There’s no business like show business

Tiina Lilja recently graduated in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art. Earlier this year, we acquired two of Tiina’s paintings for the University Art Collection as she was an artist we had been following with interest for some time. As well as the physical art works, Tiina has been providing us with unique insights into her career after graduation so that we get a sense of her working life post-Art School. In the second of these updates, Tiina writes about the opening night of the ECA Degree Show and where she’s at now with her work.

On the evening of the 22nd of May, I was standing alongside my paintings, all dressed up, preparing for the biggest night of my life as an art student: the Opening Night of the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show. I was suddenly incredibly aware how this was the day the work I had cradled in the safety of my studio would be exposed to an audience of strangers. I was not nervous… a little late for that. As it normally goes at times of extreme adrenaline levels, I was more focused on finer details i.e. did I order enough business cards and why was I not dressed in more comfortable footwear. My feet were killing me.

Overview of my year’s work in the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show

The night rushed by: a lot of handshakes, introductions, congratulations and (shrug) selfies. The day concluded in the award ceremony of the annual Astaire Prize, me accepting one of the runner up prizes. (The nibbles were Waitrose by the way.)  In fact, most of my fellow artists either sold some work, few for the first time, received awards or were invited into collectives or to show work in exhibitions. Yes, I do think we were a strong year – but in a major show like the Degree Show where all departments are represented, there is something for every taste. So remember to check it out next year!

Award ceremony of the Astaire Prize: (From right to left) Me (runner up), Mark Astaire, Theo Shields (runner up), Magi Sinclair (first prize) and Gordon Brennan.

Couple months on, I think the experience was vastly educational. The reviews of the show were mostly encouraging, I made my mother proud by being mentioned by name in a couple of them – or the misspelled version of my name anyway, and so was the feedback. I met a lot of people that wanted to share their thoughts on my work and many more that did not. The average time a viewer spends in front of a piece seems to be less than you would take to choose between bottled and tap water! From the number of people who took my card, roughly every fiftieth got in touch - some thinking about buying or exhibiting my paintings, a few just to ask about my process of painting or the inspiration behind the pieces.

After the show was finished my work got some additional exposure by being kept up for the ECA open day, one last perk of having hung it in the Sculpture Court!

Friday the 13th of June marked the opening of the first exhibition I was in as a graduated professional artist, La Gallerie 1940’s Summer Exhibition and I also got to exhibit my Bombay Sapphire in Glasgow, at the Six Foot Gallery for their Best of The Degree Shows-exhibition. All these events are what makes the life of an artist seem so very glamorous – the tricky bit is to remember that this is only a small fraction of the job.

Opening night of the Summer Exhibition, La Gallerie 1940

Overview of the Summer Exhibition

It was surprising to notice how many galleries are willing to exhibit the work of an emerging artist like myself. There appears to be a genuine interest from the public to see new art and fresh perspectives. But a word of caution: contemporary art world can be like the Project Runway: one day you’re in and the next day you’re out. The competition is fierce, the art market callous and the rights of an artist today leave a lot of room for improvement. Yet there is a whole community of creative people that are in it for the art: the passionate gallerists, curators, volunteers, producers… and the artists of course. That is what convinces me to keep painting. Blisters in the soles of your feet will heal and the feedback you get, how you analyse it, keeps you improving.

And what’s next? - I am settling into my new studio in the North of France, but that is a different story altogether.

Tiina Lilja

Time Lapse: Installing the Rashid El-Din

We work with some very talented people (no we haven’t been bribed with cake today!) and you can see the work of two of these wonders in the latest film from the Centre for Research Collections.  The time lapse film of the Rashid El-Din 1314 exhibition being installed was captured by Malcolm Brown from our Digital Imaging Unit and our very own Neil Lebeter composed and played the music. We hope you enjoy it!

As you may have noticed from our blog and Twitter posts over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a few exciting graduations happening at the University of Edinburgh.

Here’s jeweller Sheila Fleet’s own blog piece letting us know how it felt to receive her honorary degree, whilst sharing a few memories of her ECA student days.

Congratulations again, Sheila!

Happy Graduation Day!

Today we have lots of celebrations as a number of alumni, colleagues and friends celebrate graduations.

Among them are Graham Dey who was Welfare Officer and music guru at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) for over 20 years and helped many students. Graham is a great supporter of the ECA archive and provided much advice on events and people at ECA during from the 1980s to the 2000s. Here is a caricature of him from the ECA Student Handbook 1993! (With thanks to the artist, Neil Kempsell).

I also met jeweller Sheila Fleet O.B.E. and her family. Sheila is receiving an honorary degree today and we had a great chat over items in the archive, including photographs where we spotted her and members of the family when at the College.  Within the group eight of the family had graduated from the College. Here is Sheila and her sisters Connie, Dorothy and Leila, who studied at ECA, on the staircase in the main building.

Sheila also brought along her College scarf.  I had never seen one, so was very excited when she brought it out of her bag!

And last but not least our own Emma Smith, who works as Exhibitions Assistant within the Centre For Research Collections.  She graduated today with First Class Honours.  We’re so proud!!

Congratulations to all!  We hope you’ve had a fantastic day!

Posted by: Rachel

From the Art Collection #82: Body by Rachel Hill

From the Art Collection #82: Body by Rachel Hill

A secret agent exposed…

As I am told by every taxi driver who ever gives me a lift home, Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge area is famous for being the childhood home of Sean Connery. But, you may not know that he was employed by Edinburgh College of Art as an artist’s model from February to May 1952 – we’ve even got his contract in the ECA Archive, signed when he was still known as Thomas Connery.

Richard Demarco, who remembers painting him as a student, described the future Bond as “too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis.”

Unfortunately only one painting exists in the Art Collection from Big Tam’s brief stint as a model, painted by jazz musician Al Fairweather when he was a student. Feast your eyes on this:

The hair! The pouch! That elegant and alluring pose. No wonder he was cast as James Bond just a few years later.

From the Art Collection #81 Romeing by Marissa Stoffer

From the Art Collection #81 Romeing by Marissa Stoffer

'The object of art is to give life shape': Festival of Museums Fun!

On Saturday we hosted a talk and create workshop at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) with Drawing and Painting Lecturer Joan Smith. This was to celebrate the 1940s for the Festival of Museum events being held across the University of Edinburgh Library and Collections. We shared photos, film and stories from the collections about life at ECA in the 1940s. This was to inspire everyone attending to create collages. We thought you’d like to see some of the work!!

Meet Holly, Our Skills for the Future Placement

My name is Holly and I am currently on a two week placement at ECA Archives as part of my Skills for the Future Collections Trainee programme at RCAHMS.

I began my placement here on Monday and was introduced to the department and given a tour of the CRC by Rachel Hosker, the ECA Archivist, as well as an introduction to the great art collection by Neil Lebeter , the Art Collections Curator.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be working with the ECA’s typography collection, cataloguing and researching the material produced by the ECA’s typography department between 1930 and 1970. The collection is a varied and visually exciting one with items ranging from book covers to 3D menus for the student’s Diploma Luncheon. The material provides a good opportunity to get to grips with a collection of which little is known. A lot of the material is not attributed to a person and there is very little research material available about the work of the typography department at ECA. It is therefore important to spend time trying to understand the archive and to cataloguing it to increase public access.

The college ran The Eagle Press, named after a statue of an eagle that sits atop the press. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to see The Eagle Press at some point over the next two weeks which still resides at ECA. It is not known when The Eagle Press started however the earliest date I have found so far on a printed item from The Eagle Press is 1948.

As well as producing students work the college also printed commercial work. Amongst the collection there are an array of leaflets, menus and brochures for various businesses.

Whilst looking through the collection I found a lot of illustrated booklets that contain extracts from well-known texts such as Moby Dick and The Wind in the Willows. These booklets often have the name of a student from ECA as well as their class year and kind of typography they used printed on the back, providing an insight into the typography class. Some of the booklets have beautiful illustrations and are printed on a range of interesting papers.

Whilst I have only just begun sorting through the collection I already have some favourites. I particularly like a series of colourful prints with the words A Long, Slow Repeat. There are sixteen prints in total, each using different combinations of coloured ink and papers that really give you the sense of a student experimenting and trying out different combinations in a typography class.

Casting in Retrograde

Deborah Marshall is a final year Sculpture student at Edinburgh College of Art. Deborah discusses her work for the ECA Degree Show 2014, which investigates the Cast Collection.  

Casting in Retrograde - a diptych, 2014 is a work that connects and transposes the vast sculpture court and the diminutive casting room of ECA through the medium of sound. It emerged in response to a double opportunity - that of a live vocal performance in the sculpture court on the degree show opening night and the casting room as my show space for a yet to be conceived audio-based work.


The placement of a figure from the cast collection within the casting room as part of the installation has brought the process of display, reserved for the sculpture court, into the space historically assigned for back-room production of cast works. Likewise, my recorded audio - an excerpt from Purcell’s Didos Lament, scored and sung in reverse as a six-part canon - that I performed and pre-recorded with an amateur choir in the beautifully resonant sculpture court - is now embedded in the tall but comparatively tiny casting room for continuous play-back. Through this score, with its references to antiquity via Virgil’s epic poem and Purcell’s Baroque reinterpretation, I am playing with ideas of direction, time, appropriation and narrative.

Importantly, on one level the work questions the place of an historic cast collection within the context of contemporary, conceptual art and its education. For much of my time at ECA, the casts, have seemed an historically interesting but largely architecturally and decoratively appropriate presence beyond the periphery of my current sculptural education - an anachronism in short.

It is curious then that the simple re-placement , or repositioning of the cast figure has proved so unexpectedly transformative both with regard to the evolution of this work, and to the place that is still the working casting room within the college. The installation, with its embedded audio and visual references to the timelessness of the casting process itself, has brought a meditative stillness to the room in which the presence of the past, in the form of the cast figure, is powerfully felt.

The live performance of the audio will be performed on the evening of 22nd May, 2014 in the sculpture court of ECA.

Deborah Marshall