Why do artists go to St Ives?
I’ve just come back from Cornwall. St Ives was top of my ‘To Do’ list, but why? St Ives has a reputation for being a place for artists. Is it the quality of light and the location with its choice of beaches? Or is it perhaps the kudos from the previous generation of artists – or the artists there now?
Barbara Hepworth lives on
The Barbara Hepworth Museum, located in the place where she lived and worked, is hidden away amongst the winding streets. It focuses on her own productivity. She went there originally with artist husband Ben Nicholson. Since then an artist community has built up in the surrounding area – but like Hepworth’s house it is hidden away and not very obvious. Yes, there are galleries – so you would think that art is blatant – but it’s not.
When is an art gallery not an art gallery?
We visited the Tate in St Ives only to find there was no exhibition. Instead we contented ourselves with an excellent lunch at the café there. So for us, the lunch was the experience – and the experience was the art. Although we did peer through to preparations for Aquatopia. I thought perhaps the wrapped exhibits were actually an installation – perhaps part of a previous art show! I’ve had experiences like this at the Tate in London too. It is sometimes hard to tell whether what's visible is a meaningful installation, a work in progress or an exhibition about to be mounted.
What attracts artists to artist colonies?
Art is a solitary occupation – so what attracts artists to other artists? Personally, I find I want to get together with other people who understand me or inspire me. It was a cursory visit I know –still, I didn’t feel St Ives is the place where I can easily find those people. Art is supposed to be in the air and in the light and in the quirkiness of the quaint streets. There were hints of art there that is still alive – a family art show, an interesting exhibition – but my experience of St Ives didn't meet my artists' colony ideal.
Have you been there? What did you find?
I was hoping to find a relaxed and casual creative spirit pervading every aspect of the town. In fact it was urban with a seaside and tourist focus. I also expected the galleries to be less commercially obvious and the artists to be more visible – creating their art on the streets, on the beaches and earnestly talking in the cafes. I feel St Ives has more work to do to evoke that creative spirit. Perhaps the way forward is not to concentrate on the art but the creative edges of everything else that goes on there. For me it’s a place to go – not a place to be.
Have you been there? What did it do for you? What did you feel about it?
By BELINDA NAYLOR-STABLES