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Student Spotlight: The Ruskin School of Art

in Exhibitions, Interviews and Students by Cass Art
Student Spotlight: The Ruskin School of Art

Cass Art is spotlighting Degree Shows across this nation this season, and nestled in the historic city of Oxford resides a unique and close-knit art school. The Ruskin School of Art forms the Fine Art department of The University of Oxford, and show time is fast approaching for the Ruskin third years.

We caught up with three finalists working towards their Degree Show, RUSKIN 2014, to ask about their sketchbooks and preparation work for their most prevalent exhibition so far. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your practice – the themes and processes behind it?

Ally Clark: I’m an obsessive object maker. I have a fascination with human kind and our relationships with objects, especially objects which are mass produced or consumed. I find myself dissatisfied with the ordinary or banal and unashamedly manipulate and re-stage both found and cast objects to give them a new internal logic of their own; a sassy kind of weird one. My work is extremely process driven with mould-making at its core, driven by themes of sex, pop culture, impotency and debasement, and scenes of seduction masked with dark humorous undertones. They come together to create surreal scenes of domesticity.

Ally Clark, Ruskin 2014

Melanie Gurney: I’m interested in patterns as a discernible regularity in the world, and in combining the regular information together to form irregularities. The environments I was brought up in are a major influence on my art practice. I am mixed race Chinese, Trinidadian and English, and all three cultural backgrounds interweave throughout my work. I utilise a range of differing mediums concentrating mainly on prints, paintings, sculptures and films as I believe using a variety of mediums will allow hybridity. I first started creating digital patterns based on Chinese architecture and English landscape. By layering the 2 elements together, it becomes something new and different; I would cut these patterns up to paste them onto real life objects so my work fluctuates between 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional space. At the same time, I’m creating hybrids of unknown but still recognisable creatures.

Melanie Gurney, Ruskin 2014

Emily Motto: I make playful sculptures that perform and evolve throughout, and beyond, my creation – especially in terms of their shape, and the physicality of the unstable materials that I build them from. When creating parasites I was inspired by how the materials I made and used ‘fed off’ each other’s properties; the net, dough and string of my recent sculpture series structurally supporting each other, and these responses creating new, and often quite fragile, forms.

Emly Motto, Ruskin 2014
How do you go about preparing your work in the run-up to the degree show? Do you use sketchbooks or doodles or written notes?

AC: I keep a note book with specific materials, dimensions and quantities but they tend to be very rough scribbles that serve as a reminder for physical explorations rather than some kind of precious, ornate work of art in their own right. I’ve always been quite jealous of good sketchbook makers!

MG: For me, the plans in my head are never the same when they are on paper. The layout plans are necessary as they help me visualise my work without spending too much time and money on the ones that are not going work.

Melanie Gurney, Ruskin 2014

EM: The final objects I show are often results from various experiments in the studio. My work usually just begins by fiddling with materials that I either make or have available to hand, and playing with their properties to explore what forms can be created. In terms of how they’re shown as final pieces, I play with combinations of them together in the studio. As I’m experimenting, I’m always doodling ideas in a sketchbook about how the objects could be present alongside a human viewer.

Emily Motto, Ruskin 2014

What can we expect from RUSKIN 2014?

AC: Big things. We’re in a new building – the big green shed - and our ambitions are higher than ever.

EM: It’s been really fun planning the show - we’ve had two drawing sales and a night to raise money and awareness for it. It’s been a challenging experience having the responsibility to prepare for and fund such a big event ourselves, especially time-wise whilst trying to develop our own work too. We’ve all had different roles to play– mine specifically in the design – so many hours have been spent on Photoshop, and in negotiations with printers, magazines and businesses who are helping us market the show.


What are you exhibiting at the Degree Show? 

AC: A giant birdhouse and some unusual inhabitants…

MG: I’m planning to show video projections and an installation.  But I can’t give away too much, you’ll have to come and see it!

EM: I’m not entirely sure what I’m showing yet... although I know that I want to create a playful environment of lots of my objects in an open space of the warehouse, so a lot of the work will need to happen on site when we move in. My plan is to take lots of things from my studio, and play about with how they are positioned together in relation to the structures that I build in the space.

 Emily Motto, Sketchbooks

How do you motivate yourself to keep making work – and do you have a routine or any tips for other students?

AC: Just spend as much time in the studio as possible; things are more likely to happen just by turning up!

MG: I motivate myself with many cups of tea and coffee! And I usually go for a run to break up the studio day.


How do you plan on furthering your creative career once you have left the Ruskin?

AC: I’m taking up a residency at Wysing Arts Centre’s Leverhulme Scholarship programme this summer. 

Ally Clark, Ruskin 2014

MG: I’m working as an intern for Art on the Underground starting in October for 3 months, where I’ll work on commissioning artists to make work for the underground. I’m also on the committee of Museum of Soho. At the moment the Museum of Soho is just a virtual museum but I’ll be working on bringing it to life.

EM: I plan to make it as a professional artist; The Ruskin was recently invited to get involved with the Clyde & Co Blank Canvas Art Prize, which I won, so I now also have an excitingly big commission to start once the degree show is over.

RUSKIN 2014 will host its Private View on 20th June at The Green Shed, Osney Mead, Oxford, and will be open until the 23rd June.

Green Shed, Ruskin Degree Show 2014

Feeling inspired?

Shop online and stock up on your own sketchbooks and buy yourself the Cass Art Layout Pad to make technical notes, drawings and plans for any of your final pieces. Grab yourself some Gedo Clay too to get started on making those prepatory maquettes for any sculptures you might have planned.

Read more about RUSKIN 2014 on their websiteFacebook page and Twitter.

Visit Ally Clark’s website here, Melanie Gurney’s website here, and Emily Motto’s website here

Read our other Student Spotlights on the Edinburgh College of Art here, and the Manchester School of Art here

Shout about your own degree show and artwork by taking part in our student competition - upload photos of your work to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtags #CassArt #StudentSpotlight. All work will be featured on our homepage and one lucky student will win £500 to spend at Cass Art. 

Image Detail

Image 1 - Individual Degree Show Posters for Ruskin 2014 

Images 2 & 3 - Ally Clark 

Images 5 & 5 - Melanie Gurney

Image 6 - Emily Motto 

Image 7 - Melanie Gurney 

Image 8 & 9 - Emily Motto 

Image 10 - Ally Clark

Image 11 - The Green Shed, Oxford