Each year, York College puts on an exhibition for its AS and A2 Art & Design students to proudly display their work. The Student Review thought this sounded exciting, so we headed over to the College to take some photos and interview one of the students displaying their work, Becky Cook. Without further ado, here’s Becky…

Which course are you on at the college?

A2 Art and Design (Textiles) but I also do A2 Philosophy, Media Studies and English Literature.

How many pieces have you had to produce this year, and what were they?

A page of one of Becky’s artist books

Over the two years, you have to complete 4 units, as you do for all A-levels. Each year you do one unit from September to February, which is a coursework project, then from February to May you do all the preparation work for your exam piece, the final piece of which you produce under exam conditions in 8 hours (for AS) or 12 hours (for A2) spread over 2 weeks.
For each unit, whether it’s coursework or an exam, you’re given a starting word, last year was ‘natural forms’ and ‘rhythms and cycles’, and this year we were allowed to choose anything for the coursework project so I chose to look at the British Empire. The exam unit was based around ‘exploration and discovery’. You take your inspiration from this word, but you can take it in any direction you like; the same word can inspire a million different projects.

For each project you have to do some research where you look at work by an existing artist, but this can be anything from an illustrator to a sculptor or designer. You study a piece or collection of work by them in detail and produce a visual experiment which is like a smaller final piece, based on your interpretation of the work. After this, you use the artist studies and primary research from museums, galleries etc to produce a sketchbook (or two) of development work where you try out lots of different techniques using materials you think you might like to use in your final piece. There’s really no limit to what you can do; the rooms are full of different materials you can use and the tutors are more than happy to take you downstairs to the fashion or 3D design rooms to use equipment there.

Finally, you use your sketchbook alongside sketches and photographs to plan out your final piece, which you then produce. In total each year, you hand in two artist books (which are visual ways of presenting your artist research; I’ve presented mine in a paint pot, handmade books/boxes, flower pots and with all the information sewn onto a skirt I made), two visual experiments, as many development sketchbooks as you like, and two final pieces, which can be anything vaguely related to textiles. It’s as much work as it sounds!

Your main piece seems to be your brick wall; tell us more about what inspired you to do that, and what your aim was.

Becky’s brick wall quilt

The brick wall quilt was my final piece for my ‘exploration and discovery’ exam unit. I decided to look at discovering the beauty in the urban environment because I like to notice beautiful things, such as the texture of a piece of rust, or a little daisy living in a brick wall that gets overlooked so often. For my artist research I looked at Michael Landy’s Nourishment collection – a collection of detailed etchings of weeds (or ‘street flowers’ as he calls them) – and the Boyle Family, a family who create 2m square 3D fibreglass and resin replicas of pavements, corners of roads and demolition sites. My development focused on recreating the unassuming, elegant beauty of Landy’s weed drawings in my own representations of dandelions and weeds, and the realism of the Boyle Family’s pieces in my own representations of bricks, tarmac, rust etc. The result was the wall…

How did you create the wall and how long did it take you?

Would you have noticed this?

During my development work I found I really liked the texture and colour of bricks, so for my final piece I knew I wanted to make something which used them. After talking with my tutor, Kate Swindells, and one of the art tutors, Simon Morris, I decided to make an installation piece, and after a little more planning I decided on a brick wall. As I wanted to turn the final piece into an outdoor installation I went out to find a wall to base my piece on, and after measuring about five walls across York I found one I liked the colours and shape of near the roundabout on Tadcaster Road.

As the piece was to be made under exam conditions, I planned it all out before I made it and then created the templates I needed. I then used 10 hours of my time to make the quilt – each brick is made separately with the technique being applied to hessian or calico. The bricks are made out of tile cement, which was painted when dry with emulsion paint and ink, and I then transferred photographs and used machine embroidery along with handmade stencils and paint. Each of the separate calico / hessian panels were then quilted with a layer of wadding and a second layer of calico to make them 3D. All the bricks were then sewn in the right place onto strips of calico acting as mortar and the strips were then sewn onto a big piece of calico to form a backing for the whole quilt. The dandelions at the bottom are real dandelions I pulled apart and arranged onto acetate, stuck on with PVA. At the same time, I was making a brick-shaped box with more emulsion and ink.

The top of the scroll

I was then allowed to take the quilt out of the exam room to take photographs of the installation and to see if anybody noticed the quilt stuck to the wall, which some people did, but many others walked past completely oblivious. After this, I used my last two hours of exam time to make a scroll of all my photographs from the installation and to finish the brick box in which to put them. The actual making took 12 hours, but the project and preparation took 3 months.

What were your favourite and least favourite parts of the course / creating the wall?

My favourite parts of textiles were the freedom to experiment with a wide range of media, techniques and processes, and the support that you get from all the art tutors and the rest of the class. There’s no rivalry, everyone really wants to help each other.

My least favourite part was the sheer amount of work you have to do to. I’m sure I’ve put more effort into this subject than anything else!

Do you think your piece turned out well? Did it have the effect you wanted?

Yes, I think it did in the end. I didn’t know what the installation would show me, but in the end it showed that you have to want to see the beauty in the environment to find it, even though it’s there anyway. I think it taught me as much about people and their ability to perceive the same world in a hundred different ways, as it did how to look at the textures and colours around me.

Do you have any advice for future Art & Design students?

Don’t underestimate the amount of work you’ll have to do, and you have to stick to your deadlines, but enjoy yourself; choose something that really interests you and don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do something drastic – you’ll soon find out what works and what doesn’t. Just throw yourself into the course, because it really stretches your artistic mind and changes the way you think. It’s not all about what grade you come out with at the end, it’s about the journey you take to get there, which sounds very clichéd but I think it’s true of all A-Levels. They work you harder than you’ve ever worked before, but it’s worth it, I hope!

Becky will be going on to Lancaster University to do Media and Cultural Studies. The Student Review would like to thank her for giving up her time for our interview.

Here are all the photos we took of the exhibition: