Royal College of Art 2012 Degree Show Review

This year is the 175th anniversary of the Royal College of Art and its annual degree show has taken place in six buildings across the College’s two campus sites in Kensington and Battersea.

Almost 500 art and design postgraduate students from more than 40 countries are have exhibited works from across the huge spectrum of courses on offer.  At the original Kensington site, across from the Royal Albert Hall, the show features work from the Architecture, Ceramics & Glass, Fashion Footwear & Accessories, Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery; Innovation Design Engineering; Textiles; and Vehicle Design programmes among others.  While at the newer Battersea campus work is featured from the Fine Art programmes of Painting, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture.

As always and with an alumni list that includes Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, David Hockney, Chris Ofili, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Robin Day, Philip Treacy, Orla Kiely, Zandra Rhodes, Sir James Dyson and Sir Ridley Scott, the work is technically accomplished, full of imagination and of exceptional quality.

The Kensington show is particularly outstanding in all of the disciplines.  In Ceramics & Glass particular mention must go to John Rainey with his Paolozzi style cubist ceramic sculptures,

John Rainey Proposal 4


Two Objects, Nicholas Lees, MPhil, 80 x 15 x 15 cm, Porcelain

Nicholas Lees

Nicholas Lees with his layers of parian or Wedgwood black jasper wares reminiscent of the charred wood sculptures of David Nash and Samantha Donaldson’s morph sets of glass, looking like an eye staring out at you in different coloured layers. 


Globular, Samantha Donaldson, Glass

Samantha Donaldson

In Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery, I particularly liked Joo Hyung Pak’s table set with a Jensen like bowl with an inset knife and the chopstick/spoon combination. 

Merging, Joo Hyung Park, Silver-plated brass

Joo Hyung Pak

Among the offering from the Textiles graduates I was drawn to three students two of whom have been shortlisted for the Sustain Award:  Kirsten Scott with her pidgin plait hats developed through a ‘fascination with the role of texture and surface irregularity in many traditional African artefacts’ and Ying Wu’s heavily illustrated textile patterns that suggest what could happen in the future if humans neglect nature and the environment. The third of note was a textile performance based work by Kim Gladwin which won a Helen Hamlyn design award.

Over at the Battersea campus, the larger exhibition spaces with their high ceilings and plentiful natural light lend itself well to the Fine Art disciplines particularly Sculpture and installation which uses the space well. Sadly Painting remains the weakest area of the show but this seems to be common at all the degree shows so far visited.  However, two painters that did stand out were

Untitled (detail), Frank Ammerlaan, 200 x 165 cm, Chemicals on canvas

Frank Ammeriaan

Frank Ammeriaan (winner of the 2012 Land Securities Prize) with his Untitled canvas using chemicals similar to Warhol’s experiments with oxidised urine on copper pigment and

Peely Wally, Steven Allan, 130 x 90 x 3 cm

Steve Allan

Steven Allan’s detailed impasto oils of Old Master style prints such as Peely Wally. 

Much of the Sculpture was installation based with lots of exploration of materials, space, scale, perceptions of everyday objects such as Zoe Paul’s Luminaries where felt, taffeta and other mixed materials are playfully hung on a rail over a concrete block. 

Zoe Paul

The two outstanding programmes at Battersea were Photography and Printing.  Both were heavily experimental.  Quite often I was drawn to a particular piece and was shocked to find it came from the Printmaking programme as it seemed to be outside of the usual printing techniques such as etching, lithography or screen printing.  Of particular note are Elizabeth Gossling’s distorted images such as Ventriloquist a digital print on archival paper hung on steel rails,

Ventriloquist: Dan Horn and Orson, Elizabeth Gossling, 350 x 150 cm, Large-format ..

Elisabeth Gossling


Colin Henderson’s liquid crystal stereogram entitled Obsidian Mirror I and Madalina Zaharia’s photolithoographic works mounted on MDF. 


Obsidian Mirror, Colin Henderson, 180 x 160 cm, Wool

Colin Henderson


The Photography too was innovative, exciting and highly accomplished especially Jinkyun Ahn’s Where is Dad and lambada print mounted on the inside of two aluminium sheets forming a tunnel and James Smith’s desolate photos of industrial spaces.


Dislocation, 004 (working title), James Smith, 127 x 101 cm, C-type print

Photo:  James Smith

Words/Top Photo Sara Faith © ArtLyst 2012

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