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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
My favourite artist in Cornwall is St Just-based Jessica Cooper, whose simple lines and pared-down still lifes are confidently, deceptively simple. I have been coveting a piece for about five years, and wish I had struck then, as Jessica’s star has since ascended, deservedly, into the Cornish A-list. Meanwhile, my budget has stayed decidedly D-list.
Anyway, looking costs nothing, and fortunately Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks go to my chief Cornish correspondent in the capital and my Cornish-by-conviction friend Chris for alerting me to the fact that Penlee House Gallery‘s walls must be looking a little bare at the moment, thanks to a major retrospective exhibition of Cornish art currently showing at Two Temple Place in London.
What with it being 308 miles away – and by First Great Western’s calculations a £110 journey – I haven’t yet been. But I can see from the reviews that it has some winners from the Newlyn School – paintings that I never get bored of. One of them is ‘A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach’, pictured above, by Stanhope A Forbes, dated 1885. This sort of industrious beachside scene might be a thing of the past but the bearded guy would not look at all out of place nipping into the Swordy for a pint of something murky of a Friday.
I have to admit that for me there is something slightly jarring, or rather confusing, about the title of the exhibition – Amongst Heroes – but this is clearly a fine slice of Cornish art in a wonderful building. Admission is free, and there is an extensive roster of Cornwall-related activities. Gedon.
‘Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall’
Two Temple Place, 26 January – 14 April 2013
2 Temple Pl London, WC2R 3BD
In partnership with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. Exhibition Opening Times: Monday, Thursday – Saturday: 10.00 – 16.30. Wednesday Late: 10.00 – 21.00. Sunday: 11.00 – 16.30, Closed on Thursdays
It’s Open Studios time again – an opportunity to stick your nose into the studios of Cornwall’s many hidden away artists and designers, woodworkers, needleworkers and illustrators. Just look out for the orange circles.
It is oft quoted that West Cornwall has more working artists/sole-trading “creatives” per capita than anywhere outside London (or something…). The exact statistic has been distorted by Cornish whispers, but it is clear when you look at the Open Studios map that there are a lot of them – even the village of Nancledra, population 150, is stacked with dots.
I am particularly keen on visiting the arty clusters of studios like Krowji and Trewidden. It doesn’t feel quite so much like walking into someone’s house (with the attendant feeling of obligation to chat!) and you can see lots of different work in a small space in a mellow but bustling atmosphere. Plus you can stop by the wildly eccentric Melting Pot Cafe afterwards at Krowji, which on the whole I love, though I wasn’t so keen on being charged £2.45 for a slightly watery hot chocolate in a paper cup on Sunday.
Open Studios is on for the rest of the week, and I’m not done yet, but my highlights so far are as follows:
• Steam-bent wooden lampshades – Tom Raffield, Krowji
High-design steam-sculptured wooden lampshades, flower pots and assorted furniture. www.tomraffield.com
• Logan rock chopping boards – Samuel Walsh, Krowji, from £18
Stacked up, they look like the rocks of Bodmin Moor or West Penwith’s Logan Rock – and they are very strokable. www.samwalshfurniture.co.uk
• Paul Fry – Trewidden
Uplifting simple flowers against fresh white backgrounds. www.paulfry.co.uk
• George Meyrick – Krowji
Minimalist geometric 3D shapes and flat paintings. Could be interesting installing one in a Cornish cottage, where right angles are hard to find. More info on George here.For all details on Open Studios 2012, including full list of participating artists, have a look here: http://www.creativeskills.org.uk/open-studios-cornwall-2012 Free entry throughout.
I have a great appetite for old photos of Cornwall – particularly of parts I know and love. Charming as they undoubtedly are, we’ve all seen the classic black and white photos of Penzance in the Frith series around and about, so it’s exciting that Penlee House has recently acquired a collection of long-buried pictures of Penzance and Newlyn.
A choice selection from the archive is currently on display at Penlee House Gallery and this week is the last chance to see it. I just loved the ladies Read the rest of this entry »
I agree with the majority that Cornwall is a very creative place – partly by nature, also by necessity. But sometimes I find the same old coastally-inspired art and ceramics pop up time and time again in galleries, and I kind of crave something new and different.
Well, check out Falmouth-based Jonathan Fuller’s sea-glass sculpture for something fresh on the eye, as featured in coast magazine this month (he’s married to the head of design at organic Cornish clothing company, seasalt, so they are the perfect Coast couple).
I really love the washed-out pastel colours and the clean lines and shapes of Jonny’s artwork, and I feel quite inspired to start collecting and categorising glass in satisfyingly colour-coded jars. I wonder if, as in my childhood, finding a piece of soft blue glass is still the top trump.
People (myself included) tend to bang on about the colours of Cornwall, don’t they, so there was something interesting and different in her intricate, clay-grey mini Cornwall.
I attended a workshop on Saturday morning with Phoebe, in which Read the rest of this entry »
Sorry for the long radio silence. I’ve just been in for another round of hip impingement surgery, this time involving some gruesome bone-cutting and slicing (gross). The list of post-operative restrictions is five pages long – and has a scary bullet-point heirarchy – but nowhere in there does it say ‘thou shall not blog’, so expect special attention to west Cornwall venues furnished with comfortable chairs standing at exactly 19 inches in height.
There’s a charming photography exhibition on at the moment at Penlee House Gallery called ‘The Marvellous Everyday’ – a celebration of Penzance’s long-standing quirkiness. Read the rest of this entry »
Restaurants have been ‘popping up’ for a while in London and other metropolitan centres but I believe I attended Cornwall’s very first pop-up restaurant at the weekend – a collaboration between Gallery Latitude 50 on the Penwith moors near Cripplesease and Lime Tree catering, the people behind the much-loved Lime Tree restaurant that once occupied Trevelyan House on Chapel Street in Penzance.
In my (female) party there was a flurry of excitement on arrival: our prettily dressed table Read the rest of this entry »
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.
I like to think I’m a pretty open-minded kind of person when it comes to the arts but even I was a little perplexed this morning when I got the Exchange Gallery‘s summer programme through the post. First thing I spotted was an event taking place this Saturday morning called the Breadman, accompanied by a picture of people with bread on their heads.
OK, fine, I get it: the people have baguettes tied to their heads. I read on… “Tatsumi Orimoto, as Breadman, will dress a dozen assistants with loaves of bread bound with twine around their heads. Starting at The Exchange, the Breadman will lead a tour of tourist sites through the centre of Penzance, stopping for photo opportunities and offering bread to the public.”
It is definitely bizarre but it’s also quite an intriguing photo op. BUT IS IT ART?! Only one way to find out. It starts at 11am on Saturday. See http://www.newlynartgallery.co.uk for more deets. Get your bread on.
I’m more of a mid-century-classic kind of girl when it comes to furniture fantasies, but this chest of drawers sculpted from oak caught my eye the other day for its strong sense of place (my favourite place as it happens!).
It’s entitled the ‘Penwith Chest of Drawers’, priced at a mere £6,000, and is shaped like the many ancient granite monuments that dot the moors around Penwith. I have to admit that I would prefer it without the black stripe across the drawers (achieved by using dark bog oak – and designed, I would imagine, to reflect the moodiness of the moors), but I really like the prehistoric shape. It’s sold at Handmade Designer Furniture, a site featuring mainly Cornish designers.
Click here for some pics (also quite moody!) of the granite moors from my blog post about Trencrom Hill.
I’ve been to the Exchange gallery café for lunch about a dozen times (it’s central, quick and all lunches are around the £5 mark – oh and I get to gaze longingly at the hand-made vases, jewellery and books). And every time I’ve been, I’ve found a strawberry part-dipped in black pepper tucked artistically in my salad.
I *love* this touch – particularly good with the Cornish yarg in my ploughman’s this week. I’ve got pretty expectant of this strawberry now – they’d better not go changing the chef.
The Exchange, Princes Street, Penzance, TR18 2NL (www.newlynartgallery.co.uk)
More photos after the hop… Read the rest of this entry »
As I am wont to where spotty mugs and wild flower arrangements are involved, I went a bit crazy with the zoom the other weekend at the Westcroft. It’s a gorgeous boutique b&b and gallery in the soothing village of Kingsand on the Rame Peninsula, aka ‘Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner’. As you can see, it’s a haven of all-round loveliness… what you can’t see here is that it’s right on the beach.
In the space of three months last year I visited virtually every sightseeing attraction in Cornwall (not as some sort of bizarre personal challenge, you understand, but for the new Time Out Guide to Devon & Cornwall). And of them all, Geevor Tin Mine, on the moody cliffs of Pendeen, was the most rewarding – not least because it came as such a surprise.
Mining heritage centres in Cornwall have a tendency to contain interesting but ultimately very dusty exhibitions, with captions in Read the rest of this entry »