Saturday, 14 February 2009

Fisherman and Fine Art

'I haven't got you a present, today will be your present' F says. 'What do you want to do?'

I thought and the place that popped into my head was the Tate St Ives. We had tried to go there on my birthday but it was closed while they changed exhibitions. F is Cornish and had never been. I have lived here some time and I have never been. So today was to be the day. With S in tow.

Perhaps an art gallery focusing on the more modern is the best place for a non-academic very kinasthetic boy. But I didn't care. It was MY day. So off we went.

The museum was smaller than I expected. Four decent sized galleries and a fifth room that will be hard to describe. The entrance to the museum is via a circular space specifically designed to capture the sounds and amplify them so that you can hear the crash of waves clearly. The galleries are on the second floor. The fifth and most special gallery has a mezannine that connects the second floor galleries. It follows the half of the curve of the entrance and has a two storey high wall of glass giving an incredible view of the bay. The frames and supports of the entrance way frame different parts of the view.

Aside from the building, the contents weren't really our thing. Although I like geometric art, that on show by Ben Nicholson just didn't speak to me. The colours were drab and somehow the shapes he chose didn't sit in a balanced way. When he painted landscapes I found his style irritating as he obviously had the skill to paint properly. I am just not enough of a modern art appreciator to really appreciate anything that doesn't tick my pretty bix I guess.

There was also some pottery on display. The final gallery contained works by an artist in residence called Luke Frost. His paintings were deceptively simple. Canvases painted all in one colour with a thin stripe of colour, down the middle, or on the edges or across the middle. Many of these lines are actually two lines of similar colour, next to each other. He has carefully selected his colours so that they really, really stand out and the lines seem unaturally bright. Canvases were arranged singly or in groups, flat on the walls or bent into corners. The effect of them was dazzling.

Given the size of the museum we had a fair bit of time left on the meter. So we decided to go for a walk and we found ourselves heading towards the island. It isn't actually an island but it is very close to being one. There is the remains of an old battery that used to contain three guns and a scientific observation post. On the very top there sits a walled terrace with a step fall from it on three sides. On this terrace there sits a tiny chapel dedicated to St Nicholas. The site of this chapel is said to be where St Ia landed when she sailed from Ireland in a corracle or ivy leaf (!). It is from her that St Ives takes it's name.
The Island was home to an ancient settlement and the chapel is dedicated to fishermen. It feels like a pagan site, sat atop this semi-island, surrounded by the sea. It would have been an obvious choice for a settlement, defended by the sea and the rocks, with a good harbour. The peak of the hill would have been where they would have gone to worship. This community would have felt very connected to the sea. If St Ia landed here and gave her name to the town, why is this chapel not named for her? because it had an earlier connection?

From St Ives you can gaze across Gwithian Bay to Godrevy Lighthouse where we went last week. It is a special place, not just to fishermen but to artists, hence the Tate choosing to place a museum there. It's narrow streets of fisherman's cottages crouch together criss crossed with alley ways and walkways and cut throughs. The shops are full of art and the town is a mecca for tourists. Surfers love it to. On one side of the island is Porthmeor Beach and on the other there is the tiny (comparitively) cove of Porthgwidden, then the harbour with it's beach and finally Porthminster.View from the Tate's balcony across the rooftops of St Ives and Gwithian Bay to the headland of Godrevy and the lighthouse.

I never go there in the summer unless I have to but out of season it is lovely....

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