Forth Valley College: Denny student Niamh McFarlane making her mark on art world

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A former nursery teacher turned art student has found her work being displayed in major collections and exhibitions.

Forth Valley College student Niamh McFarlane, 22, said the demand for her work is a bit “surreal” but she is delighted at the recognition.

She recently sold her painting Freshscape to the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling for its private collection and the won the City Contemporary Art Exhibition Award for her work to be displayed at the City Contemporary Galleries in Perth.

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This recognition was the result of her work being exhibited at the recent college's end of year degree show at the Stirling campus with her paintings also selling consistently over the past few months.

Forth Valley College art student Niamh McFarlane with some of her work. Pic: Ashley Forsyth.Forth Valley College art student Niamh McFarlane with some of her work. Pic: Ashley Forsyth.
Forth Valley College art student Niamh McFarlane with some of her work. Pic: Ashley Forsyth.

The former St Modan’s High School pupil from Denny had been working as a nursery teacher, but the pandemic lockdown led her to reassess her future path and she applied to FVC as she always enjoyed being creative at high school.

Now after three years at FVC, she is heading to the University of Stirling to complete her honours degree and is looking forward to embarking on her career as a full-time artist.

Niamh said: “My painting will now feature in the Smith’s private collection alongside work from credible artists across Scotland. It will be a great way to raise my profile, and give me more opportunities. I am delighted that my work was recognised by the Smith Art Gallery and Museum. I am excited about what is next for me. It is all a little bit surreal as I am still a student.

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“Since the completion of my degree show, I am now delighted to announce my paintings will be exhibited at the famous Brick Lane Gallery in London from August 16-28. This opportunity brings my work to a popular and lively part of east London, known for its vibrant art and culture. I will also be exhibiting work at The Park Gallery, Callander House from September as part of their Winter ‘Artful’ group show, and at the ‘Future Stars’ exhibition in London at the end of this year.”

Art student Niamh McFarlane with one of her pieces of work. Pic: Charles McGuiganArt student Niamh McFarlane with one of her pieces of work. Pic: Charles McGuigan
Art student Niamh McFarlane with one of her pieces of work. Pic: Charles McGuigan

Caroline Mathers, director of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, said: “We are delighted to have acquired a piece of Niamh’s work for The Smith’s permanent art collection. It’s important we support our local graduates at this exciting time in their careers and this is one way we can do that. The quality of work emerging from Forth Valley College is exceptional and Niamh’s work is a good example of this. I can see her vibrant, textured paintings becoming quite collectable, so of course we wanted to have a piece for our collection.

"Niamh’s work is being exhibited around the UK and this will only reinforce and build her confidence as she broadens her practice. We are happy to have been a small part of this and wish her and her fellow graduates the very best.”

Her start to college life was unusual as lockdown restrictions were in place and she had to study at home. Niamh said: “When I started off the lecturers were trying to get everything they could out of you while at home, I was carving artwork from bars of soap and painting in my bedroom, but it was all worth it. When I came back to the Stirling campus I started to become a bit more rebellious and adventurous, upping the size of my canvases to as much as six feet. But the lecturers and technicians were always so supportive and helpful and they always helped find a way to bring your ideas to reality.

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“That is why I would 100 per cent recommend the creative industries department and its courses to anyone- – if they are interested in Art and Design they should go for it and apply. There are amazing facilities, studios and workshops, and the great thing is you are studying with classmates who are working in their own mediums and ideas, and you can feed off each other. It is a great environment to build your confidence and find your own creative voice.”

Ewan John, an art and design lecturer at FVC, said: “Niamh started on our contemporary art practice course during the pandemic and progressed on to the BA Art & Design course, where she focused on developing her painting practice. Her paintings have caught the attention of collectors and individuals alike who are drawn to the colourful, expressive nature of the works. She has developed highly textured, expressive canvases, which have appealed to local galleries, including the prestigious Smith Art Gallery and Museum who have recently acquired a large abstract canvas.

“The predominantly blue work stems from studies and photographs as documented in a colour diary, which she recorded specifically for the show.”

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