I’ve always wondered what exactly is the connection between St Ives in Cornwall and the arts.
Surely, it’s just another Cornish seaside town and all this arts stuff is only a route to attract more tourists.
Well, after visiting St Ives recently, I soon understood what all the fuss is about and why so many artists are attracted to the pretty north Cornish former fishing port.
It’s the light.
Even with an untrained eye you can see, and tell, that the light is different. Perhaps it’s because of the reflections off the sea, or maybe it’s something in the air, but – when the sun comes out – the light is definitely brighter and cleaner than usual; it’s as if reality has been digitally enhanced somehow to give you a sharper and more focussed view.
So, that’s the reason why so many artists flocked to St Ives and flourished there.
Whilst there we thought we’d try to take in some of this arty vibe and visited perhaps the three most famous and prestigious art venues – Bernard Leach Pottery – Near the top of the hill we visited this unique Pottery set up by Bernard Leach in 1920s. The Leach family are like a royalty in the UK pottery scene. And it was Bernard who first established the dynasty.
Influenced by Japanese ceramics he championed local clay to develop a distinctive stoneware tradition (unlike most UK ceramics at the time which were porcelain based). His children and grandchildren have also become famous potters.
The Pottery itself is fascinating. You get to see how and where Leach worked and look at the unique kilns he developed and built.
It’s well worth a visit.
Our next stop was the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculptor Garden. Barbara Hepworth was born in West Yorkshire but lived and worked (and died) in St Ives. She is one of the UK best known sculptors and is famous for creating works that combine artistic invention with natural organic shapes.
The museum is based in the house where she worked. Like the Leach Pottery you get a sense of intimacy by being in the actual place where so many artworks were created. You get to see her studio.
But it’s the sculpture garden that’s really impressive. You walk around a mainly shaded garden which is crammed full of the most remarkable Hepworth creations. It really works well: the sculptors you see are quite incredible. However, because of their setting and where you are, they feel natural and just part of the garden. It’s great.
Finally, we went to the Tate St Ives, (in fact we bought a joint ticket with the Hepworth, saving ourselves a few quid). Unlike its London ‘parent’ galleries, you have to pay to visit. This is a bit of a disappointment. They say this is because you visit exhibitions, rather than permanent collections. This will change in October when their new extension is opened.
Even so, the Tate is well worth a visit. The building itself is quite remarkable and unlike any other. We saw a Jessica Warboys exhibition. I confess, some of this was a bit baffling, but her large seascapes – where she left the canvasses on the beach and allow nature itself to create the art – were startling and impressive. They were hung is a large atrium which overlooks Porthmeor beach. You could therefore see the sea and the artwork at the same time.
Of course the town has all sorts of other strings to its bow and is well worth a visit even if you have no interest in visual arts. But after spending just a little bit of time there, we now get the link between art and St Ives.