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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Alfred Wallis- dreams of the seaside

This post is a little goodbye to Kettles Yard for the christmas holidays. I had to stop reading for my dissertation and start writing so by the end of the week visits to that big pine table and all those gorgeous art books trailed off. While the snow begins to mount up outside the sun keeps shining in Kettles Yard. Its sunniest paintings are the collection from Alfred Wallis, arranged for the comfort of those studying the books.

White house and cottages- the Old House, Porthmeor Square, St Ives 1930-32 and White houses- Hales Down, near St.Ives 1930-32

Wallis was a Cornish artist who began painting at the age of 70 after the death of his wife. Painting provided a solace and became his 'company'. The paintings have an instinctive quality and people often call his work 'childlike'. I think that 'childlike' is as far from the truth as possible, Wallis paints like a man at 70 who has never painted before. At 70 he knows that he has no time to refine and practice that instinctive skill. He paints with himself, raw and open. He paints now because this is the last chance he has to paint. My mother does some art therapy at a local centre for the socially disadvantaged and some of her students paint like this; secret artists who have been denied paint and brushes for all of their lives.

Two fishermen in their boat with one mast steeped and Three-masted ship near lighthouse

These paintings are like a revelation. In Kettles Yard the paintings are kept together because they are a collection, we can imagine that they are personal works of art that orbit the artist as significant elements of him.
'He enjoyed talking about his paintings, speaking of them not as paintings but as events or experiences.' Ben Nicholson

Springing from the same colour palette, (the palette of Cornwall- sea water, cliff and sand) these works have a continuity, a fluidity which allows interconnection and reflection.

Looe, Cornwall, from a trip in 2008

Cornwall has a history of inspiring art and hosting small artists studios in its narrow, winding streets. I still remember looking jealously at my friend's art project at school. Her family have a house in St.Ives and she had collected all kinds of materials from Tate St.Ives and the Barbara Hepworth museum. She was forever painting delicate watercolours of beach scenes with a style all her own. Cornwall is a place with its own language, national identity and particular aesthetic. An aesthetic which the Ede's brought back to their home like the spoils of beach combing.

A Polperro sunset, 2008

People can be very dismissive of the British seaside, but Cornwall with its aquamarine stretches of turbulent sea, delicate boats buoying on the water and infinite coastlines of fine golden sand and rocky cliffs, blows all criticism out of the water. You can argue that it is dull to go on holiday in the same places every year but Cornwall requires that kind of affection from you. I will remember my holidays there forever, like a lost treasure.

Some links for you.
Great introduction to Wallis:

1 comment:

  1. Hello Frangipan,
    thank you for commenting on my blog - I'll try and remember to post on the summer light as well, almost solstice to solstice.
    Yours seems full of things to interest,