Artists have been drawn to the landscapes of Cornwall for hundreds of years. J.M.W. Turner toured the region in 1811, producing a series of watercolours depicting both picturesque coastlines, and sociological portraits of the Cornish mining industry and merchant fleet. After Turner came American artist J.A.M. Whistler, who visited Cornwall in 1884 with Walter Sickert, an influential member of the Camden Town Group. The Twentieth Century then saw key figures such as Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, and Patrick Heron settle in Cornwall to live and work.
The creative community that emerged was dynamic and world-leading, and its spirit continues today. Colin Allbrook RSMA RI emulates Turner’s twin interest in the romantic and the anthropological with his Cornish cliff scenes, in which natural beauty mingles with traces of Cornwall’s mining past. At first sight, The Tunnel - Porthgwarra appears to be an homage in watercolour to the dramatic geology of the region; the contours of the rock face, which dominate the composition, stretch and twist like a monumental muscle. Yet in the heart of the rock we see a tunnel, visible only at low tide, forged by the miners who once worked here, whose mark is indelibly left upon the landscape.
Allbrook produces a similar effect in Tin Mines - Botallack, where square stippling brush strokes in greens, browns and mauve cause the verdant cliffs to merge with the miners’ huts perched above. It is not immediately evident that this remote spot has been touched by heavy industry, and on discerning these structures, Allbrook reassures us through his colour palette that there is harmony here between the manmade and the natural.
Cornwall by Robert E Wells RBA NEAC shares this sense of peaceful co-existence, with waves lapping gently at the feet of surfers strolling along Travone beach, a scattering of clouds like so much pink candyfloss in the background. Peter Clossick NEAC portrays the environment tamed yet further in Arch Farm, Cornwall, where bright splashes of yellow and red, on the tree in the foreground and the vehicle in the background, evoke a sense of vibrant fertility in this cultivated space.
In contrast, Lucinda Storm’s coastal skyscapes leave no question as to the supremacy of the natural world. Vast and brooding skies are reflected in the mirror of the sea below, creating a fearsome reciprocity of elemental power, which leaves the viewer little room for self-aggrandisement. One must instead share the artist’s sense of awe, and her appreciation for the refraction of light upon water that gives these Cornish scenes a spellbinding quality.
Whether hostile and awe-inspiring or picturesque and romantic, peopled, uninhabitable, or bearing the marks of historic use, this selection of Cornish scenes by contemporary artists gestures to the manifold responses which have inspired so many works of art, and art movements, whose origins lie in this often-overlooked region of the UK.