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Why I chose to study BA (Hons) Fine Art

Jay Wilkins is a Year 3 BA (Hons) Fine Art student who works across drawing, painting and sculpture. Jay talks us through his practice, how it’s changed while studying and the role of the artist. 

Jay Wilkins

Why did you choose to study BA (Hons) Fine Art?

I am the first in my family to go to university, everyone before me had done apprenticeships or had found jobs after leaving school, so a degree was never something that occurred to me growing up. It was only in sixth form when we were encouraged to apply to universities that I realised it was something I could do.

And so, I applied for an art degree; this was an obvious choice as I always enjoyed making things and the prospect of doing it full time was exciting.

Can you tell us a bit about your practice?

My practice is shaped by drawing, painting and sculpture. Employing clichés, myths and trends, I create narratives that mingle truths and utter fiction to investigate our complex, sometimes simple, but always unstable relationships between our bodies and the superficial world around us.

These narratives evolve through writing and material play. They are often riddled with contradiction and tinged with stupidity. I use processes that depend on and incite misunderstanding and inarticulacy as a way of examining issues of language, queerness and identity, from an alternate and subjective angle.

Humour is always present to some degree within the work, often through ‘self-deprecating’ titles, which keep the ‘art’ in check. At the moment I’m probing the grey area between humour and sadness.

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You’re now in Year 3 – how has your practice developed during your time at NUA?

Dramatically. Studying Fine Art, you sponge all this information and experience and then this all goes through a process of filtration, working out what you want to take from it all and apply to yourself and your practice. It can be a difficult and overwhelming thing, but worthwhile for sure!

I’ve learnt that lived experience is as important for practice, if not more, than objective knowledge. It is the application of this that is tricky, doing it in a careful and considered way that is going to resonate; skills I’ve definitely acquired from my time at NUA. 

What informs your practice?

A work could be built up from anything really, but I’m drawn to the uneasy, awkward and stupid. I’m a big collector of images, mostly taken on my phone, including a lot of screenshots. I like to find connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, circumstances or images.

I like to put myself in challenging situations outside of the studio. For example, at the first peak of Covid in 2020 I got myself a cleaning job at a hospital. I learnt loads, mainly from the amazing people I worked with (they don’t get paid enough, the job is extremely tough – they’re all soldiers in my opinion, especially in these times). 

These kinds of experiences will inevitably develop a person, so I think uncomfortable situations can be good for artists – you gain something you can’t get from the studio or out of a book. 

“I hope for a future where more people have the liberty to do not just what is required of them, to do things for themselves.”

Why is art important to you?

As I get older, the more I realise how useless the art object is; at the same time the act of making and viewing art has become increasingly important.

Unfortunately making and viewing art is a privilege many do not have, and I think this is partly why it is so important to engage with it if you can.

How do you view the artist’s role in society?

I think artists can have many roles, but I think that write Lola Olufemi makes a very good case for art being used as a ‘weapon’ to fight against oppressive systems. These systems reject art because it can be transgressive, and transgression often leads to change.

Artist Babek Ganjei puts it plainly with his slogan “Art is the thing nobody asks you to do”. I hope for a future where more people have the liberty to do not just what is required of them, to do things for themselves. Art itself, I think, is a valuable tool for getting there. 

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