Wirral Met Fine Art Anniversary Catalogue

Not Exactly As Planned 2020

Vincent Lavell

We would like to thank Colin Simpson and the gallery staff for supporting the BA Fine Art course for the past twenty-five years. The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum offers our course an outstanding venue for the Degree Show and provides our students with a unique opportunity to display their work at the heart of cultural life on the Wirral and engage directly with the public. This is a unique relationship and it is in marked contrast to other fine art courses who will host their final exhibitions within their ‘home’ institution.

The Williamson team have consistently regarded our students in a professional light. The advice and technical support for even the most challenging proposals has been first class. Fish tanks, turf, car body parts, live performances and whole rooms full of furniture have all been treated with serious and professional consideration. This is an immense learning experience for our graduating students and acts as an in valuable introduction into the world of museums and exhibitions.

The class of 2020 exhibition’s was called Diverse Directions. The online catalogue is still available to view. The title was a development of an idea explored previously by this same group of students during their second year professional practice exhibition A Diverse Collective. Whilst that exhibition celebrated their commitment and co-operation as an undergraduate group, the 2020 Degree Show marked the start of their independent careers as professional artists.

The Degree Show is the culmination of three and sometimes six years of study. This makes great demands on the undergraduates and the families and friends that support them. The Degree Show is a celebration of this effort.

During these uncertain times museums and galleries are closed, but the value of the art and culture is being re-thought as people explore at home all manner of creative activities. Creativity and ‘making’ are essential to any healthy community. We hope our students will contribute to this culture of creativity in the wider community as this opens up before us.

Joe McGillivray: Course Founder and Leader 1993

Prior to 1993 I was the Course Leader teaching on the Art and Design Foundation Course at WMC. The purpose of the course was to prepare students to apply for art and design degree programmes. Many of our Wirral based students tended to be mature, returning to education for a number of reasons, with dependents and various domestic commitments that bound them to their locality.

This meant that many of our talented, Wirral based, mature students had to apply to Universities that were further afield and in direct competition with more traditional student applicants who did not have the challenges faced by our students. We realised that this meant that there was a gap in the Higher Education provision for adult learners.

We were keen for the course to recruit non-traditional students with a range of life experiences that would enhance the diversity of the course and provide a wide range of student and staff learning opportunities. This innovative founding proposal was accepted by Liverpool John Moores University.

Working with lecturers from the Fine Art course at LJMU that included Bob Scriven, John Holden and Mike Knowles the staff at WMC were keen to focus on a studio based, practise orientated course, that endeavoured to balance both traditional and contemporary approaches to Fine Art. So we produced programme that integrated theory and practice creating real relationships between studio activity and theoretical knowledge, an innovative approach in comparison with many other institutions.

The programme document was placed in front of a validation panel in May 1993, and the course was approved with a start date in September 1993. We recruited 13 students to our first cohort who were forever a part of the course and its aims as all future students have been. Our first Degree Show was hosted by the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery in the summer of 1996. We quickly realised that this was another unique feature of the course- a Degree Show at the heart of the creative community on the Wirral.

M. B. O’Toole: Degree Show 1996

In 1993 I entered Wirral Metropolitan College, then at the Withens Lane site, Wallasey, to study for a BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree. I was one of fourteen students, the first cohort to graduate from the degree course set-up by Joe McGillivray. The inaugural Degree Show was held at the Williamson Art Gallery in 1996, establishing a partnership which continues to this day.

My encounter with the extraordinary women and men making up the student group, and the inspirational tutors and examiners contributing to the programme at Wirral Met was transformational. We were a diverse group; fiercely individual in our thinking and our ways. If there was a singular gesture that unified us, this was drawing, and drawing at Wirral Met in 1993 was synonymous with the figure of Mike Knowles, Emeritus Professor and advisor to the course.

Line, whether continuous or fragmented, figurative or abstract brought us together. In the ‘life room’ Mike Knowles was the arbiter of line, inspiring and galvanising us into action. These wonderfully intense days are among my happiest. At the end of the day we would flop into paint-splattered armchairs with mugs of tea, laughing, happy and exhausted from the sheer effort of our task.

My ongoing preoccupation with the formal and conceptual possibilities of line is rooted in the ‘life room’ at Wirral Met, in the contours of every individual line traced, in the multiple voices brought together and unified across space and time. Today this pre-occupation extends to my doctoral research project, through a re-evaluation of the relation between the space of painting and poetry underpin spatial and temporal readings of the text. The metaphoric potential of line is manifest in my practice, operating across painting, sculpture, video, digital media, and conceptual poetics. A recent solo exhibition of my work,NOTHING WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE OTHER THAN THE PLACE, includes a video installation recording high-tide on a full moon over the course of twelve consecutive months.

Jacqui Chapman: Degree Show 2006

Since graduating from Wirral Metropolitan College in 2006, followed by a Fellowship year in 2007, my professional practice has continued to reflect my relationship with landscape, exploring the significance of this from personal experience within a broader international context.

My recent Masters Degree in Painting, Wimbledon College of Art, University Arts London (2019) focussed on the impact habituation to violence has on people, and the need for escape from it, in fabricated gated communities. In the light of recent world politics where borders are being redrawn and attitudes towards ‘other’ less tolerant, I investigated this within a post-apartheid South African.

The painting featured is called Gated Community iii and is part of a series of paintings about these gated communities. Voyeurism is the undercurrent where the viewer becomes complicit too. The idea of watching and being watched is a way of life. These landscapes are charged with psychological and political histories where ‘entitlement’ platforms the inheritance of the apartheid system with a desire to escape violence in Modernist homes cut off from reality.

Personal research also informed my practice as an undergraduate on the Fine Art degree course where I questioned whether identity is shaped by territory. My intention was to create a personal, contemporary, painterly language to convey a complex, emotive interpretation as an immigrant who felt exiled from my homeland.

The Fellowship enabled development of these ideas and an opportunity to expand on the effect of artistic language. It was a very productive, innovative year for me, which I whole-heartedly enjoyed, experimenting with different technologies and processes. I explored whether photography was too exact a mnemonic to record unreliable memory.

Shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2019 with two paintings of saccharine-sweet memories of idyllic innocence behind high garden walls, and which referenced J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron.


Robyn Woolston: Degree Show 2007

Wirral Met College offered an unparalleled space to explore large-scale sculptural outputs within onsite & offsite locations. Through self-initiated exhibitions and studio-based tutorials it provided a test-bed for physical and philosophical experimentation and fostered a sense of endeavour, possibility and potential. Whilst studying I started to explore the inherent value and potential of waste materials, from everyday rubbish to the by-products of manufacturing processes. Treating waste as an art material in its own right allowed me to question environmental use and abuse as well as the impacts of globalised supply chains within consumer-based systems. All of which lead me to my final degree show work: ‘Supa Scoop’ (2007). An installation containing 7500 ice-cream cartons. 

13 years on and my work is resolutely interdisciplinary, spanning installation, moving image, print and socially engaged practice. I frequently work within archives and across sites of listed significance including completing commissions for Penrhyn Castle National Trust, the Queen’s Own Highlanders Museum at Fort George, the Walker Art Gallery and the Holst Birthplace Museum. I’ve exhibited internationally too, presenting my work at the World Congress of Solid Waste Management in São Paulo, Brazil, producing a film at Mauthausen Concentration Camp, which was exhibited at Galerie Maerz, Linz, Austria and working with Metal (Peterborough) & Studio Orta, in Les Moulins, Paris.

“Currently I’m working on a residency that focuses upon Climate Anxiety and Eco Grief within the extraction rich environment of Fort Worth, Texas. As the largest energy-producing and energy-consuming state in the nation, the location provides a rich backdrop to my conversations between The Art Galleries at TCU, the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Environmental Studies. The project will culminate in a programme of socially engaged practice, an installation and a site-responsive Artists’ Film in 2021.

Article: Climate collapse and the role of art


Jenni McConnell: Degree Show 2008

I started as a mature student whilst working part-time in IT – my brain was often befuddled shifting from creative conceptual thoughts to excel spreadsheets & business reports – hard work, but well worth it. The Fine Art course taught me new skills, I developed my language and critical thinking, honed my research and extended my creative passions into ever more focussed areas. I stopped painting, largely after discussions with Vincent Lavell – it was a great decision to make. Working with Michelle Rowley in the print studio I explored the medium of artists’ books, which I still love today – my greatest accolade is having a book work in the Tate collection; a wonderful testament to the dedicated teaching I received.

The degree show is a wonderful moment to take stock of three years of personal growth, a time to reflect and a time to leap forward. I left Wirral Met to head straight to UCLan for the MA Site & Archive Interventions course. Michelle Rowley had suggested I look at it.

Over the years since then I have had some fabulous experiences, working with wonderful museums and public collections. I loved, loathed and learned so much working as a Research Artist and I was delighted to be commissioned for the first National Festival of Making.

By 2018 I realised an increasingly repeated imperfect phrase was ringing in my ear and I decided to listen harder to the sound of ‘climate change’. My practice is now totally focused on our planetary crisis – I will use my creative ability to communicate complex interconnected subjects in ways to engage everyone. It is a shift from a deeper conceptual work to something more accessible – a response to the crisis we are in where we cannot afford to exclude anyone.


Louis Jeck Prestidge: Degree Show 2017

Following graduation I took the opportunity to use the Woodside Studios for another year as a Fellowship student. The degree course Wirral Met enabled me to have fun and express myself in a relaxed but professional environment. The space on offer enabled me to explore many different avenues that included sculpture and Installation. During the course I developed a reputation for ‘skip diving’, I frequently bamboozled the staff by retrieving parts of a nearby bus stop or discarded bedsteads.

As the course went on my confidence grew enabling me to take more risks as a student and led me to develop my interest in filmmaking. This led to a collaboration with tutor Michelle Rowley as part of Michelle’s MA course at UCLAN. Michelle asked me and Jonny Benson, one of the other Fellowship students, to develop our filmmaking ideas on a semi-derelict site in Wavertree. We produced the film ‘Hunting Ground’ (2018). It was a really important steppingstone for me, the opportunity to work with an experienced artist and teacher outside of a college context gave me a lot of confidence.

Since 2017 I have established myself as a Liverpool baesd artist having become a member of Road Studios. Working in my studio as a painter I have collaborated with fellow artist Jacob Gourley, exhibiting work at West Kirby Arts Centre and the Bridewell Gallery in 2019. I have been involved in group exhibitions for Light Night and Studio Shuffle, a pop-up exhibition night for studios in the Baltic area in Liverpool. In addition to working in the medium of painting I have also exhibited short films. I am currently looking to do an MA in Fine Art at a University in the North West or London.



Williamson Art Gallery, Oxton, Birkenhead, Wirral