The RA Schools is a unique environment – the only UK institution to offer a three-year, full-time postgraduate fine arts course. Tucked into the back of Burlington House, this network of corridors, offices and studios is normally a hive of behind-the-scenes activity (and perhaps the odd haunting
). But for ten days each year, the annual Schools Show sees the doors thrown open and the historic studios transformed into a contemporary gallery space to showcase the work of the graduating class.
Installation images of the RA Schools Show 2010, featuring work by (L-R): Katharina Stöver, Sarah Poots and Rachael Champion
The Schools is the oldest in Britain, and past students include Blake, Turner and Constable. The 18 students graduating this month have spent three years developing their work in this artist-run institution (the teaching staff includes a number of Royal Academicians). It's an environment rich in history - students can take life drawing classes in the same purpose-built studio where JE Millais and others honed their craft - but also innovation. The cutting edge EPSON Digital Media Suite, for example, gives students the opportunity to experiment with equipment at the forefront of digital imaging technology.
The Schools has always had a strong sense of identity and community. The length of study allows the students – who must have an undergraduate art qualification – the valuable space and time to develop their practice, to experiment, and of course to grow. It’s an experience that final year student Kraig Wilson wryly describes as “three years swaggering through the hallway, talking big ideas, drinking in the bar, crying in my studio… allowing myself the time to be the stereotype that I am.”
Nonetheless, three years allows a lot of time for invention and re-invention. Wilson: “I’m leaving in the knowledge that I have quite unconsciously kicked holes through that stereotype and this shows most predominantly in my graduate show - this is not the work I expected to arrive at and ironically leave with. I feel like I’m back at the beginning, but somehow transformed, made new by three years of obsessive making. I’ve revelled in it”.
- RA Schools Show is on until 27 June. More information and a gallery of images can be found here.
- Go behind the scenes of the show's hanging with this BBC video