black rocks… green sea…

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Back in April I had a week’s break in St Ives, Cornwall. I’d booked an arts workshop last autumn at the St Ives School of Painting, but due to further lockdowns, all workshops before the end of April 2021 were cancelled. But I’d paid for the cottage so we turned it into a week’s sketching holiday. The far west of Cornwall is one of my very favourite places (if you want to see other posts I’ve written about the area, along with sketchbook images etc, just type Cornwall into the Search area at the top of this page).

Outgoing tide, The Island, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook spread. © Mari French 2021

It was cold (it had been such a chilly start to spring) but we had wall-to-wall sunshine. Cliched though it is, the light in Cornwall IS amazing! St Ives actually has 5 beaches and I found myself a bit obsessed with the coastal rocks – so many shapes, sizes and types. (We don’t get many rocky coves on the East Anglian coastline.) I particularly spent time observing and sketching the rocky coastline just below the far side of ‘The Island’, St Ives.

Beach & jetty, St Ives, Cornwall. Sketchbook. © Mari French 2021

I’ve since been invited to supply a few coastal paintings for an exhibition coming up at Gallery East, Woodbridge, Suffolk, where I’ve been fortunate enough to have shown work since they opened a couple of years ago. The theme of the exhibition is ‘Restless coast’ – a group show featuring artists from the west and east coasts of the UK, exploring what it is that draws them to a coastline – and they thought some of my newly inspired Cornwall work would fit the bill. For me, it’s also been interesting to contrast the energy and colours of this coastal work with that of Salthouse, North Norfolk which I was developing earlier in the Spring.

At the moment the crashing turquoise sea, white spray and the dark unyielding rocks, spotted with bright lichen are what seems to be emerging in the pieces I’m working on. But I want to keep pushing the process, abstracting it further in the search for the essence of the subject.

Below are a couple of the resulting small experimental workbook pages from the studio; acrylic, collage, mono print. Here I’m channeling the idea of that rocky coastline and lively sea, bright sunlight and turquoise waters; inspired by the fabulous jade sea crashing into rocky coves. I like the simplicity of these small playful works, but translating that to larger pieces is usually a challenge for me.

Sun and rocks, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.
Across Porthgwidden beach, workbook image. © Mari French 2021.

And here are some of the resulting works, currently at the framers, that will soon be on their way to Gallery East for the ‘Restless Sea’ exhibition, which starts on 1st July.

The sea shapes the land, the black rocks resist the sea. Meanwhile the ochre lichen clings on.

‘Every seventh wave’, mixed media on paper, 30x30cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Rising tide’, mixed media on paper, 45x60cm. © Mari French 2021
‘Energy and light’, mixed media on paper, 46x58cm. © Mari French 2021

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 supply 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.