Since completing her Fine Art BA(Hons) only last year, artist and painter Ella Squirrell has been busy making her mark in the art world. After receiving an award, a residency, an internship and an artistic trip around Italy, Ella was also selected by FBA Futures to exhibit in London.
At the end of her course, Ella and fellow graduate Aleksander Grzybek were selected by Falmouth School of Art for the month-long Porthmeor Studios Residency in September 2018. Being invited to join professional artists at a prominent studio was more than an opportunity to continue painting, it was also an invitation to join a creative community.
Ella told us: “The month residency at Porthmeor was an invaluable transitionary experience from University to making and engaging as an artist outside of a student community. A time to let myself experiment, explore new aspects of my creativity, remembering old processes but also bringing new discoveries into the studio.”
Before taking on the residency, Ella was also the recipient of the Wilhelmina Barns Graham Travel to Italy Award. Granted by the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Charitable Trust to Falmouth University, the award is worth £1,500 and supports a final-year Fine Art BA(Hons) student to take a study-related trip to Italy after their course finishes.
She also undertook a two-month internship in Iceland, set-building for Ragnar Kjartansson, a contemporary, multidisciplinary performance artist.
After travelling across Italy and working in Iceland, Ella returned to Cornwall for her residency, which she used to process how her journeys had influenced her artistically. She used the writing, photographs and sketches from her travels to inspire a new body of work.
Ella said: “I started to make links through each place, noticing similarities and contrasts. I had been sensitive to the changing colour palette and light in each place; the warmth and congestion of a Mediterranean summer, and the cool, grey space that Iceland provided, where light shines through at midnight. St Ives shared attributes with both places: warm light like the Italian sun with a bustle of post-summer tourists, and like Iceland in its pastel painted buildings, space and possibility of rural escape.”
She found herself with an overwhelming abundance of source materials and ideas. Questioning how to use the month most effectively, Ella said that in the end, “the time restriction became a useful pressure” which led her to the find her connection: blue.
“I focused my attention on the blue I found in Icelandic, Italian and Cornish landscapes,” Ella told us. “Colour created by distance, the space between you and a horizon. A colour with many associations for me: isolation, longing, sadness. It also became a metaphor for progress. The blue of the distance is alluring, a positive perspective of ‘futures’ but, like time, is always moving and calling you towards it. The colour became a metaphor for the discovery and contextualising of self, in this new transitionary and independent place.”
While in St Ives, Ella assisted Nina Royle in a performance piece ‘Glaucous’ commissioned by Tate St Ives, which coincidentally explored the colour blue, its history and connotations.
Ella told us: “I had very useful conversations and made some good friendships with some of the other Porthmeor artists. [I] attended the last few of Groundworks’ events, by Naomi Frears in Camborne and Abigail Reynolds’ at Tremayne Quay. There is a very active and supportive arts community in Cornwall, which is something I wish to maintain a connection with as I establish myself in Dorset.”
Since completing her residency, Ella has set herself up with a studio in Dorset, where she is continuing to make art and experiment. She’s also building on her interest in community, bringing people together and making places to share and talk about art.
“One huge part of University that I miss is the community, the feeling of being part of something, where people are making and engaged,” she told us. “[It] encourages one’s own making. Porthmeor and the artists network in Cornwall made me realise that creative communities could be found outside university, although, you do have to seek them out or may have to create one yourself.”
After her various travelling and residency experiences, Ella was settling into her new studio space when she was informed that she and fellow Fine Art graduate, Amy Mcmillan, had been selected for the FBA Futures annual exhibition at Mall Galleries in London.
FBA Futures is the UK’s biggest annual survey of emerging contemporary figurative art, selected by the Federation of British Artists. It maps new practices and ideas of representation and draughtsmanship across painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking by the outstanding art graduates of 2018. It was Ella’s first exhibition since graduating.
Ella told us: “It [was] a very exciting and slightly nerve-wracking experience building up to the show; a new process of preparing work for transportation to London, professionally promoting the show, sending invitations and pricing artwork to sell. It has been a new experience having work hung without being involved, and interesting to see how the show itself has been curated. It’s definitely been a crucial point in developing my professional practice and a useful experience of showing with a gallery and private view environments.”
The work that Ella exhibited at FBA Futures was “an exploration of modern identity through observations of daily life and social behaviours, in public and private environments.” It questioned “what it is to exist in the moment (to be) and what it is to belong”.
Looking back at how her practice has developed, Ella told us: “I have hugely valued my creative degree at Falmouth. It has enabled me to experiment with painting freely and become reflective of my practice in writing. It has opened up a new visual language for me. My degree has been the beginning of contextualising myself and work within the wider ever-changing art world. I am very grateful for the opportunities and residencies Falmouth University has provided for me, enabling me to connect with the larger artist community, expanding my creative network and building on valuable and inspiring relationships.”