Best of the grad shows 2016: Middlesex University

Be inspired by 6 talented illustrators and designers we spotted at the Middlesex University grad show

One of the first big London grad shows of the season, Middlesex University's 2016 final exhibtion for its creative students – including illustration, graphic design, animation and more – was just as strong as previous years.

Held at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in London as part of the Free Range series of shows, you get to see a much wider selection of students' work than at their small booths at multi-institution D&AD New Blood – and it makes me wish I could spend the next month roaming the country visiting grad shows from Falmouth to Duncan of Jordonstone instead of being limited by time to the confines of the M25.

Nicole Cowan

Over the past few years, illustration grad shows have been awash with works depicting densely packed scenes of crowds that use flat colours for contrast and to stop the viewer from being overwhelmed (so, for once, if would be nice to see someone do crowds with intricately detailed, multi-coloured characters – perhaps to represent the experience of many people with autism in crowded places. But I digress). Many of these artworks feature samey characters – sometime literally copied and pasted – but what marks out the work of Nicole Cowan is how the different personalities of each individual come though

I really liked her Shop Till We Drop project – and I’m not the only one, as it has won a D&AD Student Awards Pencil. In it, she has interpreted three traditional story archetypes – Tragedy, The Quest, Overcoming the Monster – into everyday stories of consumerism.

Matt Ingram

These large portraits by Matt Ingram grab your attention as soon as you went anywhere near the illustration section of the show. Matt has painted actors and a footballer as historical characters from the War of the Roses, and there's an intensity to them – especially Jamie Martin as Richard III – that comes from the him working from hundreds of reference shots he shot himself (Matt's an ex-actor, and has used his contacts to his advantage here).

Advertisement. Article continues below

While these works are historical, Matt seems most interested in working in genres such as fantasy and sci-fi – he describes his concept for the project as"I just wanted to paint people in full armour" – and I could see his style really working on the covers of genre books, or even bridging the line between fantasy art and brand illustration like Tom Bagshaw.

Summer du Plessis

My photos can’t do justice to just how bright Summer du Plessis’s risograph prints are. The bold yellow and orange – contrasted against a deep blue and murky green – are really eye-catching.

Here she’s used the process to produce a comic about David Bowie and an A-Z of the Hippie Movement – but this doesn't (completely) have its head in the clouds. The A-Z contrasts the idealism of the movement with the darker side that lead to its implosion in December 1969 after the Altamont Music Festival.

Chloe Smith

Chloe has the kind of rough, gritty drawing style that’s a natural fit for her A-Z of Harmony Korine – but it’s most interesting when used in contrast to the mythical monster story of how the Belgian city of Antwerp got its name.

The monster was a giant called Druon Antigoon, who charged people to cross the river Schledt – and would cut off a hand from those who couldn’t or wouldn’t and throw it in the river. The Roman solider Salvias Brabo took exception to this and killed the giant, throwing his hand in the river for a bit of inverted symmetry. Hand-throwing in Dutch is 'hand warped’, which become Antwerp.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Ela Lubeca

Over in the graphic design section of the show, there was a lot of clean and nice graphic design – but I was more drawn to the murky music-based work of Ela Lubeca. She seems to have thing for photos of wings distressed almost to the point of being unrecognisable, mixed with clean type – which works really well for the dark, fuzzy synthpop of Depeche Mode’s Playing The Angel album.

Bettina Stovne

Bettina’s Momentum project is based around the physics of dance.

Alongside posters, she’d also created the model in laser-cut, etched clear acrylic of an exhibition where lights would show the forces working upon your body as you moved through it.

Advertisement. Article continues below