SCAD Fine Art Programme

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SCAD Hong Kong has just finished its first fine art painting course. Ysabelle Cheung speaks to teachers and students about the school’s plan to expand its fine art programme – and the city’s art education ecology

The fine art students at the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong – better known as SCAD – may only make up nine percent of the overall student body but as the higher learning institution in Shek Kip Mei has demonstrated over its three years, from small acorns do mighty oaks grow.

SCAD opened in 2010 with a humble fine art department offering up only 13 courses and catering to just a few students. But it wasn’t long before others signed up and, although it was initially hailed as an international design-focused institution, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, today the school offers 20 fine art courses. In September, it opened its first fine art painting course.

The 10-week pilot course, Developing A Sense of Place, which culminated in an exhibition at Galerie Perrotin last month, aimed to be a starting block on which to build the fine art programme at the university. And, to kick it all off, SCAD professor Carl Johnson invited Korean-American artist Jin Meyerson to mentor the students – a move, he says, integral to the architecture of the course. “SCAD has this rich history of collaboration,” says Johnson, “and our new model here is to collaborate with an international artist and to build a course around that. Jin teaches the application of paint – but he also teaches how to function as a commercial, professional artist. That part is often left out of the equation in academia.”

As well as regular studio classes in the school, the course also offered lectures by visiting speakers and site visits in an attempt to introduce students to the commercial art world. “We did a field trip with noted local critic and curator Robin Peckham, at his Edouard Malingue show Sneakerotics, and finished with a great event at Galerie Perrotin, which featured Daniel Jeffreys as the guest juror,” says Meyerson. “All this with the intention of providing real life experience and a platform from which the students can launch themselves. All great cities have thriving art cultures. While Hong Kong cannot compete with the likes of New York yet, there certainly exists all the ingredients for the building blocks of a vibrant art world.”

The department now aims to invite similar internationally renowned artists to participate in future fine art painting courses, a scheme already firmly implemented at the institution’s other locations in Savannah and Atlanta in the USA and in Lacoste, France. Notable art figures such as Marina Abramović, Gary Tinterow and Alfredo Jaar all have ties to the SCAD.

The 11 painting cohorts on the Developing A Sense of Place course come from backgrounds such as illustration and design, and describe their experiences as reactionary rather than citing a straightforward prescriptive teacher-student relationship. “This course taught me several things,” says Jason Tse, an illustration major who aims to take a few years off to focus on painting after graduation, “such as the different ways of handling oil paint on several different surfaces. Without Jin pushing me to experiment on various materials, I don't think I would have done so. It really was part of opening up and stepping out of my comfort zone.”

“For me, it was about realigning what matters in your life and what speaks to you, conceptually, and how to express that,” says Katrina Teh from Manila, who is staying on in Hong Kong after her degree. Other students include Hong Kong-born psychology major Cheryl Ng, who expresses her intrinsic ties to the city through her works, and Korean student Sua Han, whose self-portraits allude to the fast-paced and often restrictive metropolitan rush of cities. “In a city, everything is decided before I make any decisions – that’s how I feel,” she says. “So my paintings start off on the canvas as chaos and then I slowly develop images and forms.” Han was awarded the Best of Show Award during the Galerie Perrotin showcase. Meyerson adds: “As this was the first fine art painting course in SCAD HK’s history, it was non assignment-based. This provided a unique set of challenges for students – mainly how they decide on and create their own personal voices.”

The fine art team at SCAD is hoping to further develop the programme with more courses, such as sculpture, and to also reach out to galleries and key figures in Hong Kong’s art industry, so that students can make the transition from classroom to gallery with ease. “I’d like to see a kind of development in Hong Kong where there’s more discourse among universities, like other cities with painting programmes,” says Johnson. “For example, when I was a young artist in Chicago, everyone went to a famous bar. The Smashing Pumpkins would be playing, before they were famous, and it was just a hive of energy. A mix of music and culture and art. It’s important to develop that kind of ecology for young artists.”

To find out more about SCAD Hong Kong, visit scad.edu.

 

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