MFA year one reflections

As she heads into her second year on the MFA programme, Chantal New reflects on her experiences on the programme so far, including the significance of receiving a bursary to fund her studies.

Despite the challenges of relocating from Canada, my first year on the MFA was truly inspiring and rewarding. This was the first time in my life I was able to fully dedicate myself to my art practice. I fully immersed myself in the studios and research - reading, writing, and, of course, making art. Being able to spend this amount of time focused on my work allowed not only for my skills to develop but also allowed for me to explore different mediums, research new ideas, and collaborate with peers. West Dean has offered me space. Not just a physical space, a studio and an inspiring landscape, but mental space. It has given me the perfect environment to grow, be challenged, and live a fully creative life.

One of the biggest benefits of being in an MFA programme is learning from your peers and making artwork in a collective environment. I love being in the studios asking other classmates how to prime panels or what type of fixative to use. Group critiques are beneficial for the same reasons. It has been so informative to receive feedback from peers and be able to implement it into my work. Because of this, and the excellent support from tutors, my work has improved greatly. Tutors are encouraging and insightful but are also willing to challenge when needed. I have been able to be very proud of the work I’ve made because of this support.

One project I created last year that I am very proud of was a drawing of Stoney Mountain Institution – one of Canada’s oldest and largest prisons – on a piece of concrete I cast (Image 1 and 2). I participated in a concrete casting workshop where we learnt to build forms, mix proper concrete and set it. I made several sculptural pieces in the workshop but strangely enough, my favourite was a simple flat slab of concrete, only about a centimetre thick. I had never drawn on concrete before but took a risk, as I was interested in combining my main medium – drawing – with this new interest in concrete. The concrete references the industrial and institutional infrastructure of the prison, highlighting the cold, rigid aspects.

The prison is a site where all our systems of oppression converge. Through drawing on the slab, I critically examined this site of controlled visuality. In my work, I am interested in drawing attention to the places – and people – often overlooked in society. The work communicates through what is hidden or unseen, rather than through what is depicted, raising questions about the power structures implied by what is visible. I strive to make work that challenges people to question the unjust systems and structures we operate in. Using both a representational and conceptual approach, the work reflects my efforts to find meaning in a dramatically changing and unstable world.

Alongside this project, I worked on drawings based on screenshots from Google Street View of various prisons around England (Image 3). These drawings explored similar concepts while being a way to subvert the way prisons are typically engaged with. To make these drawings, I spent hours sensitively looking at the structures and locations; places typically driven past or ignored.

I presented my work in a successful exhibition on campus at the end of first term. While participating fully at school, I successfully submitted my work to several external exhibitions and was included in an exhibition on Vancouver Island during the summer.

During the year, I took a book making short course and a collage short course. The book making course was excellent and the skills I learnt over the four days directly impacted my work. I made books that were displayed in the 2022 Summer Exhibition and plan to incorporate book making into my practice regularly. I also learned the new skill of screen-printing which has been very exciting for me. It was a skill I have wanted to learn for a long time and, only at West Dean was I given this opportunity. I have been using screen-printing in my practice for the last few months and plan to continue this year.

This year, I plan to continue my research into sites of control visually, and examine more spaces of injustice.

It is only because of the funding I receive that I am able to study at West Dean and spending time creatively exploring my passion for social justice. I am so grateful for the support I have received and look forward to successfully finishing my degree. It has been such an influential time for me and know it will impact the rest of my life.

Funding your studies

Scholarships and bursaries are a lifeline for emerging artists, makers and conservators who show great talent but who can't afford the cost of study. The Edward James Foundation Scholarship and Bursary Fund was created to ensure that financial hardship is not a barrier for talented students to study here. This would not be possible without the generous supporters who donate to this fund with gifts of all sizes.

Find out more about funding