Galleries - April 2016

It really started with the arrival of the first trains to Penzance in 1867. Suddenly a region which had been accessible only to the hardiest and most determined of artists – notably JMW Turner and the picturesque painters of the early 19th century – was now just a few hours train journey away from the country’s major centres, and the artists started to flood in. A century or so later, Cornwall has become virtually a brand, synonymous in many ways with the development of contemporary 20th century art, and while the most avant-garde elements have inevitably long since returned to London, the county still supports a huge and lively community of practising artists and an impressive range of galleries, public and private, to support them and meet the needs of the hordes of visitors still attracted by the unmistakable glamour of the artistic life and vision. Among the earliest and most celebrated of these early pioneers were the painters Stanhope Forbes and his wife Elizabeth, who married in the fishing town of Newlyn and settled there in 1889, becoming key figures in one of the first modern communities of artists in the region, the Newlyn School of Artists. They also set up an influential art school in the town, one that has been happily relaunched with Arts Council money in the last five years. Strongly influenced by French Realist painters like Bastien- Lepage, the Newlyn artists were drawn as much by the harshly primitive and largely untouched life of the fishing communities they found there as they were by the particular qualities of Cornish light. Though they espoused the idea of painting en plein air, their subject matter drew on these communities’ lives to tell narrative stories and it wasn’t until the next great wave of painters, who were influenced by Impressionist ideas of light, arrived early in the 20th century, settling around Penzance and St Ives, that the light and landscape itself became rather more central to the work being produced. Artists, like Laura Knight, Harold Harvey, Harold and Dod Procter and Lamorna Birch came from all over the country and stayed for the rest of their lives, their exhilarating and colourful paintings of sea and sun, cliff tops and sandy beaches, a potent force in attracting a growing tide of summer visitors. The third great wave, the Modernist wave if you like, came in the late 1920s when pioneering painters like Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson, enthused by French Modernism, started visiting, coming across the famously influential St Ives primitive artist Alfred Wallis. The rest is a well and often told story. At the outbreak of the Second World War Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, along with famous émigré artists like Naum Gabo, settled more permanently in St Ives, to be followed at war’s end, by a whole host of younger artists – Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Bryan Wynter, Peter Lanyon (a native Cornishman to be fair), William Scott, Roger Hilton and more. Between them they began to establish an experimentalist, abstract-influenced style that became a key element in post- war British art, one that was finally and fully recognised by the opening of Tate St Ives in 1993. The story has continued from there, and though the avant- garde tide has receded in recent years, the number of artists working and galleries established throughout Cornwall, not just in St Ives, is probably greater than ever. This is reflected in Galleries’ listing pages, with Cornwall seasonally one of the biggest pro rata in the magazine. Invidious perhaps to mention some and not others but a few personal favourites are the long standing Cornish School dealers Belgrave St Ives , the recently established experimental venue at Kestle Barton on The Lizard, painter Sarah Adams’ artist-led space The Padstow Studio, the 2014 opening Circle Contemporary, a large and adventurous gallery complex on the road from Padstow to Wadebridge, and The Summerhouse Gallery at Marazion. Cornwall continues to thrive! Nicholas Usherwood 10 GALLERIES APRIL 2016 rt Cornwall above: Paul Chaney ‘Encampment Supreme’ 2015, made from recycled materials, Kestle Barton