This year has been an especially challenging year. Despite the pandemic forcing us to make artwork from stuffy bedrooms or on our laptops, RSA students have created some amazing projects. The incredible degree show last week showed just some of the many examples of this. The challenges we have risen to this year, will have shaped the journey of our artwork and had a huge impact on our practices, in many ways for the better! We have learnt to adapt and evolve our work in ways we never knew we would have to do.
In our previous blog post we celebrated the success of 2 students who recently won the Freeland’s painting prize and the New Contemporaries. This week we discovered that yet another student has won a prize for her outstanding artwork! Final year RSA student and ceramic artist Emma Leahy is the winner of the The Art Society of Henley (TASH) graduate ambition award of £2000! We asked her some questions about her breath-taking installation made from porcelain feathers, entitled ‘Fallen’, that won her the prize.
Interview with prize-winner Emma Leahy
Tell us a bit about you and your art practice in general.
Hello, my name is Emma and I have just finished my final year at the University of Reading. I have been studying BA Art for the last four years and I can’t quite believe that I am now a graduate! My work is predominantly captivated by porcelain paper clay which I explore through the creation of both sculpture and installation art. The work I create is nourished by my home in Northern Ireland, and by reflecting on first-hand experiences I translate the knowledge of my heritage and surroundings into storytelling sculpture. Often, nature and botanical forms narrate my practice whilst I explore the sensitivity and fragility of porcelain clay. However, this past year I began contrasting this natural side of Northern Ireland with the political and religious tensions that remain prominent here.
I am passionate about projecting peace among all communities in Northern Ireland and use my artistic platform to promote this.
How did your artwork start out compared to now?
I came to University with experience in clay after spending a year working in a ceramic studio in Northern Ireland. However, in my first couple of years of University I was extremely experimental in my practice. I worked with paint, printing, film, performance, sculpture and gathered a wide scope of experiences that are vital for any emerging artist.
After some time experimenting in this way with a range of different materials, I fell back into the joyous world of ceramics. Creating sculptures from this versatile material is when I feel most motivated as an artist and most passionate about creating work.
What is this particular installation about and how is it made?
My final degree show submission is entitled Fallen and is an installation made of 3,602 hand sculpted, porcelain feathers that represent and commemorate the 3,602 lives which have been lost as a result of the Northern Irish conflict from 1969-current day. This installation was created by making and high firing each individual porcelain feather which I then suspended from roof to floor to create an immersive and engulfing experience for the viewer.
This non-partisan work represents my hope for a better future in Northern Ireland. A future in which difference is accepted and celebrated and that any conflict or challenge is managed progressively. There is so much more that unites us than divides us. Together, we must do and be better to ensure none of these lives have been lost in vain.
How did you find and apply for this opportunity?
This award was open to all finalists and MA students and the University of Reading. We were emailed about this opportunity and were all encouraged to submit an application that explained how this award would impact your future as an emerging artist. I am the first ever recipient of the TASH Graduate Ambition award however, those at TASH are confident they want to continue developing their relationship with all at Reading School of Art and that the award will be continued in years to come.
How did you feel when you heard that you had won the prize?
Shocked is a complete understatement!! I received a message from my lovely personal tutor Tina who told me to check my emails. I had no idea what for, the award didn’t even enter my mind, so it really was the biggest surprise. It took me a few days to actually believe that I had won. Having people other than your family and closest friends believe in your work and see potential in your practice is a very special feeling. Creating the installation Fallen was an emotive and personal piece, so for it to be recognised in this way leaves me lost for words. I am so, so thankful to everyone at TASH.
What are you planning on doing with your prize money?
I am planning on putting the prize money towards purchasing my first kiln. This will allow me to develop as a ceramic artist and will provide a chain of future income through my ceramic practice. It would be pretty impossible to try and create a career as a ceramicist without my own kiln so this award really has had an influential effect on my future plans.
What are your plans now for after University?
I absolutely loved creating my Degree Show piece and am passionate about continuing to develop installation works and build my name as a contemporary ceramic artist. I am also driven to continue growing ‘Emma Leahy Ceramics’ and plan on getting my work into more galleries and shops to provide an income while I develop ideas for future exhibitions. My long term plan is to eventually complete my Masters in Art Therapy and work in this sector alongside developing my career as a practicing artist.
Any advice for students striving for similar success?
Work hard and experiment with every material and technique that you get the opportunity to! It will be through this constant development that you as an artist will find your niche.
Are you thinking of applying for some competitions this summer? It can be very daunting, because the artworld is so competitive. But keep trying – think of every application/submission as a stepping stone. The process of applying is productive in itself because it is something you will have to do in the future for projects and jobs etc. All these RSA students who have won prizes had to start out somewhere and have worked so hard to achieve such great things – probably facing many rejections along the way.
Why not start applying now? Dark Yellow Dot is running an art competition for young artists age 18-25 who have never exhibited their artwork in a real space before. Selected artists will win a spot in a group exhibition at Genesis Cinema Gallery in London, among other prizes. It’s a great starting point for art students or new grads. The deadline is 30th July, so could be a great summer challenge! Click here to find more info about this and other opportunities. MoMa UK also has a great list of art competitions for you to enter.
We often post art opportunities on our social media channels, so give us a follow!
Written by Lucy Harwood