AS Art Exam: Paintings of Decaying Fruit 98%

Last Updated on May 29, 2023

This AS Art exam (controlled test) gained 98% in 2008. It was completed by Nikau Hindin, who achieved 100% in her accompanying AS Coursework Project, giving her an overall AS Art result of 99%. Nikau completed this body of work while studying A Level Art & Design (CIE 9704), Painting and Related Media, at ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand.

Some of Nikau’s sketchbook pages are included in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!

AS Art exam board - rotting fruit
This beautiful art exam board (Painting & Related Media) is made up of the three x A1 sheets of supporting work (a maximum of four is permissible).

After selecting the topic Suspension from her AS Art exam paper, Nikau created a still life of rotting fruit and vegetables that were suspended from nails hammered into the art room wall. Using torn and crumpled paper that had been ‘pre-dirtied’ using smears of paint, Nikau created a layered background over which items were suspended in the style of Jim Dine, an artist model that Nikau had also referenced in her AS Coursework Project. Using discarded waste items that are conventionally viewed as disgusting and/or repulsive, Nikau created a still life fruit arrangement that had been distorted until it became unexpected and extraordinary – an individual, sensitive and creative response to stimulus.

AS art exam drawing - graphite on acrylic wash
Nikau’s first Art exam drawing was a tightly controlled realistic graphite pencil piece.

Nikau worked from her own photographs and directly from the hanging fruit (analysis from direct observation) producing drawings on painted grounds that echoed the colours naturally present in the still life (this allowed Nikau to have a consistent colour scheme throughout her folio board). Her first preparatory piece (illustrated above) was a highly realistic drawing, completed using graphite pencil on a wash of watered-down acrylic. This tightly controlled ‘formal’ drawing allowed Nikau to demonstrate her excellent observational drawing skills: accurately representing contour, shape and proportion, and confidently applying tone to render form and create the illusion of texture. A beginning of this nature can ‘reassure’ the examiner, to some extent, that a candidate is worthy of high marks (even if they progress to an abstract conclusion of which the examiner may have otherwise been a little doubtful).

high school art exam piece - water colour
One of the most beautiful pieces I have seen completed as part of a high school Art exam: a painting of an avocado skin, capsicum and beetroot. The photograph (taken by Nikau) used to inspire this piece is shown to the left.

Even in these early works, Nikau carefully considered composition and aesthetic qualities. A range of surfaces and textures has been represented, providing visual interest and variety. Shadows have been exaggerated, showing influence from Jim Dine, helping to provide depth in what may have otherwise been a very shallow and ‘flat’ image.

The cohesive and thorough submission shows clear evidence that Nikau continually assessed and evaluated her artwork. Visual links are established between the vertical lines of the string and the lines of the banana skin and other forms. The repetition of organic curving forms balances the works and contrasts the hard angular lines created by the string and paper edge. Nikau has identified the importance of the negative spaces and has carefully distributed detailed areas in order to create focal points that guide the viewer’s attention throughout the work.

In other areas, objects are incompletely rendered – tone and outlines ‘fading away’, making it less clear where the background stops and objects begin. This is a feature of Jim Dine’s work (his tool drawings in particular) and supports Nikau’s intention of finding beauty in the discarded.

art exam preparatory work - cie art and design
Two preparatory pieces completed for this AS Art exam

In order to strengthen the strong vertical lines in her work, Nikau began to experiment with media, layer upon layer of drips and washes creating intricate and beautiful grounds. These wispy drips echo details within the objects themselves: the fine, curly hairs on the beetroot; lines on the crinkled avocado skin; the glistening reflections of light on the capsicum. The boundary between background and object is less clear and the work is united as a whole.

part of a controlled test art exam
The Controlled Test (Art exam) requires that students develop their ideas. This preparatory piece shows the first hint at a disintegration of form: objects fade into line and then into the background.

Learning from Janet Fish, a painter who had also been studied within her AS Coursework submission, Nikau began to refine her painting of reflective surfaces and her imitation of the undulating surfaces of the cabbage and beetroot leaves, applying acrylic with exceptional skill. Nikau also began to exaggerate rips and torn edges that were present in the background surface, further eliminating the boundary between background and foreground form.

still life - an art exam example
A beautiful Art exam example: digital preparatory work.

The preparatory work immediately above and below are some of my favourite pieces in this entire AS Art exam submission. They were completed digitally, with existing paintings and grounds scanned and then merging and edited using Photoshop (Adobe Fireworks is also great for this). Digital manipulation is a much under-utilised strategy for A Level Art Painting students. While Graphic Design and Photography students generally live on a computer (and would sometimes benefit from more hands-on approach) Painting students are of often the opposite extreme, sometimes never venturing near a computer lab. This is a shame, as playing around digitally can result in unexpected outcomes that push students in an exciting new direction. In these two works, as with the remainder of her submission, Nikau demonstrates independence and confidence in concept and execution. She selects and controls digital tools with the same precision and competence that she shows has when using physical media, processes and techniques.

preparatory work - AS art exam
Painted works are merged to create a stunning preparatory piece for Nikau’s AS Art exam.

Nikau continued to develop her ideas, completing three A1 folio boards that systematically communicate her ideas and intentions. She deconstructed forms, manipulated scales and, as with her Coursework, used gel medium and water to create translucent layers.

Her AS Art exam final piece is the beautiful acrylic painting below:

Art exam final piece - still life
This is Nikau’s huge final Art exam piece. An outstanding examination submission.

For further guidance about this topic, please read the accompanying article about the CIE AS Art Exam.


You will be notified first when free resources are available:
Art project ideas, teaching handouts, printable lesson plans, tips and advice from experienced teachers. What are you waiting for?

We send emails monthly. And don’t worry, we hate spam too! Unsubscribe at any time.