Cass Art Prize Winners: Central Saint Martins, UAL

by Cass Art

Content warning: This article contains language some may find offensive.

Each year, Cass Art proudly supports Central Saint Martins final year Art programme students. This year, the Cass Art Prize was awarded to MA Graduate Clara Fantoni, who received £500 to spend on art supplies at Cass Art. Undergraduate Noah Thompson-Holbourns was also Highly Commended for his work. We caught up with the artists to talk more about their work and what they have planned for the future.



Congratulations on winning the Cass Art prize! Could you introduce yourself and your practice? 

Hello! Thank you so much, I am thrilled to have won the Cass Art Prize 2021! My name is Clara Fantoni. I am a British Italian artist, I've just graduated from a Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, London.

My intention is for my work to be thought provoking non-binary hybrids that are paintings, sculptures and installations combined. I want the work to defy boundaries and encourage the viewer to ponder and query. The key concepts that interest and inspire me are intuitive mark-making, chance, temporality, spontaneity, and the relationship between the intentional and unintentional or chance and control. I am exploring the juxtapositions and harmonies between chance and control, using materiality and material processes to employ chance and contingency as a working method in my artistic practice.

How have you found the last year, were you able to work in the studios at CSM or did you have to work from home? How has this period affected your artwork?

The last year and a half has been hard, studying an art course online due to Covid was a huge challenge and it was such a shame not to have access to my peers, the studios, the workshops and libraries. During lockdown I was working in my living room which taught me a lot about how I can work with scale on different levels and gave me time to think about what I wanted to realise when I got back to the CSM studios. Another challenge was the fact that the degree show at the university was cancelled due to Covid but myself and some other students decided to organise our own independent show at Candid Arts Trust. I'm really happy and proud that we had the chance to come together to show our work and to celebrate our graduation.

Materiality is a key element in your work with a focus on the balance between chance and control. In practice, how do you strike this balance, is it all intuitive or is it difficult to know how much to control and when to let go?

Materiality and material processes such as pliage (folding) and painting intuitively on the floor using pools, drips and spills allows me to experiment with chance whilst using my body to exercise a certain amount of control. The process is fluid and I see what happens, I find that the balance finds itself. I am fascinated by the juxtapositions of how control can be used to open up the work to chance and vica versa, because one cannot exist without the other. I paint intuitively and then make the wire infrastructure based on an accidental form or spill in the work, I then wrap the painting around the frame which means that I don't have control over what elements of the painting are visible and which aren't. The work can be displayed in myriad ways which means that different sides of it can be seen or obscured depending on its positioning. The allusion to these unseen parts also alludes to the presence of chance that is at play in the action of folding. I use the painting itself as a method and mode of construction to create a new experience of the space, immerse the viewer and reconfigure the picture plane. Constructing, deconstructing and reconfiguring the pieces spatially, allowing me to experiment with scale and the viewers perception. I chose to name the series of sculptures 'Pieghe', which is the plural for folds and creases in Italian. It also means to take an unexpected turn which relates back to the use of chance in my work and is my own take on pliage.

Your works are such playful, colourful installations, a combination of both painting and sculpture. Could you tell us how your paintings developed into sculptures using Pliage?

The paintings developed into 3D structures during the first lockdown, I would take my 2D fabric paintings on walks with me and fold them into temporal 3D objects in response to the landscape. I began to research pliage, folding, as a method of incorporating chance into my work. I was interested in the action of folding as material process that could transform a work from 2D to 3D and the space between these actions where metamorphosis occurred.

When I got back to the studio I started experimenting with wire infrastructures that I would then wrap the paintings around and coat with resin to harden. This new materiality inspired a whole new body of work and new ways of working with the objects because of their new found solidity. This meant I could experiment with them as installations, hanging them on the wall, stacking them or filling the space with them.

I am interested in the fact that each viewer will have a different perception and experience, an emotional and sensory affect that is unique to them and their way of understanding and interpreting the world. I am inspired by the idea that the viewer can respond to the materiality of the pieces and that they are playful, undefinable, sensory, comical and colourful. The viewer is central to the work, I am constantly responding to and evaluating how the pieces are installed in a site responsive manner as well as how the pieces change with the viewers presence and how the body of the pieces relates to the body of the viewer.

What are your go to materials, and how do you plan to use the £500 Cass Art prize?

My go to materials are pigments, inks, house paint, resin, fabric in the form of bedsheets, acrylic paint. The Cass Art Prize will give me the opportunity to experiment with a colour palette and materials that I haven't had access to before. I look forward to trying different gels and pastes such as Liquitex Pouring Mediums, Daler Rowney inks, Sennelier oil sticks, Vitrail glass colour and Liquitex soft body acrylics. It will also be lovely to experiment with different cotton duck grounds.

Thanks Clara! We hope you enjoy the prize and look forward to seeing how your work develops.

Find out more about Clara’s work visit or follow Clara on Instagram @clarafantoniart.


Congratulations on being Highly Commended at the Central Saint Martins Degree Show! Could you introduce yourself and your practice?

Thank you so much! So I’m Noah, I’m 21 and I’m from Essex! I come from a working-class background and have always questioned why the art world is steeped in class injustice and why opportunities for working-class artists are perhaps harder to come by, and I suppose this has come out in my work! I tend to say b*llocks a lot, maybe too much, and the situation of inequality throughout the industry has only made me say b*llocks more, so I thought why not use my art as a platform to transcend the establishment and as a whole the industry. My work in sense aims to bring these issues to light in a humorous way, whilst the repetition and proliferation of my anger still indicates that there is a serious issue that needs addressing. 

How have you found the last year, were you able to work in the studios at CSM or did you have to work from home? How has this period affected your artwork?

This has been a challenging year for everybody from all different walks of life, but as an artist with limited resources it’s been difficult to create work and keep the momentum of it going. I was working at home and found that without my friends and tutors around me, I struggled to find inspiration. Pre covid the studios were a hotbed of conversation, critique and camaraderie, so the change from being around these people to being on my own was difficult. However, when we were able to return to the studio I jumped at the chance and found I was at my most productive state. Working at home brought a load of different challenges from the lack of space to make larger work, and the lower levels of support from technicians and tutors, but at the same time it made me reassess my practice, and made me think of other ways to work, such as using more found materials and working outside in the garden. 

In your work you critique and question the importance of the value of art, the institution, and what the point of being an artist is. The upper-middle class is still an over-represented majority in the art world, and in 2018 a national survey found that people from working-class backgrounds made up only 18.2 percent of those working in music, performance, and visual arts. As a working-class artist, what was your experience of art school, and how has your perception of the art world has changed?

Those statistics don’t surprise me at all, as we all know that in the art world it’s who you know more than what you know in some cases. When you think about how much slimmer the chances of becoming a practicing artist it becomes rather demoralising. I remember coming to art school three years ago thinking that I could succeed and that the playing field is level, but the more and more I thought about it, I realised how wrong I was. I still had a relatively good experience meeting people and making work in such an established environment, but looking back after three years you do sometimes wonder what the whole point was when you’re still in the same position as you was then. There needs to be a greater advocation for change so that other working-class individuals don’t feel left behind, but I feel we may be a long way off from that. 

Can you tell us about the materials you use to make your work, and how these are relevant to the concept?

I mainly use materials that I find in scrap bins like mdf wood or cardboard boxes along with concrete because I find it fascinating that something so mundane can be the basis for something so interesting. All of these materials also have links to labour, and you could probably find them on a building site, which is important as they establish the link between class and art. 

And finally, what’s next on the horizon for you?

I’ve recently finished leading a degree show project called the green cube which aims to be a class friendly environment for people to show their work. The idea came off the back from working in the garden and thinking about how the garden can transcend traditional highbrow gallery space as a more genuine and honest space for work to sit. The work is available to view through the degree show website Feel free to follow my Instagram where you can see some of my work in situ in the studio and the garden!

Thanks Noah! We hope you enjoy the prize and look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

To see more of Noah’s work visit the CSM Online Degree Showcase here, or follow him on Instagram @noahholbournsart.

Feeling inspired?

Read more artist interviews on the Cass Art blog.

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