This week sees the University of Sunderland launch its annual MA Degree Show, showcasing some of the brightest new stars in the creative arts studying for Masters degrees. This year three women from three very different backgrounds have created beautiful works of art in different genres looking at various aspects of modern life.
Liz Cummings is studying MA Photography, Tamara Shaw MA Fine Art, and Iris Churcher MA Glass and Ceramics. All three women will exhibit their works as part of the 2018 Degree Show, which launches this weekend.
Liz Cummings’s work is a series of photographs of migrant Filipino fishermen. ‘The Importance of the Unseen’, is on show at the new Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre from Saturday (29 September) as part of the MA Photography Degree Show.
Her exhibition consists of photographs of four fishermen, working on the boat Antaries BF27 in Scotland and an iPad with a live tracking application which follows the boat in real time. Her work is an insight into a little-known aspect of the fishing industry, with many migrant workers fishing in the North Sea and beyond, thousands of miles away from home.
Liz (26) whose father was a fisherman, went out on the boat with the Filipino trawler men to discover more about their lives.
“They have to live on the boat, as well as work there,” she says. “Fishing is still considered as one of the most life-threatening occupations and the fact that the Filipinos leave their home and family behind to work on our boats each and every year is a massive thing.
“I feel that the fishermen deserve more recognition and that they deserve to have a voice. My father used to be an offshore fisherman so it was nice to work on a project that involved him and his past.
“My exhibition is titled ‘The Importance of the Unseen’ because that’s what they are; unseen yet so very important.”
Tamara Shaw’s exhibition of paintings also looks at life on the sea – but from a very different angle. Tamara (46) now living in Sunderland worked on the Bagist Sail Boat over last summer with fellow student Areti Chatzipavlou and Contemporary Artist and MA Fine Art Programme Leader at the University James Hutchinson, a University-funded project to create a working sail boat with a sail formed completely from plastics.
Now Tamara is showing her own paintings – alongside the Bagist Sail Boat mast – at the MA Fine Art Exhibition, which is on show at Priestman Building from Saturday, 6 October.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the ocean, my husband is a professional sailor, and I’m always looking at sailing with an artist’s eye,” explains Tamara. “I wanted to represent what it was like to sail, but also wanted to show a more abstract sense of the environment.
“Any experienced sailor would tell you that these paintings are technically accurate, but what I’m trying to do is put that technicality with the experience of sailing. I want to share those beautiful moments that really lifted me.”
Tamara studied for her first Masters degree at Yale University and worked in theatre design on productions in the USA for 12 years, working in 32 different states. She met her husband, Gavin, and eventually moved to Sunderland, her husband’s family home.
“I chose theatre as a profession, but Fine Art is my great love. I initially wanted to just rent studio space in Sunderland to paint, but then I realised it was actually cheaper for me to study for a Fine Arts Masters than it was to rent studio space. It was the perfect opportunity for me, I get the space I wanted, feedback from experts, and at the end of a year a qualification I’ve always dreamed of.”
The wide variety of skills and talent on display is encapsulated by 70 year-old Iris Churcher, who is studying MA Glass & Ceramics. Iris was born is Essex, studied BA Graphic Design in London, and worked as a layout designer on Punch and Design magazines. She married a Canadian and moved to Montreal in 1978, where she worked as a freelance illustrator before becoming a full-time teacher of illustration and Design at Vancouver Island University.
She retired in 2008 and returned to freelance illustration, and pursued her passion for the environment – but frustration with working in two dimensions got Iris thinking about working in ceramics – and returning to the UK after 40 years away.
“The National Glass Centre’s position by the River Wear and the North Sea attracted my attention, and the program looked interesting,” says Iris.
Her work uses beautiful hand-made teapots to depict, birds, Sunderland and nature.
“I imagined birds visiting teapots, and so they are stories of imagined events, but relate to my personal experience. I leave the actual story up to the viewer. And so you might say that my ceramic work translates my illustrative interest into three dimensions.
“Pottery, functional or otherwise, is usually made for people living at a particular time and place. Contemporary techniques, materials, lifestyles and current social attitudes are reflected in the forms, colours, decorations and functions of pottery. It fascinated me that in the long running TV program Time Team, the pottery experts were always called in to date the finds, because the clay used, the process of firing and glazing, and the purpose of the pottery found, told the archaeologists so much about the culture and people who made it.”
Iris Churcher’s work in on display as part of the MA Glass and Ceramics Degree Show at the Riverside Room, National Glass Centre.
The University of Sunderland 2018 Degree Shows are: MA Photography (29 September-14 October, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, National Glass Centre); MA Fine Art (6-11 October, Priestman Building, Green Terrace); MA Glass & Ceramics (6-21 October, National Glass Centre); MA Design (20 October – 1 November, Priestman Building, Green Terrace). All exhibitions are free and open to all.