MMU Graduate Prizewinners 2021

Painting of a caravan with car in the background

MAFA have always had close links with Manchester School of Art, part of Manchester Metropolitan University. We’re keen to support and encourage new artists and have traditionally awarded prizes to graduating students.

2021 has been no different and MAFA selected four artists, Sophie Smorczewski, Zoe Steele, Michael Parry-Thomas and Annebelle Roberts. Each winner receives £200 and has been invited to exhibit work in one of MAFA’s forthcoming exhibitions.

Usually selection is made by a small group of MAFA artists, who view artwork in the graduate exhibition. However, 2021’s end of year exhibition All Eyes On You has moved online. This has meant that all our artists have had the opportunity to vote for the students that they felt deserved the awards.

Sophie Smorczewski

The dappled light that flickers through swaying trees has always mesmerised me. Their shadows wink at you before mutating into the circle of continuum. Through my artwork, I try to mimic natures ever-evolving rhythms. I am fascinated by the interconnectivity of the natural world. How trees communicate via an underground network of fungi or how termite colonies construct their intricate systems. Through abstract mark-making, my meandering forms explore relationships within the landscape. Energetic line and fluctuations in both colour and surface reflect the budding young greens of spring in harmony with the ancient root structures that lie below them.

The boughs and hollows of ancient trees are a huge influence for me. Despite their solidity, they reveal the movements and surfaces of seasons past. The work of artist Lucy Dodd lead me to develop handmade paint out of organic matter. When created, the natural pigments remain cemented to their time of extraction. As seasons progress, the paint represents a fleeting moment of the past, like the ancient trees. In using these organic pigments, the work gains a life-span. As these decay, the painting continues to evolve. The earthy tones also release sweet smells, granting the viewer a multi-sensory experience. I continue to collect and re-use ‘paint chips’ from previous pallet scrapings within my practice. This allows the memories of past paintings to be bought back to life, creating a constant cycle.

Working en plein air allows me to be fully immersed in my subject matter. I respond to these surroundings by exploring painting as an open process. One where mind is lead by body and the hand becomes the second brain. When a mark is made, infinite possibilities appear and I work these ideas out on the canvas. My paintings stand to celebrate the joyful energy but also fragility of the environment, so that viewers may pause to reflect and reconsider its vital importance to us all.

Zoe Steele

The visions of our subconscious are the elements that drive my practice, the moments between dream and reality that slot into the mundanities of life. The un-canny feeling that comes when you see something that feels familiar and comforting, yet un-recognisable and eerie. Taking subjects from appropriated imagery I often relinquish a level of artistic control, which I aim to regain through a process of re-contextualising the imagery by means of cropping and re-composing. The work aims to navigate the representation of what I deem as a ‘physical memory’, through artwork that is suggestive yet not overly invasive.

With an awareness upon cultural perspective having an impact upon contextual understanding, it is important that my work is inclusive in its ability to convey a sensation that is achievable to anyone regardless of their social and environmental background. Therefore, my intention has been to construct a visual that can be accessed and understood by everyone, achieved through my method of glazing. When I think of the process of recollection, the visions of my subconscious mind are often blurred depictions that appear clouded as though something is partially blocking my mind from accessing the memory. I believe through applying the lined glaze I am replicating a process experienced by many, therefore achieving a sensation that feels familiar prior to the analysis of the subject.

Contextually I believe my work has become an emotive language, set to make the audience feel something- whether that be melancholy, reminiscent or reflective. To encourage an awareness and acknowledgement of the spaces between what is intended to be documented and what seemingly occurs in the background. The elements of life we tend to dismiss, will often be the aspects we one day wish to remember. 

Michael Parry-Thomas

My practice starts with an interest with the cities we live in, exploring the forces in place to sustain these huge sprawling cities. Giant supply chains almost too complex to fully comprehend like veins leading to the heart feeding the shops cafes and houses that make up everyday life. Within my work contains the building blocks for these processes, cement, concreate, oil, cardboard crucial to support the supply networks of the world. I explore how these materials can be used and interact when stripped of there original purpose and placed into new context so far removed from their home.

I allow my work to flow and evolve over time while still drawing elements from older movements of the 1910s to 30s mostly Suprematism and Constructivism while asking what their work means in a world today so wrapped up in consumerism globalism of the 21ths century. Being inspired by the world around also leads me to have a more architectural element to the work. Aware of how my practic becomes more sculptural when build up overtime on canvas, I almost think of them as thin sculptures.

Annabelle Roberts

When walking through overgrown, tree-clad areas, I’m fascinated by the entangled configurations of branches, the roots woven in the ground and the bustle of leaves. Nature acts as an inexhaustible source of inspiration, providing me with infinite varieties of forms and earthy hues that can galvanise my practice. I capture the natural environment in photographs, which function as mechanical aids as I transform organic matter into raw, dynamic strokes of paint. I establish energetic gestures, transforming my motions into marks, which maintain an activity of their own. 

My practice is further guided by a curiosity of the brushstroke as an expression of the artist’s index. I aim to preserve a true, authentic portrayal of the gestural mark, which allows the viewer to read my body movements, and operations performed during the work’s emergence. Isabelle Graw describes the ability of such gestures to act as traces of the ‘absent author’. Therefore, the accentuation of brush marks establishes my existential status as the author of the work.

You can see the full Manchester School of Art end of year virtual exhibition All Eyes On You via their website.

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