Sunday, 30 November 2014

It's on the wall!

I've spent the last week hopping between the metal, wood and casting workshops, learning new skills and processes in order to achieve my aim of installing one of my sculptures on the wall.

I wanted the block to be flush against the wall without the presence of any brackets or shelves. In order to do this, I needed to have two steel rods sticking out of the wall to be inserted into the block and hold it above the floor. 

The rods were welded to a steel plate, and two holes were drilled into the plaster block for the steel rods to fit into. A countersink was made to accommodate the raised welded sections.

I chiselled a recess into the block for the steel plate to fit into, so as the block would fit flush against the wall.

The steel plate was drilled onto the wall, and then the block was slotted onto the rods.

It has been a time consuming process in order to get the block on the wall, but now I feel a sense of achievement, and am glad that I have learned some new skills. The technicians, Joe (woodwork), Steve (metal) and Burnie (casting) were all extremely helpful.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Glasgow City Arts

I'm delighted to see that there is now a website that 

"promotes all things arty within [Glasgow]. Glasgow City Arts provides a voice for Glasgow's abundant arts scene creating an equal platform for artists, galleries, arts organisations, theatres, musicians, and much more, generating exposure for everyone while boosting Glasgow's profile as the creative capital of Scotland!"

The website includes featured artists, a guide to what is on in Glasgow (including open calls), and a tune of the week.

Friday, 28 November 2014

UnstapledPress launch - NewBridge Books

Last night was the launch of UnstapledPress, a new publishing house set up by seven artists currently studying at Newcastle University with an aim of publishing creative work involving text. Founded in May 2014, UnstapledPress have so far released three publications with a fourth, Interval II being produced especially for the launch event.  

Interval II is a collection of arts writing by a variety of people, from a variety of backgrounds, writing in a variety of mediums. Including  poetry, critical text and short stories.

At the launch event there were two spoken word performances of extracts from Interval II, personally read by the authors Sophia Sutton and James Linton.

All UnstapledPress publications are available at NewBridge books.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Bringing out the colour

Throughout the drying process, plaster tends to lose its vibrancy, and the colours become paler and chalky.

I have found that adding polymer to the mix of pigment, water and plaster helps retain the intensity of the coloured plaster. 

After hours of sanding, the surfaces have turned cloudy. I now wish to bring out the strength of the colour. In the past I have coated the plaster with diluted polymer. Although this seals the surface and helps prevent the plaster from fading, this method doesn't really give a sense of depth of colour. I am therefore experimenting with other processes.

I am testing out using clear shellac varnish. For optimum results, thin layers need to be applied, gradually building up the depth of colour.

2 faces of the cast have been coated in varnish, showing the contrast between the chalky non-treated surface and the vibrant treated surface

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Art School, Smart School on BBC Radio 4

This pertinent radio programme addresses some of the current challenges to face Universities, and Art Schools in particular.

'British art schools have produced some of the world's most successful artists, designers, filmmakers and musicians. Britain has built up a strong reputation for creativity around the world and politicians are interested in capitalising on our creative brand.

Brian Eno was at art school at a particularly exciting time. In the sixties, art colleges were independent and experimental; students were challenged to rethink what art and art education were about. Brian relates his memories of Ipswich College of Art under the radical educationalist Roy Ascot, and reflects on the importance of this experience. But he also sounds a warning note - he says art schools are under huge pressures and the effects are threatening creativity.

This programme brings together artists, musicians, art tutors and archive recordings to explore the last half century of art education and the state of Britain's art schools today.

We hear the perspectives of high profile figures in art and design - Grayson Perry, Richard Wentworth, Eileen Cooper, Peter Kindersley, and Jay Osgerby to name a few.

Britain depends on its art schools if it's to sustain its reputation for creativity. But are art schools becoming too much like universities and excluding those very people who will produce the innovations of the future?'

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mirela Bistran: Interior Garden

Interior Garden 
Exhibition by Mirela Bistran at St Oswald's Church, Durham

Today I visited St Oswald's Church in Durham to see an exhibition of paintings and prints made by one of my colleagues on the Master of Fine Art course at Newcastle University.

Mirela Bistran moved to England from her Romanian home in 2008, and one can see the influence that her culture has on the art she produces.

Often using warm, earthy colours, I find Mirela's work comforting and welcoming. I liken this feeling to being wrapped in a blanket, and when speaking with Mirela she explains that she is inspired by the Romanian tapestries that are often displayed on the walls. One of the purposes of these tapestries is to provide a warm surface when someone leans against the wall.

I know all your corners

Just as tapestries sometimes depict a narrative, Mirela's work often has a story behind it, or is related to personal experience. Her soft and peaceful personality is echoed in her work. The series of three paintings titled Embrace were made shortly after she married, and when creating these works she was thinking about how two pine trees grow and interconnect or intertwine with each other.

Above the rain

Mirela speaks of how she wants her work to reference "encounters; sometimes timid, sometimes explosive, close to recalling prayer.” I believe that she creates these contrasting emotions through her use of material, tone and colour. Pale, fluid washes are made with watercolour, giving a gentle and calm atmosphere. In other areas, layers are build up with more opaque, bolder colours, adding intensity and depth to the paintings. Similarly, she contrasts empty, or sparse spaces with highly detailed areas that draws one's attention into her inner world within the painting.

I admire Mirela's ability to represent the figure, and enjoy the spontaneity and freeness within her work. One can sense the connection that she has with the act of mark-making. In contrast to the fluidity of working with watercolours, Mirela also makes lino prints. This form of printmaking involves carving into a sheet of linoleum to produce a relief print. The linoprints in her current exhibition are monotone, black and white images. Whereas I previously thought of linoprints being rather hard and bold, Mirela manages to create flowing lines, and by removing lots of the lino, she creates space within the image.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Is this the end of the British art school?

Art schools used to be a place where the socially and intellectually marginal could distinguish themselves. Now, with unattainable entry requirements and a hefty price tag, they’re becoming a dwelling place for commercial interests and the children of the international elite.

by Isabel Sutton 
Published 20 November, 2014
New Statesman

The old Central Saint Martins building in central London. Photograph: Getty Images.

When the Great Exhibition opened its doors in 1851, Britain’s reputation as the workshop of the world was on the wane. Few visitors would have known it at the time, but the exhibition signified the high watermark of British manufacturing. French design and Prussian engineering were already edging ahead. In 2012, London hosted another event designed to present Britain to the world – one which referenced the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution by featuring towering smoke stacks and beating drums.

Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony represented British history as a creative blossoming that started in the nineteenth century but seemed to reach its zenith in the twentieth century when fashion, film and pop music boomed. And yet it seems to me that Boyle’s Olympic opener – just like the Great Exhibition – was telling a story about Britain that had already ceased to be true. The circumstances which made it possible for artists to thrive in Britain during the twentieth century are rapidly disappearing. And perhaps one of the most essential changes is in our art schools.

Name any one of the UK’s most famous designers or musicians, never mind artists, and they are likely to have set foot in an art school at one time or other: David Bowie, Pete Townsend, Brian Eno, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano. I could go on and on. Economist Hasan Bakhshi [3] of innovation charity Nesta says that he is frequently asked about how we run our art schools by educationalists abroad. Art schools are perceived by many as the key to our creative success.

Yet art schools have changed dramatically over the last 20–30 years, causing many to question whether they will, in the future, cultivate the innovators we so badly need. Art schools used to be havens for students who, for whatever reason, had not found their niche in the traditional academic system. Now prospective art students very often have to prove their academic credentials to compete for a place at the most prestigious colleges. Once on the course, art students have to submit an increasing volume of written work, arguably a distraction from practical skills and craft.

Tuition fees have made higher education in Britain more expensive than anywhere else in Europe, and art schools are no exception. This means that the social and economic mix is disappearing (students from poorer backgrounds being less inclined to take out a loan for a non-vocational subject such as fine art). What’s more, art schools are going out of their way to attract foreign students for the extra income they bring. Unsurprisingly, there is deep concern among many artists and teachers that the age of the art school is – to quote Sir Christopher Frayling – “over”.

Frayling was, until 2009, dean of one of Britain’s most venerable art schools, the Royal College (RCA). But as I walked its corridors with him recently, he admitted that even this renowned institution has suffered from the same damaging developments as art schools around the country: workshops for ceramics, printing, and metalwork have been replaced by computer rooms, digital expertise is prioritised before craft; student numbers are rocketing and teaching hours are sinking.

Designer Jay Osgerby [4] graduated with a Masters in architecture from the Royal College of Art. He’s one of a generation of British designers who are now leading design practice around the world, in every field from fashion to technology. The head of Burberry, Christopher Bailey, was in the same year as Jay and his partner Edward Barber; Thomas Heatherwick was another who attended the RCA around the same time; and Apple’s Jonathan Ive was an industrial design student at Newcastle Polytechnic.

Osgerby remembers the RCA as a place where people were constantly making things. The lift was continuously crammed with half-made dresses and furniture being ferried up and down. The RCA, he believes, still manages to hold on to this highly practical ethos, but everywhere he sees the rise of computers taking the place of the hand-made: computers, he says “make you look like an innovator rather than a throw-back to the industrial revolution, but I think that’s a really big mistake.”

The truth is that workshops are expensive and that’s a good enough reason to get rid of them. As education is effectively privatised, art school managers are more interested in business models than the experience of students. An art school such as Central Saint Martins (part of the University of the Arts London) recruits around 40 per cent of its BA students from overseas. It also runs short courses for members of the public. This extra income allows the art school to do a few “special things”, says its head Jeremy Till, such as putting on two degree shows so splendid they attracted almost 50,000 people earlier this year. He says the new building at Kings Cross (where the art school moved from its West End site in 2011) makes the art school a “cultural destination”. Never mind the fact that some staff and students feel uncomfortable with the monolithic, anonymous architecture (one tutor told me that there’s never enough studio space for everyone, you can’t open windows, and you no longer meet people from other courses despite the fact that everyone is now on the same premises.)

So is it necessary to impress the public with a dazzling building and exciting brand? Jeremy Till would tell you that it’s exactly this kind of self-presentation that’s encouraged Google to locate its European offices right next door to Central Saint Martins’ new building at Kings Cross in North London. And maybe he’s got a point. Google might offer jobs to some of the young “creatives” who step out of Saint Martins’ sliding doors. But there’s a balance to be struck. If Central Saint Martins isn’t concentrating attention – above all – on the experience of students within its walls, then the shiny exterior will become just that – a fa├žade, a front, a shop window. Nothing more.

Slicing casts

I feel it is important to work with the rectangular casts so as to turn them into something other than coloured bricks. I started making rectangular casts when I had my residency at 1 Royal Terrace. I made them specifically to fit the inbuilt bookcase, and this gave them a context. Without that context the blocks become much less interesting, hence why I need to do add another element to them or do something with them to give them a new context.

I have begun to slice into the blocks, creating new shapes and revealing unseen surfaces.

All of the faces of this block are black, but the inside is made from coloured layers. Now that I have sliced the block, the coloured layers are visible on this one side. I plan to carve into this side, moving it from the solid block into a more interesting and surprising form. I want to keep the other faces black so that the viewer gets a surprise when they see the coloured side.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Plaster powder

Today I have been busy sawing, carving and sanding some of the plaster blocks. 

These processes are extremely messy, but they create some rather wonderful patterns and compositions.

When drilling through the layers, the dust colour changes with each layer that one saws through. I intend on filming this.

I have been collecting some of the powder, and am contemplating how it can be used.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A surprising and beautiful by-product

I have been sanding some of the surfaces of the casts in order to make them smooth and flat.

On completion I realised that the pieces of sandpaper that I have been using are rather beautiful themselves. 

The pastel shades work well against the dark grey, and the trio work well together with the same colour scheme but the varied textures. 

This is a good example of when not having an intention, and being open to unexpected elements can bring exciting results.

Liberal arts graduates are sought after by banks

Why banks like to hire liberal arts graduates, redux

by Sarah Butcher
Banks want liberal artists for their 'blue sky thinking.' 

Forget finance, economics, maths, physics and electronics, Banks are all about liberal arts graduates. They love them. They want to hire them. And they are saying so in public.

For English-speaking students in Europe who are less familiar with the term, ‘liberal arts’ is a catch-all phrase encompassing arts, humanities and social sciences (with the exception, in this case, of economics). If you’re a history undergraduate, you’re a liberal arts major. Same if you’re studying English literature.

We already knew that Goldman Sachs likes to liberal arts students – it released a chart showing that liberal artists constitute its second largest cohort of employees last year. This year, it’s been holding special recruitment sessions for liberal arts majorsat universities in the U.S.

Now RBS is out penetrating the liberal arts cluster too. The Times reported this morning that the UK bank is pursuing humanities students for its investment banking business. “We still need the mathematicians and economists, we still need those disciplines but what we need to do is leaven it, we need an input from people who have left-field, blue-sky creative thinking, who can bring the ability to ask the tough questions,” Tim Skeet, managing director of RBS capital markets, told the Times. Skeet even invested liberal arts graduates with special powers to prevent finance types from going astray: “If going through this crisis we had had a few more people who could have said – look, explain that to me in plain English . . . I think we might have avoided some of the problems.”

The appeal of liberal arts students doesn’t end with their prosaic approach to complex finance. One head of graduate recruitment told us they benefit from better social skills too – they can, “carry a conversation.”

And yet… banks’ increased interest in humanities graduates may also have a darker side. As Ezra Klein pointed out two years ago, liberal arts graduates form a helpful pool of new talent for banks struggling to keep applications up after the financial crisis. It helps, said Klein, that liberal artists aren’t sure what to do with themselves. “You’re encouraged to take classes in subjects like English literature and history and political science, all of which are fine and interesting, but none of which leave you with marketable skills…the finance industry takes advantage of that confusion, attracting students who never intended to work in finance but don’t have any better ideas about where to go.”

It’s also difficult to shake the suspicion that banks are hiring liberal artists for the less ‘sexy’ business areas where talent is harder to come by. Our own research into the people banks hire into front office roles regularly turns up students who’ve graduated in maths and finance. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs seems to be particularly targeting liberal artists for its infrastructure hub in Salt Lake City. In 2010, its Salt Lake City recruiters were reportedly tasked with hiring 35% of staff from a liberal arts background because the firm was convinced that liberal arts majors brought, ‘a unique perspective and set of skills to the table.’

Monday, 17 November 2014

Solid outer colour cast

With this cast I have been trying to create a solid colour on the outside, and then for there to be coloured layers within the cast. My intention is to carve into the form once it is solid so as to reveal the colourful layers.

In order to create the solid colour on the outside, I pour the plaster into the bottom of the mould, and rotate the cast so as to coat all of the sides of the mould. When the mould is filled, I will pour a layer of plaster onto the top in the same colour as the plaster used on the sides of the mould.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Artist Assistant for Sabina Sallis

I am delighted to have been appointed as Artist Assistant for Newcastle based artist Sabina Sallis.

I had received an email about the opportunity. Knowing how much I have previously enjoyed assisting artists, and after doing some research into Sabina's work, I was very eager to apply. After submitting my Artist CV and a statement explaining why I wanted the job and what I could bring to the role, I was invited for a informal interview and the rest is history, as they say.

We met briefly today at Sabina's lovely studio in NewBridge Projects to go through some of the work that Sabina would like me to do, and to have a chat about her 'Art Council founded research and development project with the working title: “ The Source of Resilience”. The project explores the many faces of sustainability via myth and permaculture and the nature/culture dichotomy. The project will lead to a publication and exhibition at The NewBridge Project Gallery in Newcastle curated by Arts Territory from London.

In her research project, Sabina is looking at how mythology grows from our connection with the land and nature, and how those mythologies relate to and are informed by a modern scientific, philosophical and cultural understanding of the world. At the core of this research idea is a deep ecological and political conviction that what is at fault now in the current environmental crisis is a lack of a meaningful relationship with the natural environment. Sabina looks at bio-diversity, eco-systems, mythologies and the roots (origins) and principles of permaculture as way of directing her research and as a platform to work from.

As a part of the research project Sabina is doing an artist residency at Scotswood Community Gardens in Newcastle, (SNCG). SNCG was established nearly 20years ago and it was designed as a permaculture forest garden on two-acre site. There are orchards, wildflower meadows, woodland, several ponds and vegetable plots.

Sabina has been a regular visitor to the garden for over 5 years now, and during the last few months she has been venturing around the garden guided by her artistic agenda.

Sabina is there to gather images, videos, thoughts, drawing materials to be used towards her publication and exhibition and also towards workshop which she will run in the garden with the existing youth group there.'

More info about the project here:

More info about Sabina’s art practice here:

I'm really excited about working with Sabina and learning more about her way of way and approach to making work. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Piotr Piasta - Berwick Visual Arts Artist in Residence

Piotr Piasta, current Artist in Residence at Berwick Visual Arts gave a short presentation at ISIS Arts about his work and his plans for the residency.

'Piotr Piasta is a visual artist, independent filmmaker and a photographer who currently lives and works in the Wieniawa district of Poland.

His artwork explores themes of history, time and memory often within a rural context and he is particularly interested in ageing within rural communities and the stories and memories of older people in these communities.

Berwick Visual Arts residency in partnership with the CRE provides the opportunity for an artist working in any discipline to question what and who is rural, and explore rural life and society beyond idyllic representations, whilst living and working in Berwick-upon-Tweed for six months.

The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) at Newcastle University is a research centre specialising in interdisciplinary social science, researching rural development and policy, food and society, and the wellbeing of rural communities. The centre will provide access to research staff, facilities and equipment to support Piotr in the development of his work and support the distribution and display of work that is produced during the residency period.

Upon appointment to the post Piotr said ‘I am extremely happy to be offered the residency at Berwick Visual Arts and the opportunity to work with the Centre for Rural Economy. The residency will allow me to extend my research subjects and I am excited to explore a different rural culture to my own.

I am particularly interested in ageing in rural populations and I believe that old people are living archives of the past, and their stories are like inspiring books of knowledge. During the residency I hope to share their stories and show them in a new visual form’'

He showed a few of his films in which the camera pans slowly across a number of objects that have been placed on a table. The objects are mostly historical; each film focusing on a collection of items belonging to an elderly person. These objects often relate to the person's place of work, tools, equipment and so forth. Occasionally the camera stumbles upon a more modern item, something to make the viewer question the nature of work and how society relies upon technology and how the notion of craftsmanship has been lost. The soundtrack to these films tended to be the elderly person telling their story (in Polish), and these were subtitled. I desperately want to watch the films again as my eyes were mesmerised by the beautiful footage that they could not concentrate on reading at the same time. For this reason, I enjoyed the one film that was not subtitled, purely because I could feast my eyes on the visuals, and enjoy the general sound of someone singing in their native tongue. It is not often that I feel so moved by video, and i went home thinking about how we do not value the elderly enough.

I am already planning a visit to Berwick Visual Arts to see what Piotr produces during his residency!

For more information on Piotr visit

Cyane Tornatzky at ISIS Arts

Cyane Tornatzky has been artist in residence at ISIS Arts for a month, and she concluded her stay by giving a short presentation about her work.

'Cyane Tornatzky is an artist using digital mediums for creation, documention and output of her artwork. Tornatzky is a currently based in Colorado as Associate Professor of Electronic Art at Colorado State University.'

Before arriving in Newcastle, Cyane had planned to

"create a series of site-specific installations that incorporate performance. Inspired by her previous research on Robert Owen’s New Lanark Mill in South Lanarkshire, Tornatzky will examine the lives and working conditions of historical and contemporary women textile workers. She will also be looking for present-day corollaries to the disenfranchised of the historic Luddite movement. The historical/contemporary duality of the subject matter will be underscored through the use of old and new medias in construction of the installations. Examples of old technologies can include: camera obscura; stereoscopes; mutoscoptes, new technologies include digital fabrication techniques coupled with video projection."

She spoke honestly about how her experience of being in a different culture had a major impact on the work that she made whilst on the residency. She felt a desire to move away from her background of New Media, and get into some physical making using 'stuff' as opposed to pixels. I can relate to this feeling greatly as I feel as though we spend lots of time working on computers and digital equipment, and so when it comes to making art, I want to play with actual physical material.

She adapted to the slower pace of life, and enjoyed spending time getting to know lots of interesting people. She was given a photograph of a textile worker and used this as inspiration to make some small macquettes of toy-like figures with moving joints who were doing forms of manual labour. Her work had a sense of wonder and playfulness, but also commented on important social issues.

For more information about Cyane visit

Judith King discusses her work as Co-director of Arts and Heritage

This week's studio seminar was given by Judith King, Artistic Director and contemporary art curator, initiating and devising projects and exhibitions usually for heritage organisations.

Judith began working for English Heritage in 1995, as part of a curatorial panel for Living at Belsay, refurnishing an historic house with contemporary design. Her role included finding artists, managing thirteen new contemporary design commissions and co-ordinating the loan of over sixty smaller works from artists and designers.

From being part of a curatorial panel to curating major projects for Belsay as an individual, Judith has brought together artists, designers, performers architects and fashion designers in six major commissioning exhibitions for Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens.

The approach is to address and challenge audience expectations and preconceptions by producing contemporary projects that are imaginative, engaging and encourage further investigation into context and history.

Ron Mueck

She talked most about the project, ExtraOrdinary Measures at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens which were temporarily transformed by contemporary artists.

Responding to this unique historic setting, six artists were commissioned to make new work that reflected upon scale. Curated by Judith King and project managed by Culture Creative, this sixth project at Belsay included new commissions by Ron Mueck, Mat Collishaw, Mariele Neudecker, street artist Slinkachu, Tessa Farmer and Freddie Robins.

Tessa Farmer

She then compared this experience of working on individual self-initiated projects such as The Great Boxing Booth Revival, 2012, which give her more control.

The Great Boxing Booth Revival was a contemporary boxing booth and cultural programme travelling to Northumbrian and Cumbrian fairs and fetes in 2012.

The Great Boxing Booth Revival was a Cultural Olympiad project initiated and co-curated with Harry Pearson, award winning sports journalist and writer.

In-House Films have produced three videos of the performances; The Great Boxing Booth Revival, BALTIC, County Fair and Wagon Tour.

Matt Stokes talks about Stone Frigate

Matt Stokes came to talk to us about his Stone Frigate project, and ask if anyone is interested in being involved.

His project sounds fascinating...

'Next year Matt will stage a unique event at Kielder Water & Forest Park by bringing alive a little-known piece of Northumberland’s fascinating history through an immersive form of art.

A Live Action Role-Play, or LARP as it’s more commonly known, is a creative form of interactive storytelling in which participants physically play a character of their own creation and engage with other characters to develop an unfolding story. There is no audience in the traditional sense as the players themselves are the viewers.

Thousands of people attend LARP festivals across the UK every summer and for Matt, this is becoming increasingly familiar territory.

He said: “Although I’ve participated in LARPs before, I’m still learning a huge amount about how they work. Many LARPs in the UK, and much of Europe and North America, revolve around fantastical or mythical worlds. However, it’s my experience of attending events held in Scandinavia, which incorporated aspects with direct parallels to contemporary issues and culture, that has really influenced me.”

Following research in local archives, Matt discovered an unusual piece of Kielder’s wartime history which will become the basis of this project, commissioned by Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust through its Art & Architecture programme. It may come as a surprise to many people that during the Second World War, the park was once home to a unique rehabilitation centre in Lewisburn, close to the River North Tyne. Named HMS Standard, the centre was used by the Royal Navy to help recovery service personnel diagnosed with a variety of psychiatric conditions return to active service.

In the LARP at Kielder, participants will re-imagine the experiences of the people and atmosphere of the place and period.

Speaking about his project, titled Stone Frigate (a term given to onshore Royal Navy bases), Matt said: “I hope that the Stone Frigate offers people the opportunity to get involved in and engage with something they might not have experienced – whether they are ‘LARPers’ or not – as well as helping to reinvigorate knowledge about an intriguing and important part of Kielder’s history.”'

Stone Frigate is an event influenced by Larp (Live Action Role Play) exploring themes of stigma, uncertainty and control, set against an isolated and highly regimented backdrop of Naval life during WW2. It will be played out in an environment resembling the early 1940s, encompassing the accommodation, clothing worn, activities undertaken and food that is eaten. This is a one-off event designed for 30-40 participants of all ages over 18. It is gender neutral, open to both male and female players.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Loans for postgrad study is not the answer

Six Russell Group universities reject government loans for postgrad study

Think tank’s proposal for £10,000 state loan wouldn’t help students from less well-off backgrounds, UK universities argue

Dominic Smith

Guardian Professional
Monday 10 November 2014 

‘Undergraduate alumni have said that while they’d like to do a postgraduate course they don’t want to add to their debt burden.’

A consortium representing six of the country’s top universities has urged the government not to adopt a state-backed loan system as a solution to the social mobility crisis in postgraduate education.

A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) outlined a “workable and affordable” model where postgraduate students could borrow £10,000 to cover the cost of tuition. This would be paid back at 9% of earnings between £15,000-£21,000.

Chancellor George Osborne has said there will be an announcement on postgraduate funding in next month’s autumn statement. IPPR’s model – which is based on a 2011 proposal by Tim Leunig, who now works as an advisor to the Department for Education – is likely to be considered by the Treasury.

The numbers of those enrolled in UK taught master’s programmes has steadily declined from a peak of 160,000 in 2009-10 to the current level of 140,000 students a year.

Two thirds of those who say they are unlikely to take up postgraduate study cite expensive course fees as the reason, and admit more financial support may help change their mind.

But the chair of a consortium of six Russell Group universities, which was given £3m as part of a Higher Education Funding Council for England project to widen access to postgraduate education, has said a state loan system won’t help those from less well-off backgrounds.

Tony Strike, director of strategy, planning and change at the University of Sheffield said: “The majority of postgraduate students are in the fortunate position that they can and do pay, so the first problem with a state loan scheme is that it’s not very efficient – it would simply displace with taxpayers money the private investment that most postgraduate students are putting in.

“The second issue is that a third of our undergraduate alumni have said that while they’d like to do a postgraduate course they don’t want to add to their debt burden.”

The consortium consists of the universities of Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Warwick and York.

Strike said that the consortium’s research shows that students from less well-off backgrounds are more likely than average to say they wish to go onto postgraduate study, but are discouraged by debt.

Still, the loan system has won support from many university chiefs. Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor at the University of Exeter and member of IPPR’s commission on the future of higher education, said: “This proposal has the very real potential to help break down the financial barriers that a significant number of students face when pursuing postgraduate studies.

“It is imperative that all students, no matter what their background or circumstances, should have a clear and affordable route to postgraduate education. This recommendation would be affordable to government and, equally importantly, to the students themselves.”

The consortium, which consists of Russell Group universities – led by the University of Sheffield – says scholarships, which are joint-funded by government, institutions and employers, would be a better option. The group also offered the country’s largest-ever scholarship package to 430 students earlier this year.

“If the state was to offer universities funds that institutions would be expected to match to create targeted scholarships, that would have a much more beneficial effect on the widening participation group than offering them a further credit facility,” said Strike.

But Rick Muir, author of the IPPR report, said a mass scholarship programme would be unaffordable. His report claims the postgraduate loan non-repayment rate would be only 7%, much lower than the 40-45% of undergraduate loans which go unpaid.
He said: “I’m in favour of scholarships but there’s a limit to how many we could afford.

“We’re saying give anyone doing a master’s course a £10,000 loan – and the initial outlay is about £1bn. But the government can afford that because it can get 93% of the money back.”

He added: “If you say we’ll have £1bn that won’t be paid back, then that’s £1bn George Osborne will have to find from somewhere else. That is just not going to happen because there’s no money to do that.”

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Visit to Cheeseburn

As part of Bridget Kennedy's 'Art of Straying' elective, she organised a visit to Cheeseburn Grange in Northumberland. We were given a wonderful personal tour of the grounds by Joanna Riddell, owner of the house and gardens, and instigator of the project.


Cheeseburn Grange has a rich and diverse history. It was originally the Grange, or farm, of the Augustinian Priory in Hexham. It had been granted to the Priory by John de Normanville in 1297. It has a rich Catholic heritage and has been occupied by Catholic families from its inception.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, Cheeseburn Grange came into the possession of the Crown and was leased to Gawen Swinburne. It passed to his widow, Margaret Lawson and then to her daughter who married Lewis Widdrington. Their son Thomas inherited the freehold in 1631. Upon his death in 1664 his brother Henry inherited. It remained in the Widdrington family until 1752, when Ralph Widdrington died without issue and Cheeseburn was passed to the Riddell family, where Simon and Joanna now live with their children.


The Hall has been added to and remodelled over the years. An oil painting of Cheeseburn Grange, dated 1791, depicts a Tudor Manor House. Extensive remodelling was planned by Ralph Riddell Esq who commissioned John Dobson in 1820 to extend and remodel the hall. Not all his plans were carried out but the main entrance was moved to the west, the tower over the front door was created, the parapets were built and the present chapel constructed.  The altar was built by Joseph Hansom in 1860.  Above the altar the oil painting “The Descent of Our Saviour from the Cross” was painted in 1824 by the Flemish artist J.S. Verillin.  It a copy of the centre panel of Rubens triptych which is in Antwerp Cathedral. Dobson preserved the beautiful 18th century pillared stone doorway which he positioned in the garden and can still be seen today.  In 1860 Hansom added a Gothic East Wing, demolished in 1973.

1939 - 

During the Second World War the house was occupied by St. Vincent’s Orphanage.
Simon and Joanna Riddell have lived at Cheeseburn since 1992, inheriting the house from Simon’s bachelor uncle, Philip Riddell.

Joanna Riddell is working in partnership with Matthew Jaratt to develop Cheeseburn Sculpture.

"Cheeseburn supports creative projects and presents sculpture in the elegant grounds of Cheeseburn Grange in Northumberland. Cheeseburn provides a showcase for sculpture, design and art, where the public can encounter new and established work in the setting of our historic house and gardens."

Joanna Riddell & Matthew Jarratt


Cheeseburn aims to showcase sculpture by the leading artists in the North of England as well as inviting national and international artists to show work and realise projects. 


Cheeseburn aims to showcase sculpture from new and established artists and to support them to realise new projects, commissions and exhibitions.

David Mach
David has produced a large scale maquette for Cheeseburn which proposes the use of tree trunks to create a beautifully crafted cabin structure on a giant scale.

Heidi Dent

Heidi Dent

The work explores the limitless nature of repetition through the duplication of a single process and material. Equally fascinated and intimidated by the notion of endlessness, Heidi investigates the possibilities of working incessantly.

Growing up in a farming environment, surrounded by physical labour installed an instinctive desire in Heidi’s work to produce and see results of a considered process. Heidi’s practice has an inherent addiction to labour where process orientated tasks govern the practice of making. The diligent, time-consuming act of continuous knotting echo the hard working cultural upbringing.

Sarah Smith

Joseph Hillier, Lure

Joseph Hillier, Origin, Untitled (Egg)

Joseph Hillier, Origin

Joseph Hillier, Untitled (Egg), Origin, Lure

Joseph Hillier, Digital Rendition

Colin Rose

Colin Rose

Gilbert Ward

Gilbert Ward

Gilbert Ward

The potting shed

Stephen Newby

Stephen’s first inflated metal chair appeared in Blueprint Magazine in November 1995. Since then he has designed, manufactured and inflated metal sculpture for interiors & architectural applications across Europe.

Like glass, blown metal has beautiful transient surface finishes. And, like soft inflatables, it also has limitless shaping and size capabilities. Blown or inflated metal combines all of this with the strength, durability and permanence of metal.

The process of blowing or inflating transforms a hard industrial material into something that seems soft, organic and tactile, creating a new language in the production of three dimensional forms.


David Mach

David Mach

David has developed a number of collage proposals which explore the wider landscape at Cheeseburn and explore the potential for trees to be transformed with a range of objects and interventions.

William Peers, Resolute

William studied at Falmouth College of Art. He worked in the marble quarries of Carrara, Italy, and then spent long periods in Corsica. In the 1990s Peers moved to Cornwall where he spent 15 years carving in Hornton stone. Later he turned to marble and his carvings became more abstract. A series of a hundred marble sculptures, each carved in a single day, was a major project in 2010.

Andrew Burton

Andrew Burton, Vessel

Much of Andrew's work explores the reclamation and re-use of elements from his earlier sculptures. Conceived as temporary works – after a sculpture has been completed it is broken up, with the component parts salvaged to form the building blocks for the next work. His sculptures made from miniature bricks are painted or coloured before they are dismantled. Over time, and as the bricks are formed into many different sculptures they gradually acquire a surface patina composed of residual scraps of paint, cement and glaze. These surfaces convey a sense of the history of the making of the sculpture. Vessel, shown at Cheeseburn is constructed from several thousand hand-made bricks previously used in other works. Works such as Vessel play with scale, referencing both monumental and day-to-day objects. In its emphasis on the re-use and recycling of his own sculpture, the works provoke questions about the nature of monumentality and tensions between conservation and sustainability.

India has been a frequent source of inspiration. The Earth is cast from a huge tractor tyre Burton came across whilst working in the Netherlands – the title alludes both to the cycling of seasons on Earth and the way these shape agricultural production, as well as to the clay from which the sculpture is made. But the form is also intended to be redolent of the famous Chola sculpture The Lord of the Dance in which Shiva is seen dancing within a ring of fire, symbolising creation and destruction. For Burton, the treads on the tractor’s tyre were suggestive of the bursts of flame on the Indian sculpture.

Juggernaut also plays with scale and with imagined relationships between animals and architecture: two oxen appear to be pulling an impossibly huge architectural structure. The title for the work is taken from the Indian word for the huge wooden wheeled chariots that have traditionally been pulled from village temples at festival time.

Andrew Burton

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