My Leeds story - Meri Croft (Fine Art 2020)

We are extremely proud of the achievements of all our graduating students at Leeds, but especially our Class of 2020, who have completed their studies in such challenging circumstances.

We know that our graduates are keen to make a difference in the world, and each month, we shine a spotlight on a Leeds alum who graduated in 2020.

In February, we spoke to Meri Croft, a Fine Art graduate who used her art to capture the uncertainty she faced after graduation. Her work went on to feature in the Guardian, and was later sold by New Blood Art.

You can read the stories of more inspiring graduates featured in our My Leeds Story Class of 2020 series, or alternatively, listen to the My Leeds Story podcast series here.

My Leeds story
Meri Croft

Start by telling us how you came to choose to study Fine Art at the University of Leeds? 

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t have a passion for art. I’ve always been making and creating since I was very young, but I decided to study art at university because I wanted to develop my theoretical and critical understanding. I also wanted the opportunity to work alongside like-minded creatives who challenged and inspired me, and I decided that university was the best place for me to do this.

It was important to me to find a city with a lively arts and music scene, and I knew that Leeds has lots of grassroots arts and music venues. I visited for an open day, and I fell in love with the University. I also really liked that my course had the option to study abroad in the third year, a rarity for Fine Art courses in the UK!

What was your experience of living and studying in Leeds like?

I had an exciting and varied time at Leeds. Having the campus so close to the city centre meant that it was easy to become involved in city life. I found there was almost always an interesting event on, whether it be life drawing, an exhibition, an open-mic or live music - I always had something to do!

As part of my course, I also got the chance to study abroad at the Universidade de Lisboa. This was an amazing and unforgettable experience which helped me to develop both academically and as an artist. I returned to Leeds with inspiration and research for both my dissertation and final year studio work.

"This has been an unexpected and unprecedented year – it's okay if things aren’t going to plan right now."

Meri Croft (Fine Art 2020)

Your final year at Leeds wasn’t quite as you would have imagined it, not being on campus for the last term and being unable able to return to campus for your graduation.  How was the experience of studying virtually? 

Initially, it was a shock to study at home, having to adjust to creating without a studio space and the studio community that I had come to rely upon. However, everyone on my course was in the same position, and the whole experience was made much easier with regular virtual group crits, tutorials and meetings. We all supported each other through the adjustment to digital learning and isolated creation. Although we didn’t have the physical studio space, we kept the feel of a studio community alive digitally.

What have you learnt about yourself after being in lockdown? 

I’ve learned that I am more adaptable than I thought. I was worried that the move home would stop me from painting with as much velocity as I had in the studio, but I scaled down my work and began painting in the corner of my parents’ conservatory. I ended up creating far more work than I thought I would!

Your end of year final degree show had to take place online – what was it like?

It was obviously a disappointment that we didn’t have a traditional degree show, but we managed to put on a digital show instead. I think it really demonstrated how resilient, flexible and resourceful Fine Art students at Leeds are. ‘Simmer’ 2020 was an entirely student-led event and the curation, marketing and website team did such a fantastic job of ensuring each artist’s work was displayed in the best possible light. We even managed to have a virtual opening night, where we celebrated the success of the show with both staff and students.

Flowing and freezing at the border of Canova’s tomb

Flowing and freezing mirror and ice

Some of your work was showcased in an article by the Guardian. Tell us about that.

In April I was contacted by New Blood Art, an online gallery for emerging artists, about displaying and selling my work on their site. Being one of the artists represented by New Blood Art has been great. It allowed me to sell my first paintings, and they also put my work forward to feature in a Guardian article spotlighting 2020 graduates.

I was overwhelmed to see my work promoted to such a large audience! I have had so many people reach out with kind words and encouragement, and I even sold the piece that was featured!

Tell us a little about the art work that was featured – what was your inspiration?

‘Tendrils’ was a piece I created just after graduation. This abstract piece contrasts fluid brushstrokes with a tightly formed grid that creates a perspective for the small white tendrils to navigate their way through the painting. When creating this piece, I was thinking a lot about the uncertainty of the time in-between graduation and finding work, a contrast between two periods of life. Trying to grasp at structure or solid plans can seem difficult at the moment. The fluid feeling of time during these days is reflected in the bold, loose brushstrokes.

Tendrils

Tell us about what you have been up to since you graduated.

Although we couldn’t return to campus for graduation, this didn’t stop my family and I marking the day. We celebrated in the garden with home-made cocktails and mocktails!

 Since July, I’ve been searching for jobs within the arts sector. Unfortunately, this is a particularly difficult time for the arts industry, but I have been lucky enough to be able to use this time to keep creating and promoting my art.

What advice would you give to other members of the Class of 2020 who haven’t yet found employment or made plans for further study?  

Don’t lose confidence! This has been an unexpected and unprecedented year – it's okay if things aren’t going to plan right now.

Meri's best of Leeds

Favourite place to eat in Leeds:

Mommy Thai

Best lunch spot on/near campus:

Lievitoo

Best place to study on campus:

Brotherton

 Your favourite building on campus :

Rodger Stevens

Best music venue/bar/club/night in Leeds:

Wharf Chambers

   Favourite place you visited in Yorkshire:

Hebden Bridge