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Meet the artists behind the most eclectic range of work yet in 2024's Sheffield Hallam degree show

Pieces on display at Persistence Works take in everything from sculpture and ceramics to glass-making, painting and performance art.

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Linda Cassel's work explores ideas of identity and belonging.

Luke Walsh.

This year’s degree show for Sheffield Hallam’s Fine Art MFA students opens next Thursday and includes a diverse range of disciplines, artistic approaches and subject matters – from queer people in the media to writing as performance art.

Now Then asked all nine students taking part to share their work in order to create a permanent record of the show, and to tell us a little bit about their practice and inspirations ahead of next week’s opening night at Persistence Works. The show runs from 16 to 19 May.

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Maz Ellis.

Maz Ellis describes her practice as a “combination of the art, fashion and beauty worlds and how they relate to one another,” and the way she uses natural forms such as abstracted flowers in her oil paintings belongs to a lineage stretching back to great designers like William Morris.

“Growing up, my mum introduced me to a world of beauty and flowers,” she told Now Then. “I highlight this in my practice, as I have a profound connection with these subjects, and want to hold onto these moments.”

As well as Morris, Ellis is influenced by artists like Pat McGrath, Yayoi Kusama and Kin Wai Sin, particularly in the way they fused fine art with high fashion. “My practice brings joy and light to these areas I’m looking at but also can transmit underlying political or economic topics,” said Ellis.

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Helen Carr.

The play of light and colour is a touchstone in the work of Helen Carr, originally a glass artist who has been working recently “in a variety of materials, from string and rope to perspex and vinyl to create site responsive sculptural installation.”

“My work is conceptual and process-driven,” she told Now Then. “I am often drawn to temporal materials which capture a moment or change over time. I aim to bring into being pieces that provoke a new way of seeing.”

Carr says that the work she has created for the degree show explores the possibility of capturing “a modal moment in time.”

“Drawing inspiration from Neolithic sites, this work offers the viewer a moment of reflection and an opportunity to experience themselves in space and time.”

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Harry Nixon-Kneale.

The multidisciplinary work of Harry Nixon-Kneale (full disclosure: the partner of this article’s author) explores attitudes towards homosexuality over time, with a particular focus on how queer people are represented in the media – as “the sexless ‘gay best friend’ or the overly camp promiscuous stereotype,” as Nixon-Kneale puts it.

The abrasive nature of the work “acts as an antidote to those tropes, hoping to provide a more rounded, human representation,” they told Now Then. “Recently I have been exploring a triad within myself – sexuality, humour and humanity – through the guise of my alter-ego Jock-U-Lar, to hopefully show that I can be all three and not restrain myself to just one representation.

“The pieces in the degree show are inspired by the worlds of cruising, camp and voyeurism to create a space for myself and the LGBTQ+ community to be unabashedly themselves.”

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Delyth Barlow.

Delyth Barlow's work consists of a series of "soft interactive sculptures" which are made out of foam and covered in hundreds of acrylic wool-latch hook sections, each one handmade by the artist, her mum and her friends.

"The concept originates from my experiences living with chronic illness, which has taught me the importance of embracing each moment of joy despite the pain you may feel, as it helps keep you going," she told Now Then.

"My illness has often caused me to feel excluded, for things out of my control. So I created three pieces that contain inclusion at every step, from their creation – inviting friends and family to add their own sections to the work – to the exhibition, where the audience is invited to play with the sculptures."

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Ravi Modi.

"Always, there exists another truth," says sculptor and painter Ravi Modi about his spiritually-oriented practice. "My work enables me to witness the magic within our shimmering world."

His work, mostly sculptural but also including self-portraits and even poetry, is characterised by abstracted versions of natural forms. The sun, the moon and their paths of orbit occur over and over, often cast in precious metals.

"My childhood, marked by isolation, was illuminated by the vivid narratives of my paralysed grandfather," he told Now Then. "Through his tales, he crafted a realm of imagination that enriched my reality, leading me to walk into the darkest side in a brighter way."

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Linda Cassel.

Working across an eclectic range of mediums, Linda Cassel's practice explores competing and sometimes conflicting ideas of identity and belonging.

"The work I make centres around the notion of being visible but unseen, and the development of identity in a world where unseen forces attempt to subdue difference," she told Now Then. "I use my body as both object and subject to tell stories that reflect, address and document social history."

Cassel believes that dialogue "forms the basis of understanding" and her work often juxtaposes motifs from different cultures to create striking compositions. "Making objects that incorporate elements of my body and everyday objects creates this chance to question what you are faced with," she says.

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Greg Kurcewicz.

Greg Kurcewicz describes his startlingly original style as originating from "the ground zero of painting," asking: "What is the minimum gesture that can survive and that can be interpreted by the viewer?"

Inspired by minimalist painters like Jonathan Lasker, Brice Marden, Steve Parrino and Gerhard Richter, Kurcewicz deconstructs the act of painting and breaks it down into its constituent elements, with a specific focus on mark-making.

"My work comes from a position of review of the death of painting but then a resurgence as a result of playing with its constituent parts, that is, what is figure, what is ground? What is expression, what does gesture still mean?"

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Tim Hardman.

Tim Hardman blends a text-based practice with performance art in his unique body of work. He describes writing as "a method of drawing" that allows him to pursue an interest in the blurring of authorship and the use of a slower practice.

"More recently, in relation to this, I’ve researched the idea of rehearsal-as-practice," he told Now Then. "Work and performance without finality or a need for production per se, but action and inaction."

His contribution to the degree show sees him writing out existing texts by rote, in the gallery and in real time. "Various found and curated texts have been used to explore, extrapolate and articulate different states of emotion and being," he said. "This is also a deliberately slow and laborious process; the action of making, of drawing, of gesture, are not only a driving force but a key and central aspect of my practice."

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Vix Stephenson.

"I am an artist who plays with sound and voice," says Vix Stephenson about their video-based work. "I am making films that are a bit strange – I incorporate religious practice, and I want my life and my art to be integrated. My work is slow, intentional, reflective."

Stephenson describes their degree show piece as "born from a desire to film in the Peak District and to intertwine my love of nature and media."

"It asks the audience to take time to stop and reflect, to listen to the sound and allow the images of the scenery to encourage a meditative state, so often overlooked in our everyday society."

Learn more

Sheffield Hallam's Fine Art MFA degree show is open at Persistence Works:

  • 16 May, 6pm to 9pm
  • 17 to 19 May, 10am to 6pm

Entry is free.

Persistence Works Gallery has ramped access from the street during exhibition hours, and accessible toilets on ground level.

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