Bev Irving, an MA illustration student at Manchester School of Art, focuses mainly on mixed media and collage techniques which promote gender equality and challenge social norms. Passionate about editorial, advertising and music related design; industries she hopes to work within. Grrrlizm meets with Bev to discuss her current art projects, her inspirations and university experience.
What project(s) are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on my research practice for my masters in illustration and trying to figure out exactly what I want to question for the rest of my practice. I know I want to focus on gender stereotypes and the effect they have on children; what if they don’t fit within societies expectations and how this impacts later in life with male suicide rates etc. My research keeps getting bigger and bigger at the moment, maybe I need to whittle it down to a word and the impact it has when a child is called it and maybe look at the uses of colour within gender issues… I’m not sure yet. Hopefully I will touch upon something soon. I have been making a series of reportage illustrations of sexist comments or conversations I have been a part of or overheard that are aimed at or about children. I think these will run alongside my work right the way throughout my course. I’d like to use them as conversational prompts as some of the things that are said are innocent, sexism has become so ingrained in daily life it is almost normalised.
Where’s your favourite place on campus and why?
Hmm… I would probably say the library because I spend most of my time there when I am in and I am a massive nerd for books. I always take out more books than I can ever realistically read by the due back date. There’s just something about libraries that makes me feel positive, like there are so many possibilities, finding one book can change the whole course of your project.
Most inspiring book, exhibition, catwalk etc?
The most inspiring exhibition I have ever been to was in the Whitechapel Gallery in London, possibly around 2/3 years ago now, of Hannah Hoch. It was the largest exhibition of her work outside of Berlin and it was incredible. She was incredible! Everything she stood for was incredible. I first fell in love with her aesthetics but when I began to read about her and discovered how her work was political, how she challenged social norms, and how she had to keep a low profile from the Gestapo as she was part of the Dada movement which was anti-nazi as well as having many works of art made by her friends that were deemed as degenerate art in her basement… she was a badass. That sentence is so poorly written, I just rambled because her work and life excite me so much! Ha!
What’s the worst and best thing about art school?
The worst thing about art school is how low you can feel about your practice when you are trying to figure yourself out and find where you fit. Your work is an extension of you and to have your work pulled to pieces is pretty hard to take and developing a thick skin is easier said than done. The best thing (one of them anyway) is when you stumble on your calling and the feeling that you can now do something positive with your work. The feeling that you might actually be able to make a change for the better, even for just one person.
Are you involved in any societies or clubs?
I’m not! I’m so rubbish. I have been wondering if there are any knitting societies about, I really want to learn some new stitches and also how to crochet.
Is your work political, personal or about aesthetic?
Yes, my work is a mix of political and personal. Gender is political, stereotyping is a way of policing society so I would definitely say so. And when you are campaigning for change or trying to raise awareness then it becomes politics. It is personal because it all stems from reading the Everyday Sexism (Laura Bates) and realising that incidences I have experienced are so common that although it has become a part of everyday life, it shouldn’t be. This then led me to question more within society and how I was growing up. How I felt I was never as good looking or as slim as my mum but also having to always believe my dad because he was a man and therefore, right. I tried to rebel against my body that was changing into a woman’s before most of the other girls in class by behaving like a ‘tomboy’. The pressure I felt to be slim when my body was changing beyond the other girls made the others (and myself) think I was fat. This led me to have an eating disorder for years. It’s this kind of thing that makes me want to pick society apart and expose stereotypical expectations for the ridiculous things they are. I was a young girl who loved dinosaurs and football, not a ‘tomboy’.
What is the best experience you’ve had so far this year?
The best experience I had during 2016 was realising I had been through all the shitty relationships I have had to get to the one I am in and I am exactly where I am meant to be. I was thinking of one off experiences to write but they all boil down to this. Yes I am a feminist.
Do you have any advice for other students who wish to study your subject?
For BA, stick with it! There will be a time where you question why you are even doing this and you wish it would be over already, but once you get past that point you won’t want the course to end.
Interview by Amy Smithers