Tuesday 28 August 2007

Art and inspiration in St.Ives

We're just back from a week in St. Ives. It was our third annual visit, following a number of years of late-summer escapes to North Norfolk, and the Penwith peninsula has begun to supplant that magical stretch of land between Burnham Market and Blakeney in our affections. Having explored most of the 'sights' - Zennor, Land's End, Minack - on previous trips, we spent more time in St. Ives itself this year - apart from a couple of journeys out along the rugged coast road to St. Just and Sennen Cove.

We made the statutory visit to the Tate, which was showing a fascinating if rather uneven exhibition - If Everybody Had An Ocean - inspired by the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. One of the strengths of the exhibition was the links it made between the southern Californian inspiration for many of the artists and the wide surfing beach of Porthmeor, visible through the glass frontage of the Tate building.

Disappointingly there were very few examples of work by homegrown artists on display. Last year we caught a major retrospective, including some key works by my favourite St.Ives modernist, Patrick Heron. We also visited his grave in the churchyard at Zennor, and drove past his former home, Eagle's Nest, perched high above the village and looking down on Tregerthen, the site of D.H.Lawrence's ill-fated attempt to found an artistic community before suspicions of spying sent him packing to Italy. (St.Ives has other literary associations too. H. spent her early childhood holidays here, staying in a hotel which turns out to have been the holiday home of Virginia Woolf's family, and which finally this year had a plaque to acknowledge the fact).

Driving through the slate-grey tin-mining village of St.Just (which begins to rival St. Ives as a favoured spot for artists) we were tempted by posters advertising an exhibition of engravings by Eric Gill, at the Great Atlantic Gallery. Many years ago I laboured over a long-forgotten thesis on the work of the Welsh artist and poet David Jones, like Gill a Catholic convert and a member of his lay religious-artistic community at Ditchling.

The Gill prints were interesting, but the real highlight of the visit for me was stumbling upon the work of Jenny Grevatte: unfortunately, her paintings weren't on display, but the catalogue of a forthcoming exhibition and a booklet featuring reproductions of her stunning landscapes and still lifes impressed and inspired me. Like Heron, she cites Bonnard, Vuillard et al as influences, but I thought I detected similarities with David Jones' work. I'm now on a quest to track down other galleries where Grevatte's work is on display.

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