“January 29th marked the beginning of Heatherley’s School of Fine Art 170th anniversary celebrations with their second annual Staff Show at the Bankside Gallery on the Southbank. The evening opened with a speech from Sir Alan Parker, CBE, director of such classic films like Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning who has recently become a student at Heatherley’s. The real attraction of course was the art on the walls, which ranged from photorealistic portrait and still lifes to berserk alien landscapes and elegant sculpture, produced by 40 members of the faculty including work by Allan Ramsay, winner of the 1988 John Player Portrait Award and Melissa Scott-Miller, winner of the 2008 Lynn Painter-Stainers Award. Founded in 1845, Heatherley’s is the oldest independent art school in London and in 1860 became the first to admit women on an equal level to male students. Unlike the great majority of art colleges in the UK they focus purely on portraiture, figurative painting and sculpture, all of which were strongly represented in the show.
Portraits and paintings dominated the collection, which caused the few sculptures exhibited to stand out. A definite favourite was Daniel Bibby’s ethereal Winged Figure 1, both beautiful and ominous; it more closely resembled the H.R.Geiger works that inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien than any conventional idea of a bird or angel. Indeed the crossover of of expected forms provided many of the pleasures of the exhibition; the ensuing free-for-all caused themes to jump refreshingly and radically from painting to painting, with a study of an inquisitive cat hung feet away from an apocalyptic landscape of duelling comic book figures rising no eyebrows. This willingness to not stick to any one theme even extended to some individual paintings. The otherwise classical portrait Self Portrait with Messier 100 by John Walton features the artist standing warmly wrapped up in a coat in the middle of a bleak wood, nonchalantly cradling a miniature galaxy in one hand. Other pieces that drew the eye were a strangely affecting portrait of a type-writer by Chris Moock charmingly entitled Fergie, its exposed mechanical interior rendered with almost psychedelic detailing. Outside of the more literal work, the strange worlds and figures of abstract pieces such as Tony Mott’s Cote d’Azur series also delighted.
Overall the show was an example of an arts faculty on top of their game. Considering Heatherley’s long history, which has produced artists as diverse as John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Walter Sickert, Roland Penrose, E.H.Sheppard and Franz Kline, the artistic merit on display was no surprise. The show was of a particularly high standard and augurs well for the students currently studying at the college. Considering the quality of the art being produced, it looks good for the rest of us as well.”