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Life At Chelsea: Joanna Gilbert – MA Fine Art 


Written by
Natalie Anastasiou
Published date
12 September 2018

Following our MA Summer Show on 7 September, we caught up with some of our graduating students about their life at Chelsea and how their learning experience has shaped their practice. Today we take a look at Joanna Gilbert from MA Fine Art.

A shop window art installation

“When looking back over the year on the MAFA course, I can see how my work has evolved. I came in as a colourful abstract painter, interested in urban expression, street art and culture. I remember during one of the first group workshops we were asked to discuss the future of art. I realized that art is more than just paintings on a wall. Art has become an experience, an installation. The world we live in is changing, and so must our art. As a result of this course, I have worked with various new mediums including, digital, light, film and photography. I have painted on anything but canvas. I have gained critical context into the way my art fits into the art of today. I learnt that art isn’t always just about painting anymore. And that’s a very exciting place to be in.

“For the final degree show, I am putting up a 12m billboard which is displaying my most recent solo show, ‘Nothing to Buy’ where I transformed an empty, decrepit retail unit into something filled with bright lights and colour.

A shop window printed with the text

“Influences for my work have stemmed from observations within the retail and marketing world and consumer culture. I have always been interested in emotional connections between consumers and brands and this culminated in the idea of the shop with ‘Nothing to Buy’.

“My biggest influence at Chelsea has been talking with fellow students and tutors. A discussion, an idea, an exchange, a conversation, an observation, a collaboration.

“There is something breath taking about the Chelsea campus. Every day I soak up the beauty of the courtyard. It is special and significant and I have loved it all. Also it is one of the top art universities.

“London also has so much to offer. During the initial term we visited galleries every Friday, enabling us to see the variety of art currently on show.

A boarded up shop window spray painted with yellow dots

“The workshops, studio space and gallery environments within Chelsea have provided a solid foundation for experimentation and valuable insights into an understanding of what it is to be a professional artist. The support from tutors and peers and the crits we receive, force us to question what we are doing and why we are doing it. I understand that everything I create, needs to have relevance within my concept. It is about gaining an understanding of what your practice is saying and how you can creatively portray this through art. The resources at the uni are invaluable and the staff within the woodwork shop, the photography suite and the video suite are astoundingly helpful. Every time I asked for advice or I wanted to know if something was possible – they were able to help. Their support and care in helping us achieve what we were aiming for, was invaluable. If it wasn’t for them…. I don’t think I would have progressed so much.

“The most recent project I have worked on outside Chelsea UAL was a pop up show called ‘Nothing to Buy’. Beautifully transforming a vacant space with abstract video footage taken in central London’s Oxford St. The show strikes a chord with today’s consuming society. With ‘Nothing to Buy’, we just have a memory or an experience to consume, this show injected life into the empty. Spiritually, it aims to suggest that we actually have everything we need within ourselves. All the clutter, the products, the pressure to purchase is pointless, as it doesn’t make us who we are. We already are who we are.

A woman wearing a t-shirt featuring the slogan

“Following graduation, I’m not going to lie. It would be nice to have a gallery sweep me off my feet at the degree show, but if not as I wrote in my research paper: “I am my gallery. Instagram is my gallery. My website is my gallery.” I plan on continuing my practice and a few of us already have a group show possibly lined up for November.

“Advice for new students? As Nike would say…”Just do it.” Pull down the boundaries you have set for yourself, experiment to the max, and make mistakes – the more the better. Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to fail. You have all the resources you need at Chelsea… Use them!

“My time at Chelsea has been inspiring, insightful and emotional”

People walking past a closed shop window with a line of pink spray paint above it.

If you would like to see me of Joanna’s work then please visit her website and Instagram page.

Explore work by more students at

Find out more about this year’s MA Summer Show open 7 – 13 September

Find out more about MA Fine Art