A GROUP of 37 artists who once called Newport home have re-united to celebrate their work and inspire the next generation of painters, designers, animators, and photographers.

In 1980, they were all studying or teaching at what was then the renowned Newport College of Art – the grand domed building in Clarence Place, overlooking the River Usk.

Though they graduated and parted ways in the days before social media, one of their number, Neil Carroll, has tracked his former classmates down for a special exhibition to showcase their careers and their talents, marking 40 years since their graduation.

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Neil Carroll, exhibition curator. Pictures: Courtesy of the Forty Years On Exhibition


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Mr Carroll, who went on to become an art teacher, said he felt the anniversary should be marked in a “significant” way.

“I particularly wanted to show how that Art School beginning has enriched our individual lives in so many ways,” he said. “I always thought that it was a very special group of individuals in my cohort, and that our tutors were so prestigious and such a positive influence on us at the internationally renowned Newport College of Art. We were very, very fortunate.”

He has spent the last decade re-connecting with his former colleagues and discovering “the fascinating directions people have taken with their lives over a 40-year span”, achieving excellence in their respective fields.

But there have been “ups and downs”, he added. Many in the group have had to overcome major changes in the design world, including the shift from analogue to digital.

One Newport graduate whose work will be instantly recognisable to anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s is Graham Bebbington.

After leaving the city’s art college he went on to work as an animator in Cardiff for TV series SuperTed, as well as the much-loved film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ Christmas story The Snowman.

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Graham Bebbington with the posters of some of the films he has worked on. Picture: Courtesy of the Forty Years On Exhibition

Further hits included the Looney Tunes/live action mash-up Space Jam, starring basketball star Michael Jordan; and the Walt Disney Pictures film Fantasia 2000.

“Newport gave me the space to explore a new world of art,” Mr Bebbington said. “The college showed me different ways of seeing through drawing, painting, photography, calligraphy, typography and, more importantly for me, the moving image.

“Excellent tutors and a group of very creative and supportive students during the three years there gave me the passion, curiosity and perseverance to pursue my dream.”

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Shadow Play Zippo’s Circus by Cathy Cooper

To mark the 40th anniversary of their graduation, Mr Carroll has spent the past two years planning and preparing for an exhibition at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, in John Frost Square – the same venue that displayed the final year students’ work in 1980.

His aim was to show the visiting public “the talent that Newport developed and encouraged”, and to inspire young people to pursue their talents with a career in the arts.

With the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak closing most public buildings and restricting public gatherings, however, the exhibition has been postponed.

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Vacuswan by David Petersen. Picture: Courtesy of the Forty Years On Exhibition

But Mr Carroll said the exhibition would move online to make a “resource available to all” – more details on that site will be available in the next few weeks.

And he hopes the digital exhibition will also prove inspirational to schoolchildren who are unable to attend school at the present time.

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Dexter by Julia Wolton.

Former Newport College of Art teachers taking part in Mr Carroll’s exhibition include Gillian Clarke, who was National Poet of Wales between 2008 and 2016; distinguished artist Professor Gerda Roper; and Magnum Photographer David Hurn.

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Sheep shelter from rain, Wales by David Hurn.

“The Forty Years On Exhibition is a sample of just one small part of the rich, diverse talent that has come out of Newport,” he said.

“It is my wish that we can show the young people of Newport and South Wales what a full life within the broad arena of art and design can look like.”

Other former students taking part in the Forty Years On exhibition include award-winning travel photographer Cathy Cooper, whose adventures have taken her to the Himalayas and Alaskan wilds; sculptor David Peterson, who worked on sets for 2001: A Space Odyssey and designed the Mametz Wood memorial to fallen Welsh soldiers in the first battle of the Somme; and youth worker Julia Wolton, who has produced arts-based gang intervention schemes to disaffected young people in London.

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Hide and Seek by Gerda Roper. Picture: Courtesy of the Forty Years On Exhibition

“With such a diverse breadth of specialisms and knowledge amongst us, we have an incredibly rich and valuable resource on our hands,” Mr Carroll said. “I would like this exhibition to be inspirational to the youngsters of Newport, South East Wales, and beyond.”