FEATURE: Growing into artists

One exhibit which the casual visitor could miss, mushrooms, all the work of Sara Punshon.
One exhibit which the casual visitor could miss, mushrooms, all the work of Sara Punshon.
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Sunderland students are being given invaluable professional experience as they forge a path in the art world. Katy Wheeler finds out more.

MUSHROOMS made by a Sunderland University student are proving an eye-catching feature in the latest exhibition at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

Looking through a exhibit made from balloons Stacey Davidson and Anthony Venus..

Looking through a exhibit made from balloons Stacey Davidson and Anthony Venus..

Though still at university, Sara Punshon’s work, entitled Phantasmagoria, has impressed curators who have chosen one of her pieces to be part of the new Moral Holiday exhibition at the Fawcett Street-based gallery.

As well as Sara’s talent, the coup is thanks in part to a new course which is giving students invaluable experience in the professional art world.

Foundation/Level 0 Art and Design is a course for students to take part in before they commit to a BA degree, which helps them to decipher which art path to follow through experimentation and experience.

Strong links have been formed with the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Circa Projects in Newcastle, and Newbridge Projects in Newcastle, who have created work experience placements for current Foundation students and those students who have progressed on to universities in the region.

Stacey Davidson in the exhibition.

Stacey Davidson in the exhibition.

Sara is one of those whose artistic future has been furthered by the course.

“I was really excited when I found out my work had been selected for the exhibition,” said the 21-year-old.

“I made the mushrooms from polymer clay.

“I wanted to look at nature and mushrooms are renowned for their speed of growth.

Anthony Venus in the exhibition.

Anthony Venus in the exhibition.

“I was interested in how art can stop the natural order, how it can freeze time, so that it’s nature, but in a state of inertia.”

The aim of the course is to expose the students to as much of the art world as possible, before they leave university and embark on their own careers.

They are being helped by specially-built studios at the National Glass Centre, where they can explore their creative talents and decide whether their skills lie in glass and ceramics, lens-based art, painting, sculpture, graphics or another field.

On the practical side of the business, they are given hands-on experience in displaying art.

Students Stacey Davidson and Anthony Venus, both 19, have been given the chance to help put up Sara’s and other work which features as part of Moral Holiday.

“I originally wanted to do graphics,” said Stacey. “But the foundation course gave me the chance to experience fine art which is now what I study at BA level. It’s about experimenting and developing your conceptual skills.”

Anthony said: “It’s a great chance to volunteer at galleries across the North East as a stepping stone into the business.”

Natalie Gale, academic tutor on the Foundation/Level 0 Art and Design, said: “Being successful in the creative industry is reliant on making high quality, innovative work, but also largely on professional experience.

“During a work placement skills are gained and confidence is developed, which of course encourages students to aim high and achieve their goals.

“I feel it is incredibly important to introduce young people early to professional development in order to prepare them for the reality of the work environment they will find after university.

“This is an exciting experience for them and our students are often commended for both the skills and enthusiasm they bring.”

Joe Woodhouse, course leader, said: “The Foundation/Level 0 Art and Design at the University of Sunderland has a great staff team of committed practitioners who bring their real-world experience into the teaching they do here.

“Our aim to de-mystify the wider work environment for Art and Design practice and ensure that our students feel confident in what they have to offer.

“It is fantastic to see examples of our students and ex-students continuing to make their way, and experiences such as placements and work experience can only help introduce students to these exciting environments and opportunities.”

Twitter: @sunechokaty