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Portraits: A brush with the elite

Gallery@WrennWrenn school,Northamptonshire

On the walls of the gallery's mezzanine floor, large paintings with tightly controlled abstract organic shapes hang proud. Stephen Peirce, Royal Academy graduate and rising contemporary artist, is making playful connections between advances in bio-molecular engineering and visual form.

The question of where science ends and art begins is a cutting-edge issue, but this gallery is cutting-edge in itself. And although it is open to the public, it is part of a Northamptonshire school, where curator and artist Peter Monkman is a teacher.

Gallery@Wrenn is an extension of the art department at Wrenn school, a 1,400-strong comprehensive in Wellingborough. It is suspended above a large, airy workshop shared by artists and pupils. Designed to professional standards, it was established by Mr Monkman three years ago when the school committed to a new-build art department to make up for the lack of gallery space locally.

If he could not take his students out to see contemporary art, Mr Monkman argued, he must bring the art to his students and the wider community.

He believes that contemporary art is well within the understanding of young people, and says the gallery benefits from being in a school just as his own art benefits from his teaching. He says: "As a teacher you have to be convincing, you have to focus on what will communicate to teenagers who may not want to be here and that skill feeds into all my other work. My art is all about being a teacher."

In a corner stands a series of stacked canvasses. This is Face Value, a collection of 17 in-your-face pupil portraits by Mr Monkman which has just arrived from an exhibition in Peterborough and is the next show to be hung at Wrenn.

One of these iconic portraits is of Dayne, a black Year 8 boy staring boldly out of a yellow background, due to hang in the National Portrait Gallery from June as part of the prestigious BP Portrait Award's shortlist exhibition.

Read the full review in this week's TES

Face Value is at theGallery@Wrennuntil May 16. Open to the public 9am-5pm by appointment. Tel: 01933 222793.The BP Portrait Award show at the National Portrait Gallery runs from June 12 to September 21.

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