Press Release: Fresh Talent – Spring Fling Champions the Next Generation

10th April 2017

Pop art, feminism, farming and photography – working towards a sustainable cultural economy for Dumfries and Galloway

Spring Fling is giving the next generation of painters, photographers and designers the chance to present their work to a large new audience.

The under 30s selected to take part in Scotland’s premier open studios visual art and craft event include mixed media artist Emily Cooper (22) and photographer Caroline McQuistin (21).

The 15th annual Spring Fling will see artists and makers across Dumfries and Galloway throw open their doors to around 13,500 visitors from 27 to 29 May.

While many participants have established national and international reputations, Spring Fling is keen to encourage emerging talent. This is partly to help tackle the decline in the number of under 30s living and working in the region (see http://bit.ly/2nSaEKX). 

Many younger people leave the area in search of career opportunities.

However some young artists, such as former Dumfries High School student Emily, are bucking the trend.

She said: “Spring Fling really helps because it attracts people to the area for the open studios weekend and provides a showcase for people like me to exhibit their work to a much larger audience.”

Emily is also part of Blueprint100, a locally based group for emerging artists, and believes there are now enough initiatives in the area to support a creative community of under 30s.

One piece by Emily, called Blanket Term, has attracted attention because of its innovative combination of styles and materials – including a pop art inspired woman surrounded by the shards of a smashed Snoopy mirror.

It has highlighted a series of challenges faced by young artists.

Emily said: “Pop art has always interested me as a style and a time period. I like to experiment with materials and styles, and a lot of the work I do is about female body image and gender equality.

“But I’ve found that it’s often more difficult to be taken seriously as an artist if you are a woman, and particularly a young woman who wears makeup.

“It can also be difficult to be seen as a feminist – particularly by men – if you wear makeup.

“I remember standing next to a man who was looking at Blanket Term and telling me that the artist could not be a feminist because of the woman’s makeup. Nothing I said would convince him – he didn’t know it was my painting.”

Maintaining links with young people who have moved elsewhere is also important, as it keeps the way open for them to return at a later date.

Caroline McQuistin whose parents are Dumfries and Galloway farmers but who is currently studying at Edinburgh Napier University, is uncertain about where she will end up and is soon off to the USA for a teaching role and road trip.

Her ultimate ambition would be to work for a magazine such as National Geographic. But Dumfries and Galloway, and her parents’ farm near New Luce, have a constant draw for her.

She said: “My portfolio for my university application was pictures of our farm. Later I did a university project ‘good with their hands’ where I went back to the farm and created a photo story.

“I even had to give up my part-time job, which isn’t easy as a student, because I needed more time for photo shoots. To be honest I don’t think I’ll ever stop taking photos there.”

Caroline is also interested in the themes of minorities, gender roles and equality – she has previously photographed a woman livestock auctioneer, who was one of just two in Scotland at the time.

According to the National Records of Scotland some 14.5% of the Dumfries and Galloway population are 16-29, compared to 18.2% for Scotland as a whole. Those aged 60 and over make up 31.5% compared to a Scottish average of 24.2%.

Joanna Macaulay, Events and Exhibitions Manager for Upland Arts Development, which runs Spring Fling, said: “Spring Fling is constantly championing emerging artists and makers.

“Careers in the visual arts or craft can be very fulfilling, but it can be incredibly tough to get started and all the more so in a rural area.

“It’s hugely important to provide opportunities for young people who want to build a career here, and to maintain links with those who move away as they will often want to return in future years.

“The value isn’t just for the artists and their families, but for the whole of the region as it strives to regenerate and build a sustainable economy.

“With the decline in so many traditional industries, the arts and culture stand out as an area in which Dumfries and Galloway can thrive, but that can only happen if we support each new generation.”

Upland also runs Emerge, a scheme for artists of 25 and younger which provides mentoring, a £1,000 bursary and the chance to exhibit in the event.

Out with the open studios event Upland further champions youth development through schools workshops and Modern Makers, a programme for a small group of young people to work with a professional maker learning craft skill and direct experience of an artisan business. This year's Makers are working with local potters Fitch & McAndrew (Studio 29).

Where the to find some of the Spring Fling under 30s:

  • Emily Cooper, mixed media – Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries
  • Luke Fitch, portrait painter – Solway House, Crichton Campus, Dumfries
  • Morgan Hardie – Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries
  • Rosie Reid, textile design – WASPS studios, Kirkcudbright
  • Caroline McQuistin, photographer – Mill on the Fleet, Gatehouse of Fleet
  • Fraser Irvine, landscape artist – Solway House, Crichton Campus, Dumfries
  • Ryan Gillan, animal themed digital artworks – WASPS studios, Kirkcudbright
  • Suzi Plunkett, illustrator – WASPS studios, Kirkcudbright
  • Terri Campbell, jewellery maker – Thornhill
  • Kate Timney, illustrator and visual artist – Wigtown.

For full details of everyone taking part in Spring Fling see the website at www.spring-fling.co.uk