Fragment of Figuring the Figurative
seventy-nine plaster casts with ceramic original, each 12.3 x 4cm
© Eleanor McCullough

Student Spotlight: Eleanor McCullough, ACS/Edinburgh Studio Prize 2017
August 29, 2017
The third student to be featured in our Student Spotlight series is Eleanor McCullough, recipient of one of two prizes awarded by ACS at Edinburgh College of Art this year.

Eleanor will receive a £3,500 prize to assist in establishing a studio space, which will include a fully paid twelve month residency and a stipend to help purchase materials and continue her artistic education through local workshops.

Find out more about Eleanor's artistic practice and her exploration of originality in our interview.

 

Q. How would you define your work in three words?

 

Critical, considered, refined.

 

Q. What does winning the ACS/Edinburgh Studio Prize mean for you as an artist?

 

I’ve been pretty apprehensive about what the first year away from the structure and community of art college would be like, but the ACS Prize has taken most of these anxieties away by giving me the opportunity to establish a new base in a studio in Edinburgh – something that would not have been possible otherwise so soon after graduating.
 
The award means I am able to maintain the momentum gained over the past five years of study, so I can carry out work and ideas not yet realised, and continue to experiment with new processes and techniques.
 
Most importantly though, this time will allow me to reflect inwards, away from the pressure of deadlines, and really consider why I am interested in what I’m interested
in, and why this area is so important to me.

 

Q. How do you intend to use the prize money? How will that help you as an artist?

 

The prize money first and foremost is going towards twelve months of studio rent, taking a huge burden off my shoulders financially. Having a studio space is crucial to my practice not only as a place for research and making, but also for experimenting and allowing mistakes to happen.
 
The remaining funds will be used for materials, giving me the freedom to follow ideas through as they come, as well as memberships to workshops in Edinburgh like the Printmakers and Sculpture Workshop.

 

Q. What medium do you mainly work with and why?

 

For me, the choice of medium is itself a critical gesture dictated by, or in aid of, the concept behind an individual piece or body of work.

For a work that discloses the problematic of originality, for example, I engage with multiple mediums like printmaking or casting; mechanical reproductive processes that deny the ‘hand’ of the author, and prevent the notion of a unique ‘original’.
 
When we choose to engage in any medium, we are engaging with its history too. The very decision to manifest an idea as a painting rather than a photograph already says so much, and is something I like to play on.
 
This approach often means I am traversing a wide range of methods and mediums, from print to painting, gilding to casting, video to written word and so on. I find the
dialogues that emerge between this constellation of processes really stimulating, and often makes for a sumptuous viewing experience.
 
Sunflowers and The Birth of Venus
Reeves’ paint by numbers acrylic on plaster and gesso panels, each 29.7 x 42 cm
© Eleanor McCullough
 
Q. Where do you find most inspiration for your work?

 

At the heart of my practice lies the problematic of ‘originality’ and the status of the ‘copy’ in our image-saturated culture of excess. This is a heavily theorised area, and as such I draw from art history, theory and philosophy.
 
History enriches the contemporary, while our current context can provide a new point of departure for historical matters. I found this overlap most fruitful when writing my dissertation on a series of seventeenth century prints that are still in print today. This brought to light issues of intellectual property, copyright, authenticity, value and originality that seem as relevant today as ever.
 
This research has filtered into my practice, where I consider the ‘problem’ of a copy-as-a-work-of-art, the creative potential of multiplicity, and the inadequacy of the still-dominant rhetoric of originality in valuing multiple mediums.

 

Q. Take us through your working process.

 

A lot of reading gives way to writing and sketching, then probably more writing, reading and sketching, until an idea germinates and finds itself drawn to an object, material or process, which is then developed into a more finished product.
 
Usually after the first form takes shape, I write a reflection – a kind of verbal crutch – that helps consolidate my thinking and support the piece in relation to others. I usually work in a series or body of work, with multiple ideas conversing and developing in unison.

 

Q. Can you remember the first work of art that you created? What was it and why was it so memorable?

 

I have a strong memory of and fondness for the life drawings I made every Tuesday evening at a local arts centre in my last few years of school.
 
I remember being so comfortable and at ease with drawing – the rapidness and fluidity of it, its simplicity.
 
This is something I actually really miss and feel has been neglected over the past few years. It would be good to reach back to this way of thinking and acting, of letting things come naturally and without too much thought.
 

We look forward to visiting Eleanor in her new studio space in the autumn, and wish her luck in the early months of her residency.