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ashley-mcgovern
20th April 2016

Review: MAFA Spring Exhibition 2016

The Manchester Academy of Fine Art’s Spring Exhibition presents a promising group of young artists
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There are very few, if any, Marxist sweet dispensers; no corner shops or kids arcade I’ve ever ventured into that stock Lenin sherbets. However, Emily Rusby’s ‘Untitled Vending Machine #1’ may have initiated a new type of socialist sculpture that caters for sweet-toothed revolutionaries. It takes the form of a classic gumball dome, and glued above the silver turning handle is a label that informs us that, inside the glass bubble, and curled within each individual plastic goody egg, is a single paper strip of text taken from The Communist Manifesto. The funfair form and the heady political content works in a few ways: It evokes ‘naive’ student politics as well as the complex legacies of all grand ideologies, which are often cut-up by supposed disciples who latch onto the odd potent phrase and forget the rest. The wit of the piece comes across even more given that the exhibition space of Manchester Academy of Fine Art’s Spring exhibition is The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street. Founded in 1806 and inspired by the gentlemanly seclusion of Liverpool’s first newsroom and library, The Athenaeum, it remains true to the early nineteenth-century model of the subscription library, where members had to be shareholders to access the collection. Rusby’s pay-as-you-go Left Book Club toy harks back to the social shift from exclusive readership to free public libraries.

Each year the Portico Library hosts MAFA’s student show and the works are of a high standard. As you would expect from any collection of graduate work, the gallery displays some apprentice pieces that quickly give away their artistic influence. There are colourful Matissean still lives and rainy Northern street scenes, which, except for shadowy modern cars, are exactly like the lamp-lit cobbles of Victorian painter Atkinson Grimshaw; there is one Futurist-style scene of countryside taken from the viewpoint of a passenger seat; one or two heads done with the greasy thickness of Frank Auerbach; and the odd classicised feminine portrait.

This is not to diminish some very promising and fascinating pieces. Alan Edwards’ acrylic abstracts start with rectangular De Stijl forms but contain sketches of house facades, dogs, and silhouettes where you expect undisturbed geometry. The two Wayfarer multimedia works by Henry Quick are suitably crusty and bookish. Splayed Bibles are held down with string on a smeared white board, and still visible underneath are maps of motorway routes, certain parts are covered with splodges of wax. Bridget Collin’s wintry painting on wooden board, Prague’s Snow Blanket, uses the hard verticality of her material to present a sweeping landscape view from the edges of a forest, over a snowy park and onto the rooftops of cramped city homes. The tree shapes are made by gauging into the wood, and there is a brilliant flattening of perspective. Technologies old and new are used to good effect: Glenys Latham shows four inkjet iPad sketches of waves and there are a number of well-executed traditional forms like linocuts and copperplate etchings.

Group shows like this are difficult to review; you can only give brief impressions of the artists and their works. Having said this, the show is to be highly recommended for anyone wanting to see the early works of future artists. For more information about opening times, exhibitions and library membership visit The Portico Library. Open until 30th April.


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