gallery

The Highs and Lows of Cornwall

I've never seen the appeal of Cornwall. All those twisty turny vomit-inducing lanes leading to postcard pretty villages full of quaint cottages called 'Sea Breeze' or 'Windy Point' or other charming nonsense. Twee beyond belief gift shops, antique shoppees that frankly should be nailed under the mis-descriptions act and then cream teas, pasties and pubs..... yawn. And thats if any of the aforementioned is actually open. Seen one pretty Cornish village and you've seen them all.

However, there are the views - I'll give you the views. Combined with the famous quality of light.

So, having decided Cornwall isn't really my thing, it took something special to get me to go back - particularly during the rainiest January in living memory.

Maker Heights is a former Napoleaonic military base, set high above the Londoner's favourite 'unspoilt' spot of Kingsand on the Rame Peninsula. Maker is currently home to 'The Canteen' run by a River Cafe chef, a Gallery owned by former Lenkiewicz friend and model, Paul Somerville, 'the coolest campsite in Cornwall' (Cool Camping), a whole host of musicians and, last but not least, The Rame School of Artists.

At the centre of this community sits The Random Arms, a renegade pub sitting on the edge of the world, hosting live music and open mic sessions all year round.

In short, Maker has serious creative credentials combined with all the ingredients to attract the swathe of second-homers flooding the local villages. Plus a 360 degree view that is quite breathtaking.

But, it is falling apart.

Years of neglect have meant that the Artists residing in the main barracks building are struggling with the cold, constant leaks, doors blowing off and even on one occasion a collapsed floor.

I meet painter Heath Hearn and he explains how Maker is a unique artistic community with a healthy mix of painters, sculptors and musicians. They work hard to keep a balance so that one discipline never becomes more important than the others. Artists such as Steve JoyJK Lawson and Katy Brown are here because of the freedom that the location gives them. Plus of course, the rent is dirt cheap and the studios are massive, with high ceilings and wonderful light from the huge windows. But, they are freezing.

All the above photos are of Heath's studio and work in progress.

All the above photos are of Heath's studio and work in progress.

Heath and Katy Brown, have also forged links with the University of Plymouth and offer the art students temporary placements at Maker - giving them access to these huge studios and teaching. As well as being a clear benefit for the students, this constant injection of fresh blood on site creates encourages ideas to bounce around, keeping the whole enviroment alive and vibrant.

Paintings from Katy Brown.

Paintings from Katy Brown.

One of these students, Chelsea has now become a permanent artist at the site. As well as a painter she is also a musician and so resides at the noisier end of the Barracks.

Chelsea's space above

Chelsea's space above

As an outsider, it's all very well to see this group of creatives stuck on the hill, battling with the elements, as wild and romantic. But in reality, they are currently fighting with mouldy canvas, falling debris and water running down the walls.

Another studio in one of the out buildings.

Another studio in one of the out buildings.

Paul Somerville, the gallery owner on site says that visitors are undoubtedly put off by the derelict state of the buildings. His gallery sells top notch stuff from Howard Hodgkin and Terry Frost - but he admits that it can be hard to sell a £20,000 piece when he is next door to the portacabin that houses the loos.

 A gorgeous Howard Hodgkin at the Somerville Gallery.

 A gorgeous Howard Hodgkin at the Somerville Gallery.

But help is on the way and the whole Maker site has been bought by a sympathetic developer with a vision that will give Maker the TLC it so desperately needs to survive. As Heath puts it 'the dice have been rolled, but we don't know yet how they will fall'. Predictably, there are concerns over the scheme and how the unique 'bohemian' atmosphere can be maintained. But, without some outside help the whole environment is literally in danger of being blown away.

It was such a priviledge to visit Maker and The Rame School of Artists at this crucial time in their history and I will watch closely how this unique community will adapt and flourish within it's new and improved environment. I might even go back.....

Watch this space.

"All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the form. Above all, there was the sensation of moving physically over the contours of fulnesses and concavities, through hollows and over peaks – feeling, touching, seeing, through mind and hand and eye. This sensation has never left me. I, the sculptor, am the landscape. I am the form and I am the hollow, the thrust and the contour." Barbara Hepworth

quote from Extracts from Barbara Hepworth,  A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1971


Simple Pleasures

At times, I take this art business very, very seriously. Which to be honest, to those that know me is quite odd, as overall I don't think I am a very 'serious' person. However, Art is something that I can get all quasi-religious about and, given a willing audience will gladly spout all sorts of platitudes to the point of utter tediousness. Do not, for example, ever offer to join me at the latest Turner Prize - trust me, no-one gets out alive.

An iconic Turner Prize line-up from 1991.

An iconic Turner Prize line-up from 1991.

So, it is a relief, frankly when I can find an environment that evokes the sublime experience I am craving but also means I can relax my inner tendency to dissect, conceptualise and critique. Yesterday, I visited the Courtauld Gallery and indulged my senses in the visual delight of The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Torso, The Idol 1905

Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Torso, The Idol 1905

Back in the days of Art School, it was the height of naffness to admit a penchant for a bit of painterly Impressionism. And The Courtauld was, in a word, stuffy. Interestingly, the gallery still seems a little apologetic and lacks the blockbuster zeal so recently adopted by the Royal Academy (which was also stuffy, but now isn't), the V&A (always cool, but perhaps needs to calm down on the Disney-ing tendencies shown in Bowie and McQueen) and of course The Tate (lost the plot). But, this I think makes it all the more charming.

It shows small but relevant shows, most notably the stunning Schiele,'Radical Nude' and at the time of press the 'Soaring' Cornish Abstract painter, Peter Lanyon. However, whatever is on - it's worth the flight to the top of the North Wing. When you get there, the intimacy of the space, combined with the scale of the paintings and lack of visitors gives you the sense of being lost in the attic of some long abandoned stately home.

Modigliani, The Female nude circa 1916.

Modigliani, The Female nude circa 1916.

And, personally, I discovered an 'unfinished' Degas, or study that I find completely wonderful in its ability to capture mood, light and form with the paint seeming to barely stroke the surface.

Degas, Woman at a Window, 1871

Degas, Woman at a Window, 1871

And all this, before you venture downstairs to see the really big-hitters from Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

It really is a pleasure throughout, and, for me a joyous exploration in the medium of paint. This stuff is easy on the eye, accessible and arguably less challenging than all the other '-isms'. However, much as I love an un-made bed, porcelain crabs and The Black Square, sometimes what we really need is to stop over-thinking and just celebrate our human capacity to capture pure beauty in just a few dabs of pigment.

"The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist."
- Hockney