The Cornwall Workshop, days 5-7

The view from Francis Bacon's old studio, now occupied by Naomi Frears
The view from Francis Bacon’s old studio, now occupied by Naomi Frears

While the rest of the group joined Billy Wynter and Hadrian Piggott for a walk through clay country, I visited Porthmeor Studios in St Ives. The studios were built in the 1880s, when the first wave of artists arrived in St Ives using the new train lines heading west from London. They built studios on top of fishermen’s cellars, forging a long-lasting connection between the two central activities of the town: fishing and painting. The studios at Porthmeor are the longest continually used artist studios in the country. In the late 1930s, the arrival in St Ives of artists including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo, provided the impetus for Borlase Smart to set up the St Ives School of Painting in the studios. Luminaries such as Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and Francis Bacon were residents at the studios, which are still in use today. The studios look out over Porthmeor beach, providing an extraordinary view and light by which to make work.

The studios sit directly above fishmermen’s cellars, which are still in use today, for net setting, storage and repairs. Artists’s doors are blue, fishermens’, green. When I visited, the artist Linder had recently arrived to start her six month long residency at Porthmeor, organised by Tate St Ives. Chris Hibbert, the manager of Porthmeor studios, took us round and showed me a recently opened installation by US artist Mark Dion. The Maritime Artist (2013), an installation in one of the fish cellars, is made up of the belongings of a retired fisherman and the accoutrements of an imaginary artists’s studio. The two activities of fishing and painting share the space, melding together to compose an idealised portrait representing the symbiosis between St Ives’ main activities.

Mark Dion, The Maritime Artist (2013)
Mark Dion, The Maritime Artist (2013)

On Thursday, back at Kestle Barton, the Cornwall Workshop group sat down and took stock of what had taken place during the week. The round table discussion touched on many different topics, including people’s perceptions of the post-industrial nature of the local landscape as witnessed during the clay country walk; a debate about the status of participants as observers or makers in Hamish Fulton’s walks; and a speculative discussion about the next steps for the Cornwall Workshop.

Friday was spent in St Ives, visiting the Aquatopia exhibition at Tate St Ives, and taking part in a discussion organised by Tate about artist residencies.

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