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Take a good look at my face

An exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery entitled My Future Aspirations showcases local pupils' portrait work. Not only can it be seen in the gallery, it's on the buses too. Jean McLeish reports

An exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery entitled My Future Aspirations showcases local pupils' portrait work. Not only can it be seen in the gallery, it's on the buses too. Jean McLeish reports

When you're just 12, having your painting hung in an art gallery is a big deal. And spotting your self-portrait staring down at you from a passing number 20 bus must also give you a bit of a kick.

First and second-year pupils at north-east secondary schools were invited to create a self-portrait illustrating their future hopes and ambitions along with a short piece of writing.

There were nearly 100 entries - colourful, exciting and entertaining work from schools across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Some were in 3D or paper- mache, some in clay, others incorporated audio and photography.

Forty of the works have been on show at Aberdeen Art Gallery in an exhibition titled My Future Aspirations and the 12 top entries feature in a fundraising calendar and are touring Aberdeen on the sides of city buses.

It's the third time this competition has been run by Aberdeen-based company Thorpe Molloy Recruitment, but the first time pupils' work has been shown at the art gallery. There's a feel-good factor to the children's art and no limit to their imagination or their dreams.

"The competition gives pupils the opportunity to work to a real-life brief and stimulates discussion and thought about their future career and life choices," says Karen Molloy, director of the recruitment company.

And it's not just painted portraits on show. In one corner, a "Wire Dancer" is suspended from the ceiling, wearing ballet shoes - it's by Rosemary Bullock from S1 at Alford Academy who dreams of performing in New York.

A trio of drums tiered like a wedding cake illustrates another Alford Academy pupil's aspirations - Emily Newbold (S2) wants to be a paediatric doctor or work in a patisserie and develop her skills as a drummer.

The judges acknowledge they had a difficult task choosing a winner. But 12-year-old James Mitchell (pictured, left) has pocketed pound;200 to take back for his school's art department at Turriff Academy.

He has painted his head surrounded by a tyre, decorated with the tools of his future trade. James wants to become a mechanical engineer to take over the family business, once run by his grandfather and now his dad. "I'm going to take over the garage when my dad retires," he says.

Another Turriff Academy pupil Mikey Thomson (S1) is among the top 12, after sharing his dreams of becoming a cartoonist. Mikey writes eloquently about his chosen profession: "This work is usually humorous, mainly created for entertainment, political commentary or advertising."

Alford Academy pupil Sian Allerton, 11, presents her dreams on a stoneware plate and takes joint-second prize for her efforts.

"The plate represents the world and then I have little statues of places I would like to go to - like the Statue of Liberty in New York and Mount Rushmore," says the first-year pupil.

Sian also incorporates gold rings to symbolise her wedding plans: "I'd like to get married in America. I like the idea of having someone I can speak to every day and having company wherever I am."

But like most girls, Sian wants to have it all: "Then I'd like to live in Scotland and be a vet or a painter," she writes. For the moment, though, it's a dream come true seeing her work showcased in the city's art gallery. "I was really happy and amazed," she says, smiling.

Cults Academy has also produced a group of successful exhibitors like Lucca Sutherland (S2) who's among the 12 artists featured in the calendar. She has portrayed herself standing on top of the world, holding an artist's palette in one hand and a suitcase in the other, symbolising her future plans.

"When I am older I want to be an animation specialist at Pixar, work at Greenpeace or be the CEO of a company," Lucca writes.

"For the animation I have given my model a paint palette. For Greenpeace I am wearing a T-shirt. For business I am wearing a blazer. To symbolise travel I am standing on a globe holding a suitcase."

All pupils work can be viewed online at


Art teacher Iain Dunlop (pictured with award-winning pupil James Mitchell) is delighted by his pupils' success and that their creativity is being recognised on a prestigious platform such as Aberdeen Art Gallery.

He is a principal teacher of art, currently acting depute head, at Turriff Academy and welcomes opportunities like this in a climate where art can sometimes be marginalised.

"It's often shoved to the background. And a lot of parents do that as well. Whereas, when they see something like this happening, they see `Oh, there's a success associated with it,'" says Mr Dunlop.

"I think it tends to be literacy and numeracy that are the big things, but being creative makes a big difference. I am actually going back to a creative conference I am attending today and that was one of the key issues - that literacy and numeracy is fine, but if you can't be creative to do something with it, then it's pointless."

There's also great kudos for young people in having their work displayed at Aberdeen Art Gallery while the BP Portrait Award has been on show.

"For a lot of the pupils that I teach in particular - we stay in a rural school 35 miles from Aberdeen - if you ask them `Have you been to the art gallery?', it's `What art gallery?' They don't realise it's here, because it's not something they would do as a matter of course," says Mr Dunlop. "So having things like this can encourage them to come in and see it, and then because they have done that it expands and they become more interested in coming here to see other things, which is great."

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