Rocks, stones & coves: Cape Cornwall residency 2017

Towards the Brisons, evening. © Mari French 2017.

Towards the Brisons, evening. Mixed-media on canvas. © Mari French 2017.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to spend two weeks on my own, on my second art residency at Brisons Veor, Cape Cornwall. Some of you may remember my staying here in 2014, but whereas previously I’d produced work inspired by the ruined tin and copper mines and the raging stormy sea, this time the weather was more spring-like and I wanted to concentrate on the energy of the sea filling and emptying, not only Priest Cove, but also the many small coves along the wild Penwith coastline.

My attention was also captured by the semi-natural bathing pool nestling in the rocks below the house in Priest Cove. There was much more sunshine and light this time and the pool was like a mirror reflecting the sky; often its stillness was in sharp contrast to the crashing waves just beyond. The pool was the still point in the moving scene of the cove; reflective in both senses of the word, filled by the sea, controlled by the moon, partially man-made, part bounded by rocks. In my subsequent work the pool has become a calm space, contrasting with the energy of the mark-making around it. The effect sets up a tension which I like.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Experimental ink studies, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Experimental ink studies, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

I also produced a series of rapid, small experimented ink studies (above) as I sat next to the pool in the sun, using the pool water to give a marbling and granulated effect. I’m hoping to develop these further at some point.

Mirroring the sky © Mari French 2017.

Mirroring the sky, Mixed-media on paper © Mari French 2017.

The geology of this area is so striking, from white egg-like boulders and the twisted striations of minerals threaded through massive jagged black rocks in the sea coves, to the tumbled stone scattered across the moors. I can see it featuring in much of my future work.

Rocks near Boat Cove © Mari French 2017

Rocks near Boat Cove © Mari French 2017

Boat Cove stones © Mari French 2017

Boat Cove stones © Mari French 2017

Over the course of the residency, I became aware of lines, suggested and real, threading a dimensional net around this coastal place: on and below the sea’s surface – the regularity of shipping lanes, the varying routes of small fishing boats, the patterned pulses of light from the lighthouses at Wolf Rock and Long Ships, the movement of wildlife; in the air – the soaring flight of sea birds and regular small passenger planes lifting off from Lands End airport. Lines began to appear in my sketchbook and swirling over the paintings I was working on.

Studio work, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017

Studio work, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017

Plein air painting, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017.

Plein air painting, Brisons Veor © Mari French 2017.

I’ve been trying to loosen up my sketching for some time, which in the past tended towards more figurative renderings of landscape. It was rewarding to be able to spend more time working on abstract ways of sketching for future reference. See my last post for more sketchbook spreads from this residency.

Sketchbook, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Sketchbook, Priest Cove. © Mari French 2017.

Unlike my first residency, where I was free to paint what I wanted, this time I knew I needed to supplying work for a mixed exhibition at Artichoke Gallery near Tunbridge Wells, when I returned and I wanted to use the residency to produce a few canvases to fit their exhibition theme ‘Across the water’. (The first and last images on this post are two of the canvases to be exhibited.)

Working in the studio, Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2017

Working in the studio, Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2017

Along with wealth of material from Priest Cove, the discovery of exquisite little Boat Cove tucked into the coast near Pendeen Light, with its mass of tumbled rocks and stone and remnants from the fishing industry (still carried out there on a small scale), provided the stimulus I needed. The resulting canvases (see Artichoke Gallery link above for all four works) were painted to the pulse and crunch of waves on the rocks beneath the studio.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove © Mari French 2017.

Bathing pool, Priest Cove. Mixed-media on canvas. © Mari French 2017.

 

 

 

a wilder sea… a Cornish art residency

Wild sea 1. Acrylic on board. Mari French 2014

Wild sea 1. Acrylic on board. Mari French 2014

In March I spent two weeks painting and sketching the coastline and mine ruins around Cape Cornwall, near Lands End, courtesy of an art residency I was awarded at Brisons Veor. Brisons Veor is a house (formerly the boiler house of Cape Cornwall mine) run by a charitable trust and has provided residencies for creatives since 1978; many artists in all media have been inspired by staying there. 

Sketching the Brisons

Sketching the Brisons

To be able to spend time intensively painting, exploring and sketching on my own without life’s usual distractions, in such an inspiring location was an invaluable experience. I lived, ate, slept and worked upstairs in the large sitting room/studio which looked out over Priest’s Cove and the Atlantic. The last time I lived on my own was back in 1995. I expected to find the isolation a challenge but knew it would be good for my mental and creative makeup. 

 

The Brisons from Brisons Veor. Mari French 2014

The Brisons from Brisons Veor. Mari French 2014

In this spectacular location – the house is thought to be the westernmost on the English mainland – I painted furiously, inspired by the wild seas beneath and beyond me, producing several paintings, the start of a series of abstract studies based on the local mining areas and a fairly stuffed sketchbook, bursting with source material for future work.

I initially applied for the residency to be able to spend more time gathering material from the tin and copper mining ruins around St Just, which had caught my attention on previous trips to the area. But I ended up spending almost as much time trying to capture the motion, power and shape of the powerful Atlantic tides that filled the coves around the Cape.

Squalls over Lands End, from Brisons Veor (workbook) ©Mari French 2014

Squalls over Lands End, from Brisons Veor (workbook) ©Mari French 2014

The weather the first week was very stormy, wet and windy but produced some huge powerful seas and as the upstairs studio door opens out onto a small balcony I was able to paint direct from the source, an exhilarating experience that I know will have an effect on my future sea abstracts. I live in Norfolk where the beautiful and extensive coastline is (tidal surges aside) much tamer than the Cornish coast.

Priests Cove abstract (workbook). © Mari French 2014

Priests Cove abstract (workbook). © Mari French 2014

There were wild days when flakes of sea foam flew high over the house, making Priest’s Cove look like a car wash; days when the highest waves in the world (as I was informed by a Penzance local) rolled in from the Atlantic; and days when the loneliness and the gloom, the rain and the wind drove me, desperate for company, to the cosy CookBook cafe in St Just for comforting tea and cake.

Wild sea 2. Acrylic on board. Mari French 2014.

Wild sea 2. Acrylic on board. Mari French 2014.

So I painted the sea… as it hurled itself into the cove and against the cliffs… fast, furious but exhilarating work, and I produced a few finished pieces and many sketchbook studies. 

Priests Cove, a National Trust SSSI site, also proved an inspiring wealth of motifs and abstract imagery, from the strange egg-shaped stones to the storm-battered fishing sheds and huddled group of colourful fishing craft.

Priests Cove (workbook) © Mari French 2014

Priests Cove (workbook) © Mari French 2014

Detail, Priests Cove. © Mari French 2014

Detail, Priests Cove. © Mari French 2014

In the warmer sunnier weather of the second week I found myself unwinding at last, greeting the gulls and enjoying the sunshine as it poured into the studio. I began to tackle short, but arduous (for me), roller coaster sections of the coastal path, over to Kenidjack, sketching the coastline below and the ruins of engine houses and chimneys as I went, and in the other direction, up to Carn Gloose, accompanied only by the sounds of skylarks and crows.

Priests Cove from Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2014

Priests Cove from Brisons Veor. © Mari French 2014

I explored, sketched and photographed at Levant and Bottallack mines, and at Geevor Mine where the kind staff allowed me access and time to explore and paint in the huge labrynthine tin-processing mill (officially closed to the public until Easter). Wonderful rust-coloured, dust-covered place, now almost silent where it would once have been a clamouring hell. 

The Tinners Coast, acrylic on board. © Mari French 2014

The Tinners Coast, acrylic on board. © Mari French 2014

Mining imagery, workbook. © Mari French 2014

Mining imagery, workbook. © Mari French 2014

Mining study 1, acrylic on paper. © Mari French 2014

Mining study 1, acrylic on paper. © Mari French 2014

Back at Brisons Veor studio I began a series of small abstract works on paper based on these visits and am keen to see how these might translate into mono prints or collagraphs, eventually leading to a body of work I hope to get shown in Cornwall sometime.

Being able to sit at the window desk working in my sketchbook or standing at the easel looking directly out at my inspiration was a refreshing experience for me. I almost filled my fat Seawhite sketchbook with collage, sketches, notes and found material and it has become a valuable store of memories and impressions of my residency.

Crown mine, Bottallack © Mari French 2014

Crown mine, Bottallack © Mari French 2014

As the two weeks drew to a close I realised I’d found a different, more intensive and satisfying way of working, much more productive, and with a wealth of source material and ideas for future work. I’d love to return sometime.
Stones at Priests Cove. © Mari French 2014

Stones at Priests Cove. © Mari French 2014