On 13 October, 20 Art and Photography students headed off for a residential weekend in St Ives, Cornwall. It was an action-packed weekend covering a wide range of gallery visits and practical activities. On arrival, first stop was St Michael’s Mount, a chance to get some fresh air and stretch the legs – and take photographs, obviously – prior to a busy evening of art activities. These post-dinner activities hinged on 4 key characters – Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Alfred Wallis, and Rowena Cade – their various stories unfolding alongside a range of group tasks, all in support of the visits that lay ahead. Chaos ensued: Pasty Brainstorms, Plasticine sculptures on plinths, cardboard theatre-sets, and then – finally – some very amateur dramatics, with lots of laughs.
In contrast to this was our visit to Penlee House Gallery and Museum, home to a great collection of the Newlyn School artists, and their realist-inspired paintings of very local – and often very tough – lives in this close-knit fishing community of Newlyn.
Our third visit of the morning was to The Exchange, Penzance for the second part of the Robyn Denny exhibition. Armed with a roll of paper and some coloured electrical tape, a playful gallery workshop ensued with students collaborating on a large scale work in respect of Denny’s interests.
Day 2, Sunday, was spent in St Ives. We arrived early for a spot of photography and sketching prior to visiting the Barbara Hepworth Gardens and Museum. This is such a beautiful and poignant place to visit. The space in which she worked (and died accidentally, in a fire) still resonates with her presence.
Hepworth is an all-out inspiration, and when you have a majority of girls in your class (or on a trip) she is an important figure for exposing and re-addressing the gender imbalance that art-histories can spin.
With Hepworth still in mind, it was fitting – deliberate, even – that female British sculptor Rebecca Warren was selected to exhibit at the newly opened Tate St Ives. The re-hanging of the St Ives School alongside their European contemporaries is something very special. Here is a story from art history that all art students should know – stories, actually, heaps of them – rich and inspiring, of local, national and international significance. Students were given a range of tasks to complete within, and beyond, the galleries. These included taking portraits of locals and conducting interviews and audio recordings for a future installation. One of the delights of a visit to St Ives is how easy it is to encounter local artists, many of whom can recall first-hand experiences with familiar St Ives School figures.
Following Tate St Ives we headed off to confront the 2-hour Life Drawing class at St Ives School of Painting, a prospect that had been haunting photography students for weeks. Thankfully both tutor and life model had a good sense of humour. Nervous chuckles and all, it really was an enjoyable session, experimenting with a wide range of drawing techniques in a positive and supportive environment. Even Kev the coach driver joined in. After a late dinner back at the hostel, we convened for a last night of group activities, with teams competing with various tasks, of varying levels of absurdity, from customising wooden spoons to balloon races.