NOTTINGHAM Trent University continues to celebrate 170 years of its School of Art and Design with the exhibition Since 1843: In the Making, showcasing the work of some former students who have made their mark on the creative industries. Sophie Diver talks to featured artist and former Fine Art student, Rob Ryan.
Leaving Birmingham for a flat in Hyson Green, an industrial, working class estate with a constant buzz from neighbours’ all night Reggae was a home from home for paper-cutter Rob Ryan in the early eighties, “it was great. I think contrary to a lot of public opinion, art students actually work really hard! I loved my subject and I was excited about doing it full time. We were young people going out, working at college and enjoying ourselves”
But Rob wouldn’t even be featured in the exhibition if it wasn’t for his love of Northern Soul. “I was considering going to London, but I was really into Northern Soul at the time so I didn’t want to move too far away from the North where most of the all-nighters were! Especially Wigan, but of course as soon as I started it closed!”
Rob graduated from Nottingham Polytechnic in 1984; he was yet to discover his now recognisable intricate paper cutting technique, “I was doing lots of screen-printing and etching, getting covered in ink! I did bits of creative writing and all the things that set me on the path for the narrative work I do now.”
Nottingham Polytechnic’s working environment was unrestricted and free-thinking, “we had two really lovely tutors called David Measures and Peter Cartwright who had a mini bus and used to organise coach trips. If anything interesting happened they would find an excuse to get the mini bus and go there and draw it. I remember there was a whale washed up on Skegness beach so we drove and went to draw the dead whale on the beach, which was quite good!”
He fondly remembers the art college supported a freedom to explore ideas and a creative, free-thinking ethos, “it was vibrant and exciting. I used to run the film society there; we used to make screen-printed posters every week for the films. If you wanted to make a film you’d go and see this guy called Mike who’d say ‘there’s a camera, there’s some film. Go out and do it!’ It was never a no, always a yes.”
Rob’s astonishingly detailed screen-print ‘Countless Moons’ appears in the exhibition, alongside over 100 other alumni including Turner prize winner Simon Starling, and urban artist John Burgerman. But he doesn’t feel he truly deserves to be there, “I have been commercially successful, but in the sense of art terms, I think there were people at college who were much better artists than me and still are. You can’t represent everybody, obviously, but to a certain extent I feel there are people that should be there instead of me.”
He’s collaborated with Nottingham’s Sir Paul Smith, written and illustrated three books, and owns his own shop, Ryantown, yet he feels his life could’ve been completely different if it wasn’t for his three years in the city, “if I had gone to London I would have met a completely different group of people. You influence each other. I think the primary thing is your peers, and your way of looking at things. But the raw materials are you; you just get taught to bring out the best in yourself”
Since 1843: In the Making is open until Friday 7th February at the Bonington Gallery.
Written for Nottingham Post