Thirty years of School of Art inspiration on display

Ruth Peterson | October 8, 2020

Three decades of artwork tracking one woman’s journey at Bradford School of Art as both a student and a lecturer has gone on display at a city art gallery.

Looking Back, Moving Forward is an exhibition of Nikki Sheen’s work from being a 16-year-old student to the present day. It can now be viewed in the meeting room gallery at the South Square Centre in Thornton throughout October.

Art and Design lecturer Nikki Sheen's work for Looking Back, Moving Forward exhibition
Work on display in Looking Back, Moving Forward

Who knew the love affair would last such a long time?

Nikki, the course leader in Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design, said: “On a Monday in early September 1990, a younger version of myself set foot into Lister Building, Bradford School of Art for the very first time as a student. Who knew that the love affair with the place would last such a long time? This intimate exhibition highlights a variety of work created during my time as a student and teacher within the School of Art.”

She began at the college on a BTec First Diploma in Design before moving onto an Art A level and then the Foundation Diploma, studying in the former college buildings in Bolton Royd and Smith Street before embarking on a degree in Art and Design.

For two years Nikki worked part time at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, where her love of theatre grew. She returned to study for her Masters Degree in Printmaking. After qualifying as a teacher at the University of Huddersfield, Nikki came back to Bradford School of Art to teach.

“I came out of the interview really excited”

But she still remembers stepping into the building as a nervous teenager. She said: “I remember my interview more than my first day.

“The interview was with the course leader Vince Seabourne. We were asked to sit around to draw a still life, and of course I was terrified. We were asked to go to the tutor’s office and show him the work we had done.

“Vince had a piece of work by Edvard Munch. He asked us to interpret what we saw. I was a really shy 16-year-old but I remember how enthusiastic Vince was. I came out of the interview really excited.”

Cutlery designs for the Looking Back Moving Forwards art exhibition
Cutlery designs for the dream restaurant

Not a computer in sight

Studying art back then was a very different experience to today. Nikki said:

“The course introduced me to all sorts of skills and disciplines. There were around 60 of us on the course and the room was set out like an old-fashioned design studio. We were all at desks that flipped up to convert to a drafting table, not a computer in sight. Research was done through library books alone.

“Towards the end of the course we chose our ‘specialism’ and were put into groups of five different disciplines, so Graphics, Interiors, 3D, Textiles and Jewellery (that was me). We were set a brief to redesign an art nouveau themed restaurant and our tutor took on the role of ‘client’. We worked as a team to redesign everything from menus to cutlery (again, me).”

Wall-mounted art for Looking Back, Moving Forward gallery

A working wonderwall

This work is among the pieces on display at Looking Back Moving Forwards. Also on display is art using other media such as case bound books, textiles, life drawings, prints, photography and working walls and sketchbooks.

Nikki said: “I have also always liked to have a working wall, to explore my ideas and inspirations. The working wall in this exhibition is an ongoing development of my most recent workings and experiments and will continue to evolve during the exhibition.”

A spiritual feel

Viewers of the gallery will be able to see how Nikki’s art has changed and evolved through 30 years. She said: “I think my work has become more about concepts now than it used to be. It’s not all about the aesthetic; it’s more about the ideas.

“A lot of it is to do with my own personal experiences. Quite a lot of my work has a spiritual feel to it. When I was 16, I was going to train to be a designer but now I consider myself to be a fine artist.”

After 30 years, Nikki is still inspired by the world around her and continues to be creative. She said: “Because I have been in a place where I have felt comfortable and safe for such a long time, it’s allowed me to develop from being quite a shy person.

Space and confidence to grow

“Even though I stand up and teach, I’m still quite shy and I think being at Bradford School of Art has given me that space and confidence to grow. That’s one thing we say to students – we try to give them an emotionally and mentally safe space to work in. I feel at home there.

Bradfordian and proud

“I’m proud of the fact I’m from Bradford and having that long relationship with somewhere in the city is very important to me.

“I’m really proud of the fact I’ve been at Bradford College as a student and staff member. I have a really strong connection with the place. It’s just a really nice feeling to reflect on how things have changed and how things have moved on, but still have really strong memories while building and developing as well. I’ve seen the Lister Building change in so many ways. Even when I walk through there now, I can still remember the rooms as they used to be.”

See Looking Back, Moving Forwards now

Looking Back Moving Forwards is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10.30am until 3.30pm and runs until Saturday 31 October.

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