A trip to London in September 2016 was an inspiration for me in an unexpected way. Naturally the exhibitions I had seen in the capital were stimulating as was the metropolitan environment, so different from Cornwall. In the end however it was a relief to be on the way home and it was pleasant to relax for a while at Paddington Station before catching a late afternoon train to the far west. It was during this ’chill-out time’ that I came to the surprising realisation that Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineered girders that make up the station’s overhead canopy could provide my next starting point for a painting and the sweeping arcs of this canopy with light playing through its glass roof-panels were to prove a pleasure to paint once I was back in Cornwall. It was a theme that seemed to demand a soaring vertical format and resolved itself as a kind of colour-chord of rusty reds, sky blues, neutral mixed greys and whites.
The other day the exhibition I’ve worked towards for at least 18 months came to an end. All except the few sold items had to be carefully packed and transported back to my studio. Once that would have been a bit of an anti-climax. Now, fortunately the show goes on – online. The concept of the collection that emerged so tentatively, as each canvas came into being and added its unique facet to the whole, is still there. You can see what I mean at ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/work-home-cornwall/ ).
The concept of this particular show was something that embraced and was informed by my experience of having to move out of my home for a few months earlier this year. You can read about that at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/at-work-at-home-in-cornwall/ which was also published in a booklet about the exhibition.
I’ve documented previous exhibitions in a similar way, sometimes with a virtual tour. All can be accessed through the exhibitions page link above.
It can even be the case that a collection gets added to after the event of the exhibition itself. This continues to be the case with the Ten Years of Lafrowda Paintings show that happened in 2012. That’s because four additional paintings so far have been inspired by subsequent versions of the festival. Long may that continue!
And so it goes on ….
For several months I’ve been working on a metre square canvas that was inspired by one of this year’s Lafrowda Day processions in Cornwall’s most westerly town of St Just-Penwith. Mad Aviators at Lafrowda ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/mad-aviators-lafrowda-2016/ ) translates this spectacle into a riot of colour and shape. An apparent biplane, a ’red arrow’ and other miscellaneous forms of aerial transport process past my old studio in St Just-in-Penwith.
A wise artist-mentor I knew in my late teens once came up with the perceptive comment and prediction that although earth-bound in my approach I have a way of sticking at things and that in my painting this would one day lead to things ’taking off’. As I built up the layers of paint that you can see in a short video about the evolution of Mad Aviators at Lafrowda (https://www.facebook.com/lafrowdabenefitauction/videos) that long ago insight came repeatedly to mind. Without me knowing it at the time that’s possibly why this particular Lafrowda image had appealed to me so much on the day of the festival.
Like its predecessors that can all be seen at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/ten-years-lafrowda-paintings-exhibition/ this one will be the subject of a benefit auction, to support the future of this extraordinary community event, that will conclude on the evening of Lafrowda Day in mid July next year (2017). Creativity is sparked in the young by these festivals, cultural pilgrims to Cornwall are drawn in, small local businesses briefly flourish, we celebrate together!
This is a new collection of paintings that Tom has assembled to exhibit in the gallery at the Shire Hall. These canvases are the result of his personal reflections on his sense of home and about work as an influence on the character of landscapes and buildings around him. Both are themes that have been highlighted by our recent experience of living in Cornwall, for Tom and I had to temporarily move out of our home earlier this year and rent a place at the other end of our town for a few months while repairs took place following a serious pipe-leak.
St Columb Major, where we live, is as centrally located as any town in Cornwall. It is Tom’s sense of being at home in these surroundings that comes across in the way he uses the interlocking shapes of buildings in these recent paintings; a feeling of community emerges from the way they fit comfortably together, often highlighted by the warmth or vibrancy of his colour schemes. He picks up on these qualities too in the other towns and villages that we visit and also brings out the harmony that he feels exists between these Cornish houses and their environment.
Industrial landscape is a recent re-discovery for Tom, one that harks back to his West Yorkshire youth. During our recent house repairs, whenever we returned to the studio, we could hear the hum of the industrial fans and dehumidifiers that were drying out our home. This sound resonated for him with memories of the factories where he had worked in his student holidays. He found himself further drawn to the intriguing patterns and shapes of certain industrial buildings. Fascination with their visual rhythms and colour variations became a vehicle for him to express something of the pride in our industrial heritage harboured by many a Cornishman. This he clearly identifies with. Ancient and modern farming methods have also found their way into his recent work.
Tom gave the title ‘Lived-in Landscapes’ to a previous collection that he showed in Bath and Penzance in 2010 and these new paintings pursue that idea more specifically in terms of work and home. As in those previous paintings there is a sense in which he has literally lived-in these compositions, translating the images that sparked them into becoming varied areas of colour, tone and texture. “I find”, he said then, “that lingering over the colour mixtures, the paint layering and the brush or finger marks that I use begins to coax a feeling of life into what I’m doing. This is something that I enjoy and that gradually leads to a sense that the piece I’m working on is beginning to have a life of its own.” In a similar way his recent themes of work and home appear in the style as well as the subject matter of his new paintings: in their rich layering of paint, their working and re-working and in the way he has developed each of them to a point at which we sense the rightness of the way everything fits together and seems to belong. These are landscapes that are lovingly painted by an artist who has come home.
With the approach of Lafrowda Day 2016 on July 16th I had been recalling the extraordinary impact for me of the afternoon procession on the Lafrowda Day of the previous year. In particular it was the Yellow Submarine advancing down Fore Street in St Just that had appealed to me. What was it about it that had resonated so strongly for me?
Some of you, like me, will remember seeing the original animated film when it was released in 1968 (Director George Dunning, Artistic Director Heinz Edelmann). I was a second year student in Fine Art at Newcastle University at the time. I hitch-hiked down the A1 and M1 one weekend, spent some time in the National Gallery and then went to see the Yellow Submarine film in Leicester Square that evening. Watching the trailer online recently brought it all back! It’s been re-mastered and was re-released in 1999 apparently. The Guardian ran a fascinating article about it just before the re-release ( http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/nov/19/beatles-yellow-submarine-simpsons-shrek ) which discusses the origins and making of the film. All kinds of interpretations have been brought to it. For me, however, in addition to enabling the Fab Four to save Pepperland through music from the devastating effects of the Blue Meanies, the Yellow submarine is simply a wonderful image of community inclusion.
The inspiration for Morning light down Fore Street, St Columb ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/morning-light-fore-street-st-columb/ ) came from a walk down through the Cornish town of St Columb. This was on one of many studio visits as I was about to move back towards the end of four months living at the other end of this community. Here the complexities of quirky architecture along the way seemed like an equivalent for another promising spin-off from the time I’d spent living away. I refer to an art and heritage-related project that, together with my wife Gabrielle, I’m initiating for the town that we have come to love. Here’s how it came about:
Our days had been for weeks split between the studio at one end of town and our rented house at the other end so this made us more than ever aware of this community that we are part of. By-passed in the late 1970s, already passed over when the choice of Truro as Cornwall’s cathedral city was made in the 19th century and having lost far too many shops to the supermarket trade in larger towns all around it, St Columb cries out for regeneration. Together with a handful of art loving friends here, we are planning towards a project that we hope will make a difference. Encouraged by the experience of art related regeneration that occurred over at least the last twenty years of the thirty we spent in St Just-in-Penwith we aim to help release the creative potential within this community as well.
I’ve coined the phrase ‘dove-tailing’ for the process of interlocking shapes within a picture. It’s a compositional device that once again occurred to me as I worked on a painting inspired by hillside trees and houses in a nearby Cornish town ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/hillside-trees-houses-bodmin/ ). What struck me as I put the finishing touches to this new piece was how reminiscent it was in this way and in terms of colour to a canvas called Town shapes St Just ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/town-shapes-st-just/ ) that I painted in that far westerly town eight years ago. I had long since understood that the warm colour emphasis I brought out in that picture, as well as a similar dove-tailing of shapes, arose from the human warmth that I felt surrounded by in that far west community.
Upcountry from Redruth (
https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/upcountry-from-redruth/ ). Layers of landscape intrigue me. It’s something about the counterpoint of shapes they provide. Clustered houses here climb the foreground hill; wind-turbines lie beyond, something a little unexpected in a landscape painting, signs of change. There are distant blue hills. Upward progression becomes movement into space, an invitation to enjoy that magic of painting whereby surface interaction and exploration into depth occur together.
Mackeral sky over Lands End typifies one of the cloud types that I find most inspiring, no doubt because of the possibilities of visual rhythm and pattern that such skies afford. Cirrocumulus Stratiformis, to give it the correct Latin term, forms “when moist air at high … altitude reaches saturation, creating ice crystals.” (Wikipedia) What is so wonderful for a landscape artist is that with such conditions one can bring out as much visual interest in the sky as on the land or sea beneath, something I relished in working on this charcoal drawing.
“The heart of Cornwall is not a place” a friend of mine told me when I was planning my Heart of Cornwall Paintings collection for the Bodmin Shire Hall exhibition in March 2015. Even though I’d moved to a central location in the Duchy eighteen months previously I found myself agreeing with his statement. The show then became my pursuit of an in depth view of the heart of Cornwall. An aspect that I knew had to be celebrated was Cornwall’s industrial heartland.
A bright winter morning walk up Carn Brea hill provided all the inspiration I needed to help me see this industrial heritage as an ongoing and living part of our culture and to aim to express that in a painting. The characteristic engine house and winding gear that I could see from there were not features of romantic ruin like so many that appear in Cornish landscapes but in working order, surrounded by other industrial installations and power lines. I could see that Cornwall’s industrial heart, a cleaner, healthier heart than existed in the past, is beating still.