In this month's show, Marie-Louise Muir talks to artist and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Plus, a look at the talent graduating from Northern Ireland's creative degrees and courses.
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Welcome to The Arts Show.
Tonight we're at the Belfast School of Art
for the opening of the final year degree show.
For 165 years,
this college has been the touchstone for visual art in Belfast.
This distinctive building has marked the first step on the road
to international recognition for many of our most celebrated artists,
but changes are afoot.
This York Street site is about to be expanded
to become the centrepiece for the city centre campus
for the University of Ulster.
In a few years' time, iconic parts of the art college,
including the once popular Orpheus Ballroom,
will be transformed.
Plans reveal a huge glass minimalist structure
with an extended walkway across York Street.
Like other leading art colleges in major global cities,
there are ambitious plans to further establish the art college
here in Belfast as a world leader in art, design and architecture.
As exam season is upon us,
we also follow the end of year shows
at other creative arts colleges around Northern Ireland,
including music and performing arts
at the South Eastern Regional College at Bangor,
and the only all Ireland dance degree
at Magee in Derry-Londonderry,
former Belfast Art College alumni illustrator Oliver Jeffers
on making it from degree show to global career...
..and after our art show from here last year, we follow
up on one of those we tipped for the top, Ashling Lindsay.
There is such a tremendous sense of energy here tonight on what is the
biggest night of the year for the art college, with literally hundreds
of students showcasing their work, talent
and creativity across a whole range of the arts.
With celebrated contemporary photographer
Paul Seawright as Head of School of Art and Design,
and Turner-nominated Willie Doherty on the staff,
the college is attracting hundreds of talented students.
One of them has come all the way from Bulgaria to study photography.
His name is Stanislav Nikolov.
Stanislav, I believe it wasn't just the love of photography that
brought you here but the love of a good woman?
Yeah, that's right.
I met my partner Adrienne about ten years ago in Bulgaria.
Then I came to visit her here.
Were you a photographer back in Bulgaria?
Was it a hobby, was it an interest?
For quite a few years, it was a hobby. Then I really got into it.
Eventually I decided that I could see myself as a working photographer,
so that's when I decided to do the course
here at the University of Ulster.
Tell me about these pictures behind me and, in particular, these...
Are they wardrobes, or what are they?
Well, they're very typical Bulgarian pieces of furniture.
Every apartment has one of them.
They're quite essential because most people live in these
typical former communist small apartments.
-So all their lives are crammed into these.
-The space is quite tight.
This is where people display their most precious possessions.
-It's very personal as well.
I was thinking about the idea of home and leaving home behind
and what home means to me.
It's a portrait of not only the people who live there,
but, you know, Bulgarian culture.
-You haven't brought one back to Belfast?
What's next? You've got your degree. What's your big ambition?
Well, with this work, I would like to actually bring it to Bulgaria
and show it there. Also, I made a book with this project.
I would like to publish it and make that work known.
Good luck with it.
-Stanislav Nikolov, thank you so much.
-Thanks very much.
Oliver Jeffers, the North Belfast raised illustrator,
writer and artist, graduated from here at the Art College in 2001.
Since then, he's gone on to carve out
an internationally successful career in children's literature.
Now based in Brooklyn, he also works as a painter
and as a film maker,
most recently collaborating on a music video for U2, no less.
I met him on a trip home to Northern Ireland.
Oliver Jeffers, welcome to Belfast.
Thank you, Marie-Louise.
-Do you miss it?
-Do I miss Belfast? Yeah, of course I miss Belfast.
I still have many very good friends, and all my family is still here.
You haven't lost your accent either.
No, I'd be slapped by various people if I had.
Oliver's work is known to children around the world
having produced several books over the last decade,
which have won numerous awards
and been translated into over 30 languages.
It all started somewhat more by accident than design while working
on his final degree show project at the Belfast School of Art.
I had intended to become a painter, an artist,
before I fell into picture books.
When I looked back on it,
all of the art that I was making was very much about storytelling.
I was putting words and pictures together on a canvas.
I was very much interested in narrative
and momentum of an image.
Then whenever I came up with this idea that was originally going
to be a painting, it turned out to be the cover of How To Catch A Star.
I realised there's more life,
there's more potential for this image to manifest in different ways.
Rather than one image, this is ten images. It's an exhibition.
It's a collection of paintings.
Once I started drawing them out -
this is not a collection of paintings, this is a story.
It was at that point that I realised what was as much fun
as suggesting the beginning, the middle, or the end of a story
in a single image was to do all of them in a book format.
'He sent an unsolicited manuscript and illustrations
'to Harper Collins Publishers in London.
'They got back almost immediately.'
It landed on the right person's desk at the right time.
What did they say as soon as they...?
As soon as they phoned, they said, "Can you come to London tomorrow?
"Or next week. As soon as you can."
-And I did. I hopped on a plane. I even put on a tie.
They asked me, "Do you have other books up your sleeve?"
-I was like, "Yeah, of course I do."
-No, not at all.
I agreed to build a wall, then learned how to build a wall.
How To Catch A Star established Oliver
as a new force in children's literature.
He followed it up with Lost And Found,
the poignant story of a young boy who befriends a penguin.
Its global success led to the book
being adapted as an animated film.
Where did that come from?
Where the idea for that story came about is actually in Belfast.
It was my dad telling a story of a school group
that went up to Belfast Zoo on a trip.
One of the kids managed to break away and climb into the penguin enclosure.
He managed to climb out with a baby penguin under his coat
and get the whole way home and lock himself in the bathroom
before anybody could figure it out.
I always just wondered, "What was that like?"
What do they talk about?
What is this brief friendship,
this relationship like between this boy and this penguin?
I started making drawings about it.
I feel like with any of the books that I make that are very satisfying
and really good, you catch the tail of it and then it tells itself.
I mean this truly, truly can be called a classic now.
Especially since the film has come out.
The exposure for that book has just been magnified.
-Not just any film. I mean, it won a BAFTA.
Philip Hunt and Studio AKA who made it.
I think they won 70 awards for it in all. Something ridiculous like that.
They did a brilliant job.
One of Oliver's best-loved books came next -
The Incredible Book Eating Boy -
and marked a departure from his previous style,
something his publishers initially fought hard against.
It almost never happened,
because How To Catch A Star and Lost And Found
were so of a type of book.
They were emotionally sweet and sentimental stories.
Book Eating Boy was not. My publisher was not keen at all.
Eventually, they cut a deal with me saying,
"We'll let you make this book if you make the book
"that we want to make next." I said, "OK, we'll do that."
What was the next one?
Well, that was the most successful book at that point,
so they never made me...
-They never made you do it.
At that point, I'd earned my stripes.
It's been a very different working relationship ever since,
which has been great.
I learned to listen to good editorial advice,
and they learned to know that I'm always right.
Oliver hasn't looked back since
and releases at least one new book each year,
illustrating both his own stories and other writers' work.
As well as his children's output,
he is incredibly productive in other disciplines,
finding further success as
a respected and sought-after artist,
and has also diversified
into the moving image.
Are you a picture book writer-illustrator,
are you a painter, are you a film maker?
I'm all of them. I'm all of the above.
I think that whenever I was in art college here,
that was something that was occurring to people -
the boundaries between the various disciplines were becoming fuzzier.
There's a lot more crossover now than ever before.
I suppose I'm a conceptual artist and a storyteller.
The medium takes second place to the idea.
-The concept is king, so to speak.
-The mind is still curious.
Oliver Jeffers, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Marie-Louise.
The South Eastern Regional College, or SERC as it's known,
has a vibrant performing arts and music department
on its Bangor campus.
It marries together the two strong traditions in Northern Ireland
of theatre and music under the one roof.
We went to find out more.
The SERC Bangor campus is a large site
offering a diverse range of courses from hairdressing to horticulture
and carpentry to computer aided design.
The performing arts courses began around 11 years ago
with just a few students initially,
but now attracts students from all over the country.
Take a few seconds to think about your positioning.
The performing arts and music department at SERC, Bangor campus
is a thriving hub of creativity.
On any day of the week,
you will see performances across a number of different styles.
'If you come here to study, you will study a wide range of subjects.
'It could be popular entertainment,
'where we look at things like stand-up comedy'
and sketch comedy.
It could be classical theatre, where we look at Shakespeare
and Greek Tragedy.
It could be contemporary theatre.
'It could be singing, dancing.'
One area that we do cover, which is quite important, is production arts.
We do deliver units in lighting and sound.
Our students do gain experience in technical theatre.
In what way dissatisfied you?
Do you think that you would be a little bit more forceful
with her or are you intending to be gentle with her?
Well, in the courtroom, she hasn't actually...
'One of the modules that I deliver this year is naturalistic acting.
'It's about delivering the students the skills to act
'in a believable and truthful way.'
Mary, this is a black art to change your shape.
'We use the works of Stanislavski,'
often known as the Godfather of modern theatre.
'So I deliver weekly workshops dedicated to the skills
'of the Stanislavski system.'
Those skills are then employed into a large-scale performance
later on in the academic year.
It's not easy to get on to our programmes. We do have waiting lists.
However, if you do gain a place at one of our programmes
here at the college, you're guaranteed to have
a vocational qualification at the end of it.
92% of our students go into industry or higher education, which is
a great success rate.
In the past, we've had students who diversified from the areas
of performing arts and music and gained employment in other areas.
Just all of you remember - lines, lines, lines.
'So it's not a strict pathway to just those subjects,
'because the skills that you will gain when you're with us
'will see you through any number of professions.'
The music and music technology courses launched in the early '90s,
and have been attended by members of Snow Patrol
and INXS frontman and solo artist Ciaran Gribbin.
One of this year's graduating music technology students
is George Muldrew.
'The reason I came on to the course was to get better at recording'
and sound and live engineering -
more specific skills in how to mic up drums, guitars, bass guitars,
vocals, all sorts of instruments which I had no idea about before.
I learnt about the physics of sound, which is very important.
EQ and compression, and how to use those creatively
and make a mix really sing.
What do you think, guys?
Sounded good. It's coming through really nicely.
Despite also being a performer in numerous bands,
the course has inspired George to seek a music career off the stage.
I plan to move over to Glasgow.
I'm seeking the opportunity to go and work in a top recording studio.
I've got a nice production portfolio, which I want to pass on
to these big studios, and hopefully get to the top.
An important aspect of the course is music composition
and sound design for film.
I think for a production student, actually, it's very good.
When you look at this first page,
you've got a lot of whole note movement,
whereas when we get over here, the rhythm is much more diverse.
'It's an interesting unit that allows the students to write a score
'to a given piece of film.'
Then we bring in a professional group
and we record the piece of music.
'They also do the sound design for it as well.'
'My role is to obviously address a lot of the technical
'aspects of making sure they can group notes properly,
'that they can express what they want to express on paper.'
Here in this bar, for example, you've got a G-flat and a G-sharp.
What you'd want to do is rationalise that G-sharp as an A-flat.
'This is a good course for anyone wanting to be'
involved in the music industry.
The reason why I say that is
because there's such a strong practical element.
'I think that the fact that we make them
'do a project like the one I described in relation to the
'composition for film and TV,'
'where they're responsible for all aspects of music making -
'the composition, directing the band, recording the band,'
going out and collecting all the sound,
fully putting everything together -
that's a prime example of how hands-on the units that we
deliver can be.
With the increasing interest and uptake of the courses,
the college received some exciting news this year.
We've just been given the go-ahead for a new performing arts
and technology and innovation centre.
It's a new 12.6 million building that will give us
our own brand-new theatre space. We're very excited.
The students are going to benefit greatly from this new facility,
where the department will go from strength to strength.
Last year, we met a rising star in the world of illustration,
somebody who could give Oliver Jeffers a run for his money.
Ashling Lindsay had just been shortlisted
for the Oscars of illustration.
This year, she's been shortlisted for a second time.
The Arts Show went along to find out what a difference a year can make.
A few months after I graduated,
I started working in Black North on a project called Finn In The Forest.
I was brought on to do the concept work and some illustrations -
generating ideas, character development
and storyline development as well.
Finn In The Forest is a one-hour broadcast special,
and it's also an interactive storybook.
It's a story based around Finn and Nora, his little sister.
They're dropped off by their parents at a wake.
They don't realise it's a wake and they're pushed
to explore their environment by a cat that leads Nora astray.
Finn has to follow Nora to look after her.
I think it's important to come up with your own stuff as well,
just to make sure that you've got more than one thing
going on all the time.
I entered some of my personal work
that I've been working on from home
into the AOI Illustration awards this year.
It was a few illustrations that I'd done
for the book by Joseph Conrad called The Heart Of Darkness.
I got shortlisted in the books category for new talent,
so I'm really, really pleased with that.
Last year I got a load of enquiry e-mails
from loads of different people
asking me to do small pieces of freelance work,
so it really did help spread my name around.
It was really helpful.
I really love the animation stuff
that Julia Potts does at the minute.
There's an artist called Andrew Hem,
a painter, I love his techniques.
I still love the work by Oliver Jeffers.
He's constantly doing new things with film.
I really want to get into directing some of my own stuff.
Chris Kelly, the director of Black North, and I
have been working on a short animated film that we're
probably going to do,
so he's going to be the writer and producer on that
and I'll get a chance
to try out being the director and see what I think of it.
I'm really looking forward to doing that
over the next year while I'm here.
I can't believe that I went through university and came out
and got to do the job
that I've always wanted to do.
It's really, really amazing.
Ashling Lindsay - a name to watch.
Now contemporary dance is still very much an underrepresented sector
of the arts in Northern Ireland, with only a handful
of companies in existence set up here in the last decade or so.
In 2006, the University of Ulster at Magee
set up a school of creative arts,
with the only undergraduate dance degree on the island of Ireland.
MUSIC: "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck
This is the only dance degree programme on the whole island.
We very much focus on contemporary dance because we think that's
a useful medium for students to be able to be creative within.
One thing that we have on this course is a huge focus
both on creativity and on the actual practical, physical dancing.
We do give a dance class a day.
They then know what is this thing they're dealing with creatively -
this actual stuff called movement.
Five, six, seven, and eight. One, two, three...
One of this year's graduates is Melissa O'Neill,
a mature student and mother of three who put her career
as an alternative therapist on hold
to obtain a formal qualification in dance.
Learning dance was very new to me.
I'd only previously done it when I was young.
But other than that, I had no formal education in dance whatsoever.
My final piece of choreography that I made for the degree programme
is called Conversations. It's set in a cafe space.
It seemed to be absolutely perfect
because there was people coming in,
sitting down beside other performers,
they didn't know that it was a performance
until maybe they'd seen people getting up on to the floor
and starting to move around the space, but they were intrigued.
It's based upon relationships that woman would have
with each other and themselves.
In it is a basis of contemporary dance but also physical theatre.
When I saw it in the cafe, I was hugely impressed.
The piece seemed to evolve in front of our eyes.
Her various dancers come in at different points,
and...just as somebody would come into a cafe.
They'd go and get their coffee and they'd come to a table.
I have to say, I love that -
when you're not quite sure what are the borders of a piece,
you're not quite sure when a piece starts and finishes,
you're not quite sure who's in the audience,
because it's always calling into question
what is the relationship between the piece and its audience?
Yes, it's interesting. It's fun, it's exciting.
You just never know how it's going to turn out in the end.
Go for the leg, yeah.
Melissa hopes to incorporate movement as a form of expression
into her therapeutic work with individuals and community groups.
The expression does play a big part.
It's allowing that expression for others.
Then I'd like to help them express and allow them that freedom.
Many of our graduates have actually gone on to be professional dancers
both in Northern Ireland but also actually in Europe,
in Australia, in North America.
The dance scene in Northern Ireland is thriving,
but it's thriving in pockets
so that we have extremely strong
and innovative companies
working in Belfast, in Derry.
They're producing international standard work.
What we have to work on very hard now, I think,
is trying to build an audience -
that kind of participation of people in art
rather than being expected to be passive observers
is very likely the way forward.
The buzz here at the art college is really quite incredible
with hundreds of people streaming through the doors
to look at new talent and hopefully buy some new work as well.
Ceramics has to be one of my favourite parts of the show -
incredible tour de force of some of the work of the ceramic students
here at the art college.
Rhiannon Ewing-James, this is your work here.
Quite minimalist when you look at it at first. What are you trying to do?
It might look minimal but it's got very many layers. It started off...
I visited Stoke-on-Trent, an abandoned ceramic factory.
It got me thinking.
These people have lost their jobs and it's not necessarily the money
that it's important, it's this loss of something else -
this loss of purpose and loss of pride within a community.
The objects that I have created all suggest use, but you can't use them.
The materials play a very important role in explaining the work.
Because it's not just ceramics that are in here - plastic.
-That's not something that you would associate with
the craft of ceramics, is it?
Not at all. It completely opposes it.
The combination of ceramics and plastic is very important.
Plastic is something very bright and colourful.
It craves attention,
but it's very empty in comparison to the tactile ceramic surface.
It's something that I wanted to play with.
Plastic being a very mass-produced material, cheap for manufacture,
in contrast to something we have a familiar relationship with.
Also that then reflects the loss -
the loss of that industrial architecture and heritage,
which is probably very relevant to here as well, Belfast.
It brings it very close to home,
especially with the shipyard lands down at the Docklands,
which this piece here, my bollard, has been inspired by.
So what's next for you after this degree show ends
and you take everything away, where do you go?
I have very fortunately got a job in Denmark.
I'm going to work at the International Ceramic Research Centre
There I will be a studio technician working with the different
artists in residence.
Then I'll move on to programmes coordinator,
organising different events and exhibitions for the research centre.
-How's your Danish?
But it's something
I can pick up and learn.
We'll come back and see you in a couple of years' time and see
whether that's worked out.
Rhiannon Ewing-James, thank you so much.
So what happens after you get your degree?
Many graduates find that they need much more
than just a good portfolio.
Talent is everything, but so is money.
Well, one local person, a woman called Rosy James,
a graduate of this very art college,
left half a million pounds in her will
to establish a bursary in her name.
Suzanne Lyle from the Arts Council, Rosy James sounds like
she was an incredible character - quite colourful and outspoken.
She was hugely colourful.
She had come into the Arts Council to talk about the award,
to ask how it might be possible.
She signed the visitor's book as "Moi,"
rather than anything else.
From the get go, yeah.
Who is this aimed at? Who is this bursary for, specifically?
It's aimed at craft makers, designer makers and craft.
So it could be ceramicists, silversmiths,
anybody within that broad discipline.
You have the first recipient beside you.
We can exclusively reveal on The Arts Show.
Absolutely, Stuart Cairns is the first recipient.
-Thanks very much.
-You work in what area?
-I work in silversmithing.
I produce objects based on utensils, vessels, domestic type forms.
I do it in a variety of materials, so not just silver,
a whole variety of things.
How much is this bursary worth, £15,000?
-So what will that mean for your career?
It's basically a turbo boost to your career.
It means I can take more time to research to develop a new
body of work over the coming year
and take advantage of some of the international opportunities
that have started to come my way for exhibitions.
So I'm invited to exhibit in Sweden next year, Amsterdam and Germany.
So this will really, really help me
to produce the work of the right standard.
Hopefully I can push on and take full advantage of the opportunities.
-God bless Rosy James, then.
We wish you continued success. Congratulations. Thank you, both.
Well, that's it from The Arts Show for this month.
You can join me on Twitter now to continue the conversation.
Of course, you can keep up to date with all arts and culture
on Arts Extra, weeknights at 6.30 on BBC Radio Ulster.
Also check out our own website for some great content and archive.
We'll be back in September. Until then, have a great summer.
Marie-Louise Muir chats with Oliver Jeffers, the Belfast/Brooklyn based artist and illustrator. Plus a taster of talent graduating from Northern Ireland's creative degrees and courses.