Review by Frank Plowright
As seen on his website, illustrator Jamie Coe can boast of an illustrious client list. It also informs that he graduated from London’s well regarded St Martin’s College of Art in 2012, so given the 2014 publication of Art Schooled it’s difficult to dislodge the thought of Daniel Stope’s experiences in fact being Coe’s assessment of his classmates and lecturers.
Whether warts and all, thinly disguised or entirely fictional, Art Schooled is a pithy chronicle of pretension, aspiration and young people finding their way in the world, adopting a new skin. Daniel is earnest and naturally talented, but rapidly discovers the craft of his figurative sculpture is sneeringly dismissed as irrelevant when someone who’s drawn an orange justifies it in meaningless words seized on by the lecturer in similar overblown and hollow terminology. It beings to mind the sort of nonsense Posy Simmonds would have Semiotics lecturer George Weber babble in her 1980s newspaper strips.
Coe’s thread is Daniel gradually deciding his graduation project should be a comic about his experiences taking the art course and commenting on those who share that world, so many unaware they’re walking stereotypes. The result is a sharp pomposity-pricking tour, where perhaps the solidly attractive cartooning might be expected from an art school student, but is matched by the sharply observant writing. Several chickens hatched early come home to roost later, a particularly trenchant example being the accusation that Daniel’s work lacks honesty, yet his honesty about people saying that isn’t appreciated. Thought is apparent throughout, notably a back cover that’s the people on the front seen at the same moment, but from behind.
Artistically Coe is very attuned to the ethos of the 1990s British Deadline anthology, with clever, detailed and stylised cartooning. He’s very good at capturing a personality in a single illustration, a pointer to his later career, and at differentiating his expressiver cast.
Running alongside Daniel’s Art School experiences is his stuttering relationship with the conflicted Pip. It may be autobiographical, but narratively it’s there to provide a contrast to the short connected pieces about Art School, which probably needed something of that nature. It does lead to an interesting release of frustration, but the subplot is the weakest element. The remainder, though, is first rate, both very funny and touching, and enough to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to endure criticism by idiots and keep their mouth shut.