Poking fun at art theory earns DMU student national recognition and a £1,000 prize


A tongue-in-cheek critique of art theory typed onto a roll of toilet paper, has seen a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) student crowned winner of The Graduate Art Show 2023.

Fine Art MA student Raisa Watkiss - who will graduate in January - has won a £1,000 prize for her inimitable work titled All Art Theory is Shit. As part of her prize, the 5,000 essay painstakingly typed onto the fragile paper, will be exhibited for an extra week at the Woolf Gallery in London.

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All Art Theory is Shit - Raisa Watkiss

Raisa is one of four talented DMU artists selected to showcase their work across prestigious London galleries, as part of the show. Impressing the competition’s judges, Ella Astill, Isobel Brigham, Juan Chen and Raisa join just 50 artists who made the cut, out of more than 300 submissions.

The show gives emerging talent a national platform and the opportunity to reach a diverse audience including collectors, curators, international gallery owners and art-loving members of the public.

It took Raisa six long months to type her essay - Death of the Object: A dialogue on post aesthetics, things-non-things, and the postmodern condition - onto an entire roll of toilet paper, using a vintage Alder Gabriele 25 typewriter and alternating between black ink for words and red ink for punctuation.

The 42-year-old conceptual artist from Pembrokeshire, South Wales, said: “At times, the weight of externalised pressure concerning not only art theory, but the contextualisation and placement of your art practice can lead you to feel the pressure of performance.

“Especially writing essays and reading about art history, artists and art movements during your MA, so I suppose this piece was my way of attacking the narrative of art theory in a tongue-in-cheek way.

“I had to type it all out very slowly and very gently. The whole kind of point is that everything we do and work towards is quite fragile, art theory is fragile. Life is quite fragile. Much of my practice revolves around mental illness, my fragile mental state is reimagined.

“I’ve tried to kill myself twice and failed. Thus, my practice attempts to imagine the invisible, and create conversations around mental health because we need to talk. I know it’s a difficult subject, but let's talk about it and attempt to create physical representations.

“Winning this prize shows you how good DMU’s Fine Art department is and how talented the tutors and technicians are. Without DMU, I wouldn’t have achieved this – it provided me with a safe environment to explore things and touch subjects I never thought I would before.”

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March Fairy Ring - Ella Astill

During her time at DMU, Raisa has worked with a range of staff and students across different disciplines and has curated shows at the Leicester Gallery on campus through the Weird Garden collective she’s a member of.

Raisa, who has also secured a studio space at Leicester’s Two Queens gallery, is preparing for an exhibition at X-Chruch in Gainsborough and is exploring the option of staying on at DMU to study a PhD.

Fellow Fine Art MA coursemate Ella Astill, was also chosen to showcase her work at the Woolff Gallery as part of The Graduate Art Show 2023. Having grown up on a family-run farm, Ella’s photography documents the many aspects of her farming identity.

The 24-year-old from Sileby, Leicestershire said: “The photo I’m exhibiting is of a fairy ring on the farm, which is a circle on the ground where mushrooms grow and kill the grass.

“I was pretty surprised to have been selected for this opportunity. The whole thing has been a really good experience. It was amazing going down to London to instal my work, and a real eye-opener into what that world is like.”

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Isobel Brigham's work evokes childhood nostalgia

Isobel Brigham, a Fine Art BA (Hons) graduate, is displaying an acrylic and ink painting on canvas at the William Gallery in Soho until 20 December. The piece is from a colourful collection documenting her childhood.

“I use colour and light to evoke a sense of nostalgia, influenced by the bright plastic toys I associate with my childhood, as well as things like playing dress up. My style is contemporary and graphic,” said the 22-year-old from York.

“It’s such an honour to have been selected for the show. My piece is actually the first one I created after graduating from DMU. I painted it in my grandma’s garden, so it’s extra special.”

Isobel has another painting being exhibited in the Love Art Exhibition at Leicester’s LCB Depot. Since graduating in September, she’s secured a role co-managing ILKON, an arts centre outside of Nottingham, where she also has a studio space as an artist in residence.

Following the London shows, a selection of the artists will then be invited to exhibit at The Vanner Gallery in Salisbury in January 2024, where this year 85 per cent of the artwork on show was sold.

Posted on Monday 30th October 2023

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