net

June 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Please note this blog has been moved to www.danchina.net . All the contents here have been transferred so please revise any links.


Royal Grammar School – maturity, conviction and contemporary fossils

July 13, 2010 § 2 Comments


This is the second show today and both are marked by excellent life drawing. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that both schools (Sir William Ramsay and Royal Grammar School) use the Royal Academy ‘Life’ class. This has been going for many years and never fails to produce superb results. It adds imeasurably to portfolios and self confidence. I don’t know if many schools club together to share this resource, but it would certainly be worth it. I understand it is still relatively cheap and the class can accommodate up to 30 students.

This exhibition showed work from all year groups and it was fascinating to see the rigorous consistent thinking and values that have built this course and which ensure that first hand experience, rigorous self reflective enquiry and serious study of serious artists are hard wired into the experience for Yr 7 onwards . Rob (HoD) has been there for many years (I think we shared our first inspection – he as inspected and me as inspector) and there is a deep integrity to the work throughout the school which is a real strength. There is also a very clear commitment to sculpture throughout the programme. This gives rise to Yr 13 istallations and mixed media pieces in which ideas are easily and naturally shaped and presented in 3 dimensions with mature understanding and an ability to resolve technical issues with intelligence and imagination.

The GCSE work shows an emerging individuality and I loved the piece which explored contemporary fossils and a delightful small piece making a space from a book (see video). These are multilayered as well as multimedia pieces.

However, the Yr 13 work is superb. Again experience is tracked back to KS 4 where the process of deep, personal enquiry is first established. This is rooted in direct experience, reinforced through the annual field course where students are imersed in beaches and fields, rocks and trees. It seems that often this expereince leads to a recognition of art as a means to record real first hand experience, feeling and responses. There is a piece which explores ideas of sculpture as small disgarded fragments, each of which has marked key moments and turning points. This is a piece of genuine conviction and is, as a consequence, genuinely moving – it was good to see it and I won’t forget it. There are many other extra-ordinary pieces all marked by deep, extended personal enquiry and a fascination with materials. I think this is what makes them really sucessful there is a successful balance, or fusion really, between the idea and the material. It could not be other than it is. Often the journey is intriguing and extensive, for instance, from first hand experience of landscape to a technical piece in which boxes in boxes on gimballs (3 way hinges) respond to air movment (or fans in this case). By way of Fibonacci.

As I said to Rob, the work reminded me of why I wanted to be a teacher, and what I valued when I was a teacher. I recall residential trips always fuelled that year’s work and relationships – getting up at 4am to get to the beach – just in time to see the sun rise, brilliant.

This is the last of this year’s shows. I really enjoyed all of them. It was good to meet so many colleagues and friends and to share and celebrate their work and success.

New ‘Life’ at Sir William Ramsay

July 13, 2010 § 1 Comment


The first screen as you enter the show at Sir William Ramsay (Specialist Art College) displays some of the best student life drawing I think I have ever seen. It was fortunate that I saw show with Richard (HoD) who confirmedthat it was drawn from first hand experience or I would have assumed it was a studious copy of professional drawing.

It was, as always, a large, high quality and interesting show and this year there are signs of new directions for the school. There was some really strong, simple, culpture which got to the heart of the materials being used – the dense heaviness of cement and the light natural rythmn of withies.

Some strong photographs once again confirm the general very noticeable increase in the role of photography. Here it is a mixture of wet and digital photography (tip 1. Good SLR film cameras are very cheap on e-bay)

 Textiles work is strong with intriguing stitched drawings and whimsical costumes. It was also good to read extended essays which were simply well written rather than just well decorated. (tip 2 for rusted fabrics wrap material soaked in vinegar in cling film with iron wool and heat. result is fast)

It was interesting to see year 9 students entered for the new short course. As the school entered students for the new specifications it was possible to get a sense of how things may be changing. It was felt that the new time limitations (45 hours) of the externally assessed test together with the new marking scheme does make it more difficult to achieve the higher grades. There may be some issues here for next year. I understand that SWR was one of only 15 schools that entered and assessed the short course using these specifications this year. It may be that this could suggest a change in pedagogy and preparation. Perhaps this is a discussion that should happen next term.

>Corridors of Art – Wycombe High School

July 6, 2010 § Leave a comment


Really glad I came to this show as I haven’t been for a couple of years and Mark (Coombe) is moving on this year so it is his last exhibition. It is really impressive, with some brilliant large, loose, figurative painting and drawing. A good mix of styles from still life and portraits to strong issue based pieces exploring identity. This is the first time it has been held in the 6th form studios and the walk from reception to the studio is through corridors full of paintings. These are GCSE works and because the school always displays lots of painting it is a straight forward job to open the school as part of Bucks Open Studios. The stairwell to the studio is full of really big drawing and painting and the scale and quality is hugely impressive (see video).

The actual studio opens out onto the roof and has views over the valley. Highlights of this show, for me, are some of the big paintings especially the portraits there is a loose confidence about these works which is a delight. But I did enjoy a very intense enclosed installation stained with angst and conviction. Some students had developed images and ideas digitally and these were simply displayed on laptops alongside the larger work which was simple and effective. The open laptops fitting in seemlessly with the open sketchbooks in a way which seemed perfectly natural and unassuming.

Once again I find a new AS course in photography presenting some excellent photographs – intelligent, reflective and perceptive. The school has just acquired an A1 colour printer which provides high quality A1 prints. This does make a difference but Mark told me that some large branches of Tesco provide A1 digital prints for about £2.40 (less for bulk orders). In this girls’ grammar school this course was done as part of the ‘enrichment programme’ so the students had fewer taught lessons than a standard AS course.

Mark does a lot of examining and it was interesting to discuss the implications of the changes that are coming down the line. We talked of the fact that, these days, as most students use canvas and oil or acrylic, the quality of painting is infinitely better than it was only a few years ago when canvas was uncommon and redimix and paper was the norm.  We also noted the possibility that with the development of a new reduced curriculum, the possible loss of QCDA, BECTA, Levels, SIPs, TAs, Advisers, CPD and Uncle Tom Cobbly, it will be exams and examiners that will have to guard the flame and preserve what is important. Well that may not be such a bad thing – its where I came in.

It was good to meet the new Head of Art and I will look forward to next year’s show at Wycombe High School with interest.


>Just Playing

July 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

>We all talk about creativity and how important it is. But, how often do we really, actively, promote, model and provoke it? How often do we, or students, take risks? How often do we just play? This is just to note one such occassion where a group of creative practitioners and some KS3 students spent a day in a blacked out drama studio to find out what they could do with the space using objects, light, sound, film, animation and whatever came to mind. The video just captures a few moments towards the end of the day but it gives a flavour of the piece – reminded me of a Soft Machine gig of the 1960s, but no one else was old enough to know what I was talking about.
Chalfonts Community College are funded through Creative Partnerships as a ‘Change School’. They have found space in their timetable each term for all KS3 students to spend two days working with creative partners to develop familiarity and skills using new technologies – sound, animation, film, photography and collage. This event brought all the creative partners back into school for a final day in which they and the children were given the opportunity to make/do something using the space. It was in effect simply giving permission to play. I guess one interesting question might be, who, was giving, who, permission to play – teachers, students or practitioners?


Brit Art at the RCA

June 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

I went to the Royal College of Art show this weekend – continuing the theme of visiting student shows. I was particularly interested in animation because of the student animations I had seen earlier in the week. These were indeed interesting with many hand drawn animations with a delightfully delicate and subtle use of line. A significant difference between these and some of the A Level animations seems to be in the extended and more abstracted narrative of these RCA animations. Curiously only two RCA students explored the notion of projection into, or onto, other things leaving the rest just presenting via rectangular projections on screens. I am always intrigued by the synergy of projected video into unusual and unexpected situations and am surprised there was not more of this.

I thought it could be interesting to draw down animators of this quality into school as animators in residence. The equipment and techniques are available in schools, and students are already using them with confidence. Unfortunately neither the RCA or the students had a web prescence which showed work. Most students had websites under construction. So it is hard to recommend contacts. By the time this is read this may have been remedied – check RCA website.

In the Battersea galleries sculpture was usually big or heavy. There were two which I found interesting. However, most of it seemed to have the surly charmlessness of adolescent boys’ displaying their underpants. An RCA twitterfeed at midday had breathlessly announced that Charles Saatchi had visited the show that morning. Saatchification was indeed fairly endemic as questions of ‘what is art and form?’ were once again rehearsed, but rather pedantically, and without the elegance and wit that characterised the same debate in the last century from Duchamp to Damian Hirst, via Carl Andre. Brit Art did seem to have lost its sense of humour. A Levels were more fun.

Shakespeare and Summer at Holmer Green

June 24, 2010 § 1 Comment


This year there seems to be a real increase in photography and much of it high quality photography at that. Several schools have entered for the first time this year and are talking about increased numbers opting for it next year. At Holmer Green it was interesting to talk about ideas to offer photography and graphics next year. We noted that this blog/record of school exhibitions should be helpful in identifying those schools with useful expertise and experience – Waddesdon for graphics was one of the things we discussed. I really enjoyed the delightful seasonal booklet of photographs ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date‘. Its in the video and  shows really intelligent picture taking. It is noticeable that, for all the photographs seen, very few have just relied on Photoshop filters for effect. The work is usually rooted in good, perceptive picture taking: although photoshop is used to crop and enhance, of course.

Other intriguing pieces at Holmer Green were the sets of three or four very small canvases presented as a sequence of repeating icons. These miniatures are, quietly, effective and provide a really simple comentary on the work of other artists such as Julian Opie.

Sketchbooks and research projects continue to impress with the levels of knowledege and understanding of art and artists acquired by students at both GCSE and A Level. It is interesting to note the now common practice of using digital photographs as the research tool of choice for many. There can be very few sketchbooks these days which do not include digital photographs which form the basis of much recording and reflection by students.

It was also good to be able to talk to the headteacher wwho was at the exhibition.  Mr Jones was  there for a long time and clearly made a point of talking to students and their parents celebrating their success. His enthusiasm as always was palpable. You can’t help noticing that when senior leaders attend it does make a difference and that it doesn’t always happen.