Alumna celebrates first major solo exhibition

An art graduate is celebrating her first major solo exhibition since completing her studies at BCU.

Betsy Bradley, who graduated with an MA in Fine Art in 2018, is undertaking the biggest step in her career so far with her solo exhibition, ‘Chasing Rainbows’, which is now open at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham.

The alumna, who explores painting as a life force that traces “the dance between thought and action”, was approached about the opportunity during the peak of lockdown in 2020. She said: “I couldn’t believe it at first; I thought it was a joke. I’d had some of my work included within an exhibition at the gallery called ‘Forward’ in 2019, which aimed to showcase new and emerging artists in Birmingham. From my work in that, the gallery remembered me, and the solo exhibition opportunity followed.

“I’ve been working hard on the exhibition for well over a year now, and have totally dedicated all my time to it. Since I graduated from BCU, I am most proud of this exhibition as this has been my biggest achievement so far.”

Betsy’s aim with the exhibition, which is on display at the Ikon until 13 February 2022, is to alow visitors to be in the present moment: “I wanted the title of the exhibition to be a really open and accessible one, which would appeal to both children and adults. I like to invite adults into more childlike and light-hearted states.

“But there is also a philosophical level too as I’m inspired by intangible phenomena, like rainbows, and the way they appear and disappear beyond our control. We can’t grasp them as they aren’t a physical thing, so we have to experience them in the present moment, so we appreciate them.

“I want visitors to experience just being in the moment, opposing the often intimidating feeling that you can get in a gallery. A lot of people feel quite stiff or suddenly very serious in a gallery, and I just wanted to create a really joyful and uplifting experience that will make people feel playful in the space.”

Betsy already has high hopes for the future, with a series of potential exhibitions on the way: “I’m already getting lots of interest from other people about future exhibitions, including a residency in Northern Ireland. In the future, I hope to have many more exhibitions in larger spaces and public galleries.”

But being an artist hasn’t always been easy for Betsy, especially during the pandemic. She said: “I’m really proud of how I have managed to maintain my practice during challenging times over the last few years, as it’s been hard at times. But I am pleased with myself that I have managed to keep going.

“Birmingham is such an exciting place to be an artist and it always feel like its progressing. But being an artist is a very different career to a ‘normal job’, as it’s very up and down and you have to keep that motivation and belief in yourself to keep going.

“I am always learning so much about my work and the industry and, thankfully, BCU provided me with the confidence to be able to make bold moves with my work.”

The graduate also has plenty of advice to share with current art students too: “Never stop playing and having fun with your work. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to really overthink things and worry about the context and forget to just play and explore things. Try not to lose the playfulness you had when you were younger.

“It has also been helpful for me to be adaptable in different spaces and think about my studio and working space in an expanded way. Your working space doesn’t need to be a formal studio. When you’re at university, the working space is just there for you to take advantage of but after that, you have to figure out your own space to work in and being open and flexible about that is really helpful for you and the work. Also, take risks! They do always pay off in the least expected ways.”

Chasing Rainbows is open at Ikon Gallery until Sunday 13 February, 2022.
Images: Installation view, Betsy Bradley, Chasing Rainbows (2021).
Copyright Ikon Gallery. Photographer, Stuart Whipps.