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Jessica Cooper_839-1M

Tomorrow is the last day of Jessica Cooper‘s show at the Belgrave Gallery in St Ives – a quite rare solo exhibition on home turf, fittingly called ‘About Home’. It was a real pleasure to be asked to write the introductory essay for the show, which follows below.

Much of the inspiration for this piece of writing came from attending her two-day course at Newlyn School of Art entitled ‘Essence of Form’ back in March. It provides not only a thoroughly absorbing insight into how she works but also encourages a micro awareness of what switches you on visually – even if you’re a total beginner like me. Scroll down for a slideshow of pics from the course, bookable here for September.

Jessica Cooper: About Home / Introductory essay by Ismay Atkins

Like the comic silence that treads a thrilling fine line; the pregnant pause in a bar of music; the short line of poetry that gathers emotion in refrain, Jessica Cooper’s apparent simplicity on canvas is her most courageous and impactful tool.

The temptation might be to call it minimalism, with its implication of stripping away – or simplicity, with its suggestion of naiveté – but more accurately this is mindfulness of art: a honing of awareness; an attentiveness of mind; and an openness to meaning, wherever it might be found.

To watch Cooper at work is to observe a tireless quest for this all-important meaning. As she prepares for a painting in her ever-present sketchbook, she explores and distils the subject until finding what she describes as its ‘core’: the part or parts in which she finds value, essence, emotion, substance or significance, impact or import. Once found, all else falls beyond the borders of the canvas, the noise of life is turned to fade, and she focuses with a rare clarity: on a shade of green, a line, a curve, a leaf, a corner, a tree, a house.

While Cooper has long been an artist who breathes emotion into the still life, never perhaps has a collection of her paintings been more emotionally resonant than this homecoming show in her native West Penwith, composed as it is of objects and landscapes that have shaped, and continue to shape, her life. Whether it’s a cup made by her grandmother, used by four generations; an acutely reminiscent view from the coastal road from St Just to St Ives; or a commonplace modern kitchen chair, Cooper seems to elevate the domestic and the personal to greater significance.

While the effect might be one of effortless clarity, the filtering out of extraneous detail isnotoriously demanding in any art form. It requires well-honed skill, but still more, it demands conviction and courage. Denied the props of supporting structures, and freed from the restraints of dogged detail, Cooper’s paintings place themselves in a bold position of vulnerability. A wedge of lemon on the kitchen surface. A house on a hill. An oval of soap next to the bath. How can she know we will care? Artistically, Cooper leaves herself as precarious and protruding as a tree on the moors of West Penwith.

Yet this vulnerability, for me, is the very thing that imbues this body of works with strength and meaning. It is the thing that makes a painting of a humble bowl of pears strong and important.

In short, we care because she cares. We believe in it because she does. It is a confidence that is quite contagious.

‘About Home’ shows until 28th June at Belgrave Gallery Belgrave St Ives, 22/22a Fore Street, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1HE. T (01736) 794888 W www.belgravestives.co.uk

Jessica tweets at @jcooperpainter

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fat hen foraging

In an ideal world, this is how I like my foraged food to look. Spot the candied alexanders stem, carrageen-set panna cotta and wild fennel shortbread in this composition.

It is said to the point of cliche, but nonetheless true, that there is something about foraging for food that seems to tap into our most primitive instincts. Just the simple action of plucking a leaf from a tangled Cornish hedge and finding it tastes like wasabi or watercress or coconut – in short, something you would normally pay for – is unfailingly thrilling.

That probably says a lot about how darkly far we’ve come from the origins of our food. Still, there’s no need to go getting too primitive about these things, and that’s what I particularly like about Caroline Davey of St Buryan wild food school Fat Hen. On her courses, it’s not just about whether the plant is edible, it’s about whether it tastes good… and not just good, but Read the rest of this entry »

‘Got absolutely drenched making this,’ says the author of this rather therapeutic slowmo clip.

I am a huge fan of Blas Burgerworks of St Ives, as you may have gathered from gushing mentions on the blog and its place in my top 10 cheap eats on the north coast for the Guardian the other month.

Well, as burger fortune would have it, Blas – intent on reinventing the maligned burger van – has hit the road this summer with ‘Blas Street’, a burger van ‘for people who give a damn’. I snapped one up yesterday on the prom at Quay Fair Day and can confirm that the formula travels exceedingly well – Cornish freerange beef, seeded bun, crispy salad. Look out for the Blas ladies at festivals and beachside carparks this summer.

£5 for a classic burger, add 50p for Davidstow Cheddar. http://blasburgerworks.co.uk/

magic chocolate, st ives

It was designer-illustrator Emily Fishpool over in St Ives who first handed me a tiny piece of a ‘raw chocolate bar’ at a barbecue. Tiny not because she’s an ungenerous sort but rather because you only really need a small amount – it’s pretty punchy stuff, and I’ve been popping away the little bars ever since, plucked from the fridge at the back of Archie Browns.

Being a stiff believer in full-fat, non-light, food-for-taste food, I initially approached the concept of ‘healthy’ chocolate with characteristic cynicism. But I have to say it is an incredibly moreish thing… and I know that because I just chain-ate all the chocolates in the picture above, one after another.

These little pieces of chocolate art are the work of a new Cornish raw chocolate company I’ve just discovered called Magic Chocolate. They are cutely hand-moulded and come in flavours such as lemon, strawberry & peppercorn, peppermint and chocolate orange.

Being naturally sweetened and free from dairy, they fill a quite different chocolate ‘need’ to your textbook 3pm sugar-low Cadbury’s binge that leads you blindly and ill-advisedly to the corner shop. It’s still satisfying but not overly sweet and it’s more, well, raw. See what you think.

http://magicchocolate.co.uk/ 

You can also buy Magic Chocolate bars from Halzephron in Truro and the Muju Studio and Gallery in the Sloop Craft Market, St Ives (www.mujuworld.com). £6.50 for nine chocolates.

The Tinner’s Arms – trading in the simple pleasures in life since 1271.

Tinner’s Arms, Zennor, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 3BY. www.tinnersarms.com


Thought I’d post the link to an article I’ve written for the Guardian about cheap eats along the north coast of Cornwall – it’s part of a bigger interactive online Guardian guide to Cornwall, with lots of top 10 lists, from family days out (written by p&c friend Hayley Spurway) to campsites and B&Bs.

List journalism has its critics but when it comes to easy reading, no one can resist a nicely focused top 10 – if only to gripe about all the better places/things YOU would have put in instead. My brief was lunch for £10, which turned out to be a tall order along the north coast of Cornwall – somewhere that relies on the tourist pound, the sea view and the cornered market.

Still, I think I found some gooduns – from the St Kew Harvest, a sourcing-savvy farmshop cafe, to Blas, everyone’s favourite gourmet burger, via Relish, probably Cornwall’s best coffee. I had to kiss a few frogs along the way – supermarket-style bread in expensive places, limp pasties, dusty falafel – but am resisting the temptation to name and shame ;)

Read my complete top 10 here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/mar/14/top-10-budget-restaurants-north-cornwall

What with Christmas coming, I thought this would be a good time to share the news that the TeddyPasty has landed online – it has its own spot on Etsy. Handmade in St Ives by Emily Fishpool, he has good crimpage, comes in his own brown paper bag, and looks highly cuddly… for a pasty. Costs £10.

TeddyPasty is online at http://teddypasty.tumblr.com and he even tweets: http://twitter.com/teddypasty

Any radio programme that starts with a line like that is going to hook me in straight away. Thanks go to my friend Jan Fuscoe for sending me the link to this engaging, 30-minute portrait by Anna Chen for Radio 4 of everyone’s favourite seaside town. The programme – only available online for another three days – is all about what draws people inexorably in, the light, energy, bohemian lifestyle…

There may no longer be a working potter on every corner, and the appearance of Musto and Pizza Express do rather diminish the boho credentials, but St Ives is still a very special, individual, free-thinking kind of place. It’s where I go on the train on a rainy February day to perk myself up – it’s always summer in St Ives.

Among many who have fallen under its spell, one escape artist interviewed on the programme says, ‘We were terrified of the drudgery of a conformist life – we came to St Ives to avoid having our wings clipped.’ I think there’s something of that sentiment in many an escape to Cornwall.

You can listen to the programme for the next THREE days online here. 30 mins long.

Sorry for being a slack blogger lately – I’ve been on holiday. As in an actual holiday in a different country. Cornwall really is a comfortable hole isn’t it, and it’s hard to leave – not least because it takes a day just to get to your mode of transport.

In any case, what better tonic for the post-holiday blues than a stay at Salt House last night; at the moment, I’m writing some updates for the Time Out Guide to Devon & Cornwall and this haute-design B&B in Carbis Bay was high up my list of must-check-outs (feel I must add the obligatory travel writer’s aside: ‘hard job but someone’s got…’).

Sink all thoughts of nautical themes or fishermen’s cottage chic. This is real-deal modern luxury – a stunning, wood-clad cube of a building with omg views from each guest room’s private terrace over the full golden sweep of St Ives Bay through the monterey pines. I always try and use my own pictures on pasties & cream but it’s just so horribly dark and cold and grey this week that my iphone couldn’t handle it, hence the sparkly official photos, which do it greater justice.

In the white rooms it’s all about careful editing – an Alessi bottle opener here, an Orla Kiely mug there, glossy flat-screen telly, homemade coconut-flecked cookies. It’s the work of owners Alan and Sharon, both graphic designers.

There are only two rooms, so unsurprisingly they’re a hot booking.

www.salthousestives.co.uk; £170-£190 per night, including (amazing) breakfast, mine pictured below.

Shocking-quality phone vid for you of Dartmoor dweller Seth Lakeman’s sell-out show at the St Ives September Festival last night. You know you can rely on me for plenty of distortion on the sound, and erratic framing. Still, hopefully this snippet conveys something of his electric performance of eerie, insistent ‘Kitty Jay’ – in my view his finest song.

Btw, if you missed Botallack O Clock the other night, fret not: the excellent Third Man Theatre are performing their ambulatory show ‘The One that Got Away’ this week, meeting at the Guildhall: details here. Am hearing great, often surreal things.

PS I feel duty-bound to point you to the full version of Kitty Jay with crystal-clear sound.

It is one of the quirks of living in these parts that the most exciting happenings in the arts seem to take place without the fanfare that they are due – never mind the fanfare, actually, with very little information at all!

And so it was that I found out about an amazing-sounding play taking place in St Ives this week thanks to a friend’s facebook status update containing a link to a truly gushing Time Out London review that had awarded it five stars.

The performance in question is Botallack O Clock, a play about the life of pioneering West Cornwall abstract artist Roger Hilton, performed by Third Man Theatre. It is described by Time Out as “the best kind of buried treasure” and describes Dan Frost’s performance as “phenomenal and uncompromising”.

There – a mini West Cornwall fanfare!

13th & 14th September at St Ives Art Club, £10. www.thirdmantheatre.com

These pics are my favourites from a v neat exhibition in the Vintage Storeroom in St Ives until tomorrow called Instant Exposure by talented downalong-dweller Emily Fishpool – designer, illustrator and most importantly creator of the super-cute Teddy Pasty, ‘the cuddliest teddy in all Cornwall’!

All the pics are taken on the iPhone. Framed prints are £30. Why don’t mine look like that?

www.emilyfishpool.com/instant-exposure

Seeing as it’s scorchio outside and I’m feeling more deckchairy than bloggy, I’m going to be brief and post some pictures of sunset from the Porthmeor Beach Cafe at the weekend – all in all, a pretty smug-making Read the rest of this entry »

porthminster beach cafe, st ives, cornwall

This piece of culinary art, my friends, is a morsel of almond-battered cod cheek with salted grapes, darjeeling tea gel and wild sorrel. I loved it so much that I ended up dreaming about it.

We are in the midst of Cornwall Spring Feast, a county-wide foodie shindig celebrating the joys of the local larder. The main shtuck is the one-price-fits-all special menus (£14 for two courses) in all participating restaurants – even the Outlaw’s Grill. But the county’s headlining chefs are also hosting a few special events – opportunities to perform culinary cartwheels outside the parameters of the daily menu.

When the opportunity arises to see young Australian chef Mick Smith of the Porthminster Beach Cafe perform culinary cartwheels, it’s one you Read the rest of this entry »

Anyone else caught The Way Back? It’s an epic film showing at the moment in several Merlin cinemas telling the thought-to-be-true story of a group of prisoners in a Russian Gulag who escape and walk 4,000 miles from Siberia to India – and freedom – in the most ridiculously inhospitable conditions and with the odds stacked horrifically against them.

Well, aside from being an inspiring film with staggering scenery, for Cornish viewers there is an added twist. As I sat there in chilly conditions in St Ives’ cinema, just a few miles away in Camborne lives the man who claims to be the real-life protagonist of this drama. Having kept it to himself for decades, in 2009 Witek Glinski told his tale to a journalist.

I thought a quick google would establish the bare bones of the true story but no… pretty much all facts to do with this seem still to be under discussion and whole books have been written on the subject. Here’s one of many articles about it. And another. I got sucked in and before long I had been clicking around for the best part of an hour.

Still, true or not true, and whether the real-life mega-hero of the story does indeed live in Cornwall or Read the rest of this entry »

I know this is old news now but: Happy New Year all!

I have only just emerged from the self-inflicted carnage of a St Ives New Year, which I spent dressed in some high-waisted snakeskin trousers and a blond wig – and in the company of a womble, Big Bird, two shepherds, Dr Zoidberg, a carrot, a robot and a crocodile.

We spent most of the evening in the throng outside the Sloop and then, as is traditional, Read the rest of this entry »

peter lanyon porthleven tate st ives

All inspired by The Art of Cornwall on BBC4, I went over to the Tate St Ives to check out the Peter Lanyon exhib, his first retrospective in 40 years – now showing for an extended period until 23 Jan.

Lanyon’s works occupy a zone between out-and-out abstraction and realism that makes for rewarding viewing, I think. I prefer starting out with at least a hint of recognition when it comes to paintings, which is probably why the first room of the exhibition was my favourite, with wonderful representations of Porthleven (pictured above), Coverack and West Penwith. Click here for the curator of the Tate talking through the exhibition.

On the way out, I took this picture of the open-air atrium by the entrance – looked like a widescreen telly.

I also stopped off at the Barnoon Cemetery on the way back to find Alfred Wallis’s grave. It took quite a lot of finding in the fading winter light – as you might expect, it’s not an ostentatious tribute. It is simple, unpretentious but nonetheless charming – decorated with tiles by Bernard Leach.

alfred wallis grave st ives

art of cornwall

If you missed the documentary on BBC4 the other night entitled ‘The Art of Cornwall’, fret not – you can still catch it on iPlayer here for another four days.

It is well worth watching, energetically narrating the remarkable story of how St Ives came to be one of the Britain’s most important art colonies, and generously seasoned with anecdotes and background about the lives of the main players (Ben Nicholson, Babs Hepworth, Wallis, Frost, Heron…).

Even if I did find the commentary by Dr James Fox a little over-dramatised and breathless at points, his levels of enthusiasm and depth of knowledge won me over (and helped me overlook the wearing of a suit on windswept Cornish cliffs in the opening frame and the glossy sports car ;-)). Apart from anything else, there is some truly inspiring footage of West Penwith. Take a look.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00wbn80/The_Art_of_Cornwall/

Here’s the Beeb outline:

“For a period in the 20th century, Cornwall was the home of the avant garde, eclipsing Read the rest of this entry »

vintage storeroom cornwall vintage storeroom cornwall

I made it through the sheets of rain to the opening of a rather charming new studio-cum-shop up some old granite steps off the front in St Ives called the Vintage Storeroom, brainchild of freelance knitwear designer Rosie Savidge.

It’s a pot pourri of vintage pieces, illustrated cards, textile designs (lavender mice, above, and soon to include the pasty teddy – the prototype by Emily Fishpool looked like a proper job), and also – in a random but useful twist – a selection of Asian and Italian specialist foodstuffs like fish sauce, coconut milk, and good spaghetti.

Follow their progress at http://twitter.com/#!/thevintagesroom

www.thevintagestoreroom.co.uk

vintage storeroom cornwall

vintage storeroom cornwall vintage storeroom cornwall vintage storeroom cornwall vintage storeroom cornwall

I had the good fortune of hearing about the Gilad Atzmon and Orient House Ensemble gig at the St Ives Club last Friday care of the St Ives Jazz Club. I saw that the Guardian had given it four stars at Ronnie Scott’s the previous week; they said: “A shrewd pacer of live shows, Atzmon steered tonight’s performance from ambiguous, unsettling microtonal and geographical drifts between the west and the Middle East, toward an optimistic, conventionally tempered finale on Wonderful World, pulled off without a hint of cheesiness.”

I wouldn’t say we are spoiled for ‘microtonal and geographical drifts’ in these parts so it’s fair to say I jumped on it. Held at the old-fashioned Western Hotel in St Ives, the St Ives Jazz Club does an impressive job of making it feel like a bona fide jazz club with near darkness, tealights and even some men in black-rimmed glasses. And the music was superb – tight, irreverent and diverse.

Here are a few clips I took on the sly (trying to hide the phone from the jazz purists). Check this amazing drum solo – watch this guy, he’s called Eddie Hick:

More tracks at myspace: http://www.myspace.com/orienthouse

http://www.gilad.co.uk/the-orient-house-ensemble/

st ives bench

As with most people in the digital age, my photo library is completely out of control: bursting at the seams, inconsistently labelled, and backed up at random. And the job is now too big and frightening to ever tick off on a rainy sunday. Given my recumbent state at the moment, I thought I’d engage in a little laptop housework and delve back through the archives. One of the things I found was this photo of four colourfully dressed holidaymakers on a bench in St Ives, taken by my friend Anna on a visit to West Cornwall last year.

It captures most people’s response to That View beautifully: no chat, just staring at the ridiculous perfection of St Ives harbour and clearly in no hurry to move on. Like me, Anna is a writer and an editor, but I think she is also a fantastic photographer – her photos always have that elusive quality that makes you want to keep looking at them. I’ve posted a few more from her Penwith set below but you can check out more of her images on her flickr photostream.

Well, that was a nice distraction from iPhoto library hell – I’m going back in.

st ives porthmeor cornwall

I love the way the old lady's cardie matches the sea - Porthmeor Beach

surf cornwallsleepy sennen

st ives harbour cornwall

The first St Ives Food & Drink Festival seemed to be going with a swing yesterday when I swung by – though it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t go with a swing when the skies are blue and St Ives looks, as it does on sunny days, like it’s been dropped in from the Bounty advert.

The Guild Hall food fair was a bit of who’s who of cool new Cornish food & drink companies (and there really are TONS). With everyone enthusiastically handing out tasters and being generally friendly and chatty, it was a convivial scene.

Polgoon was there with its new River Cottage-endorsed elderflower fizz in champagne bottles (tasty stuff but £17 – ouch!), then there was the Rev Berriman’s fiery chilli cola (which I enthused about the other day), Cornish Stingers nettle beer, Cornish Blue cheese, amazing Helford River cheeses, real ale, St Ives beef….

Down on the harbour wall, a small crowd had gathered for the chef demos. I listened for a while to the chef from the Greenbank in Falmouth demonstrating how to cook fish to perfection (in brief: score the fish, high heat, skin first, shake the pan, then don’t be tempted to keep moving it away from the hob…).

Oh, and I took the park & (train) ride from Lelant for the first time – it’s the only way to go. (10% off tickets the Cornish rail card btw – yay).

More pics of the festival care of the Clotted Cream Diaries blog here.

http://www.stivesfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk

st ives door ice-cream colourst ives door ice-cream

While I wade through many MBs of pictures of turquoise seas and secret coves (um, ah, how many different angles do I need of Pedn Vounder beach… oh ok maybe just one more, since it’s got the Logan Rock in the background… oh actually this one’s pretty too with the birds), I thought I’d share with you this rather charming ice-cream-coloured door I saw in St Ives on the coastal road past Porthmeor Beach – right by the Tate St Ives.

The minute I saw it, I needed a Kelly’s of Cornwall whippy cone with a flake urgently but could find no one to oblige. I love the creamy paint peeling off in layers and the cool old guy in shades.

scarlet wines cornwall

I think Scarlet Wines & tapas bar in Lelant might just be my new favourite place in west Cornwall. I had suspected it might indeed be rather cool when I stopped by Beaten Green next door the other day, but after attending their South American wine & food tasting on Tuesday night, I am now officially Read the rest of this entry »

I got totally carried away after a visit to St Ives’ new vintage-styled sweetshop Beau Bonbon at the weekend. Before I knew it, one aniseed ball had led to ten milk bottles, five fried eggs, a black jack and a trillion zingy cola bottles. All that before someone cracked open the edible necklaces…

At month-old Beau Bonbon, a nostalgically chic shop on the harbour with lovely antique dressers, coloured bunting and pink stripy paper bags, no sweet has been overlooked. There were sugar mice and parma violets, love hearts and flying saucers (oh yes), sherbet dips, black jacks, fruit salads, drumsticks, foam bananas, jelly babies, refreshers, fizz wiz, dolly mixture…

As you can see, Read the rest of this entry »

blas-restaurant st ives cornwall

blas burgerworks, the st ives burger people

One of my favourite Penwith restaurants – tiny Blas Burgerworks in St Ives – has teamed up with one of my favourite Penwith singer-songwriters – Gulval’s Jenny Bishop –  for a night of gourmet burgers and emotionally charged acoustic songs to celebrate its fourth birthday on Saturday 13th March.

Being an absolutely minute space – the average size of a Cornish cottage living room (which is what it probably once was) – Blas is really just a cosy cluster of tables and a scattering of stools made from recycled materials. All have already been nabbed for the 8.45-9.30pm sitting; book now for a perch at the earlier 7.30-8.15pm session.

Blas makes a good case for specialising – they only do one dish, but they’ve nailed it. Cornish-sourced, freerange burgers with chunky chips start at £8.

The scary prospect of Pizza Express setting up in the old Woolworths premises in St Ives is enough to make me want to add extra weight to my praise. Blas represents everything that ‘new’ St Ives does well: it’s small, creative, sensitive and a one-off.

jenny bishop cornwall

singer-songwriter jenny bishop

tate st ives dalwood cornwall

dexter dalwood 'immersion' at the tate st ives

During the is-it-art-or-is-it-simply-a-red-splodge-type debates, I have been known to find myself marooned on the side of the red splodge – perhaps due to a fact-finding journalistic background.

This is why I found the Dexter Dalwood exhibition, currently showing at the Tate St Ives (until 3 May), so engaging. Working at the junction of history and art, Dalwood produces large-scale works that recreate key historical events, celebrity deaths (Sid and Nancy, Janis Joplin) and an array of imagined celebrity bedrooms (Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix). Read the rest of this entry »

p&c january header: artist’s studio Newlyn

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