Sorry, it’s been a while, although I haven’t just been twiddling my thumbs, honest.
But more of that news soon. For now, I’m fast-tracking to the most recent of events – our three day jaunt to Cornwall – mainly because it is fresh in my mind and still raising a smile.
A flavour of our Cornwall trip, courtesy of Jess, Year 13 art and photography student
I’ve written before about the value of residential trips. And even when they do go wrong remarkable things can happen (top of that blog-posts-to-do list: Those extraordinary results from students on that trip). But still, organising a residential is rarely a walk in the park. Especially if it involves a walk in the park. Or something even more extreme, like a clamber up the coastal path.
The benefits of a trip do always outweigh the efforts involved in planning though. That extra time together – travelling, chatting, sharing biscuits; looking at and making art – is all worth its weight in grades. Classroom cultures aren’t simply shaped in the classroom. Oh no. Far better to travel for five hours and cobble together a late-night, theatrical debacle – The History of Art in St Ives – just for a laugh.
Rowena Cade, Alfred Wallis, Babs Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. Honestly.
It’s been a while since we’ve run this trip, but as is the tradition on the Friday evening, we walked that fine line between art education and trashing a hostel restaurant. Thankfully Paul and his team at Castle Horneck YHA are accustomed to the nature of art activities – it’s a great place to stay (if you clear up after yourselves), and don’t google the ghosts until after you’ve left.
So, Friday’s activities were hinged on 4 key characters, their various stories unfolding alongside a range of group tasks, the main intention being for all students to learn to play nicely together.
True to form, I lost any control early on, but happening around me were Pasty Brainstorms, Plasticine sculptures on plinths, cardboard theatre-sets, and then – finally – some very amateur dramatics. And lots of laughs.
Experimenting with forms and shapes; and a cardboard St Ives theatre set that defies explanation
Saturday morning began with an early wander around Newlyn Harbour and an opportunity for some documentary work with cameras and sketchbooks – and a drone, as is Year 11 Sam’s fancy.
3 gallery visits then followed in quick succession: Newlyn Art Gallery, for the first – to my mind, best – part of the split-site Robyn Denny exhibition. Denny was an artist I previously knew little about, an original YBA busily shaking British Art up in the 1950s under the influence of Abstract Expressionism.
In contrast to this was our visit to Penlee House Gallery and Museum, home to a great collection of the Newlyn School artists. I do like to take photography students here, to draw comparisons between the kind of documentary work that we encounter daily in the news (from war-zones and storms, and such-like) with these 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. On quick inspection – and having had a fair dose of Denny – we decided on a quick diversion to Poundland for a roll of paper and some coloured electrical tape. A playful gallery workshop ensued, with students collaborating on a large scale work, hopefully still in respect of Denny’s interests.
The Plinths made a reappearance on this trip, always useful for spur-of-the-moment activities
No hanging about, we jumped on to Kev’s exotically carpeted fun-bus for a jaunt to the Minack Theatre, Lands End – Rowena Cade’s awe-inspiring build, set upon the cliff-face, right at the end of the world. It is the perfect place to sit and draw, or simply contemplate whether the buzz of Sam’s drone is ruining it for everyone else.
A quick return to the hostel gave everyone a chance to freshen up prior to our posh dinner out (plates, cutlery, everything). And then, overly-fed, we headed back and handed over to Year 13 Sophie, talented guitarist, who finished off a lovely relaxing evening in style, and plenty of song.
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 have spun.
We had an excellent artist talk at the Hepworth Gardens which concluded at one of her final large pieces, Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973. Here we discussed the importance of the space between the forms, making associations with how important our own personal space is. In response to this, the group did this spur-of-the-moment performance:
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. Honestly, if you haven’t been to this gallery yet I’d set sail immediately. ‘Proper job!’ as they declare down that way.
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.
An old friend and gliding partner of Peter Lanyon shares some fond memories with Year 12 Max and Year 11 Jodie.
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. And they needed it, particularly where Year 11 Sam, of drone fame, was concerned. For whilst he disregarded his default aerial view, he subsequently chuckled his way to drawing the bear-thing that quickly adopted cult status. T-shirts to follow.
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.
A moment of concentration; Elliott has a go at modelling; some drawings below a portrait on the studio wall; and Sam’s iconic picture
After a late dinner back at the hostel, we convened for a last night of group activities, this time meeting in the extra-spooky basement of the hostel – a place where nobody can hear you scream, which was a good job, all things considered. Teams competed with various tasks, of varying levels of absurdity, mostly made up as we went along.
Top tip for any art residential: pack lots of newspaper and some masking tape, balloons and wooden spoons too; the possibilities are endless.
And then, with all students suitably exhausted, we were safe to call it a night.
Day 3, Post-breakfast, we packed up the coach and headed off to the Eden Project. This was our final stop, conveniently breaking up the coach journey home. Experience has taught me that by this point students are pretty much walking zombies – all tired and fully sketchbook’d out. But still, we had a relaxing couple of hours to simply wander and photograph within the Rainforest and Mediterranean Biomes.
And then it was time to head back to Bournemouth. Everyone safe, sketchbooks full of drawings, cameras full of photographs; new friendships made, new understandings of art and photography instilled. Importantly, there’s the growing sense we’re all on this creative adventure together, wherever it might next lead.