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Conal McAteer

BA Fine Art Alumni
Central Saint Martins
Conal  McAteer


Nova winner 2012 , Conall McAteer, talks about studying fine art at CSM and successes since.

Conall McAteer is a 25 year old artist, born and brought up in London, where he is currently living and working. He studied BA Fine Art, on the 3D pathway, and graduated in the summer of 2012 with First Class Honours.

Please tell us about your work

The wooden crate was used as a design element in online gaming to form space and architecture within a virtual world. Abandoning their original function, the crates merely stood as aesthetic articles enriching the virtual experience. The image map, which is always the same, transforms the wooden crate into a generic, duplicable and location-less object.

What has been simulated in the virtual world as a texture covered form is relocated into the world from which it originated as ‘Crate’. Through the experience of working with local marqueterians, its duplicable form becomes unique. Realised via a laborious and craft-intensive process which demands a high level of formal and technical precision, pixelated at a resolution of 1PPI, each surface consists of 5,184 individually applied wooden tesserae.

Its scale (a six-foot cube) encourages viewers to respond to the object differently depending on their location. From different heights and distances its illusion (or virtual reality) is more or less apparent. The materiality of the object becomes evident on closer inspection.

Direct viewing of the finished surface of the object shows both a two-dimensional image and a three-dimensional form.

The temporality of Crate is designed to evoke a sense of mortality. In the virtual world the recurrent textures are immaculate and immutable, they never wear out. Left unpreserved, the hardwood veneers will age: the walnut will silver, the cherry pinken, and the oak darken. The image and form will possess a life cycle.

How did you hear about CSM?

CSM is a hugely renowned institution for a variety of creative subjects. I had always wanted to pursue art after A-Level and there was no other place I even contemplated going to – so it was lucky I got in.

How would you describe your course?

Ninety per cent of the time it’ll be you in the studio getting on with it. You have relatively free reign of using the workshops and project space (if your work warrants it). The rest of the time will be a mix of tutorials and crits where you can discuss / justify with everyone else what you’ve been doing for that 90% of the time. You’ll also have to do some written assignments but generally you’re given the freedom to push the work you want to make under different units, which may sometimes take you out of the gallery space.

The support you’ll get from your tutors, and the relationship you strike up with them, will be really beneficial over the course of your 3 years. As for the technicians, they are the best help you’ll have on your course by far so be sure to make friends with them, keep them and try not to be too demanding.

I’m interested in work outside of the gallery environment so I particularly enjoyed units at Trinity Buoy Wharf or Valentines Mansion, Ilford. There you were given the opportunity to research for a work within a context away from the usual white-walled setting. You may find there are often battles with aspects of health and safety which you previously won’t have been exposed to and it provides a great learning curve in writing and drafting, professional proposals - something which if you want to work on commissions in the future is a really valuable skill to have.

What sort of a person do you think you need to be to do well on your Course?

You’ve got to be self-motivated (you won’t get detention for slacking like at school) and take responsibility for the work you want to make. Be open to meeting a lot of new and interesting fellow students, and be good at taking advice when it’s given from tutors/technicians and peers.

Why did you choose this particular course?

I studied my foundation at CSM Back Hill. I was led into the Contextual Practice pathway where I had a fantastic tutor named Levin who really inspired me to want to take my art practice further on to degree level.

What do you love about CSM?

The fact that no matter what you want - be it advice, support or equipment - it is there for you if you go to the right place and are prepared to ask. For me the thing I valued the most was the space you had to attempt some really ambitious works, not just in the studio but also the hired and project spaces. That, along with the workshops and the great technicians.

How would you describe CSM?

If you’ve made the transition straight from secondary school the freedom will be refreshing. With CSM now moved to one campus at King’s Cross the buzz around the building is much more exciting to be a part of than when the courses were previously spread over separate sites. It means that you needn’t restrict your social group being to the same subject. Often you will find your best friends in another pathway altogether. Add to that the all-round better facilities and its a fantastic place to study.

What have your highlights been?

For me the whole final year, culminating in the Degree Show, was a great highlight. Being the first students to work and exhibit in a brand new building is an exciting feeling. As an artist I’m really looking forward to seeing how future students respond to that space in years to come. If I had to pick one stand out moment across the three years it was probably donning my Gumtree-acquired wetsuit and swimming across the Thames canal at Trinity Buoy Wharf where CSM were based for a weeks ‘residency’. It was a performance work in response to a previous student’s engagement with the site a couple of years prior. Looking back now it was a little mad - very cold - but a lot of fun.

What are you doing now?

Recently I have been awarded a year’s residency through ArtQuest, ACAVA and ArtsTemps for a free studio in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green which is an incredible opportunity. The hardest moment in your career will be the transition from student to practitioner – so to have a place to work to allow you to continue to be productive once you leave University will be a great key.

Last summer I installed a new work, Not For Love Nor Money, as winner of the Clyde and Co Blank Canvas Award which was open to graduating Fine Art students from across UAL. My degree show work Crate won the Lowe and Partners NOVA Award 2012 at SW1 Gallery – a fantastic opportunity to be a part of and particularly since the 12 other talented shortlisters were spread out across all the degree courses at CSM. As a result I’ve received a great deal of press and a lot of exciting opportunities are in the pipeline. I’ve been working on a commission for a publication and intervention work in an estate in Barking and Dagenham, a work which I’d been chasing a commission for nearly two years. This summer I was also shortlisted for the Catlin Art Prize. 

Who inspired or motivated you?

CSM has a huge wealth of successful alumni, but as for motivation that will generally come from your peers and tutors in tutorials and crits. The latter can be interesting for those new to them. There is the competitive element within the studio, which I really thrived on.

How did you find supporting yourself in London?

Be sure to get yourself a bike and be aware of how much you’re spending on your work and going out. I used to work as a football coach for kids aged 5-12 on a Saturday morning which would pretty much cover my Oyster card outlay for the week. Plus I’ve done the stereotypical bar job at Brixton Academy (which had its perks). The key is to get a job which doesn’t tax you too much  - along with one that you can hopefully enjoy.

What advice would you give others?

Make the most of it: the studio space, the workshops, the advice from your tutors (no matter how much you want to ignore it), the support from the technicians and the general chats (art related or not) with the guys and girls in your class. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll achieve if you grasp the opportunity with both hands.

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