In The World - In A Gallery - In A Warehouse - Near St.Ives

By Jon Pratty, Editor, 24 Hour Museum | 03 April 2003
shows a painting, New World by Iain Robertson, 2002. Oil on canvas,

Left: New World, Iain Robertson, 2002. Oil on canvas, 152 x 168 cm. © the artist.

Jon Pratty, on the road in Cornwall, meets two leading artists who've set out to find a different audience for their work.

Two St.Ives-based painters, Clare Wardman and Iain Robertson, have found a novel way to reach new audiences with their work. They've put up a show of paintings in a contract furnishings warehouse in nearby Hayle, Cornwall.

In fact, the venue has been used before by artists but this is the most ambitious show yet for the owners of Contract Interiors, Geoffrey and Jilly Knights.

shows a painting, Afro Celt four by Iain Robertson, 2002. Oil on canvas.

Right: Afro Celt IV, Iain Robertson, 2002. Oil on canvas, 152 x 168 cm. © the artist

Wardman and Robertson have filled the walls of the entire space with large and very large colourful abstract paintings.

But although the show is on commercial premises, these aren't the usual pretty commercial poster images of the St.Ives landscape. Both artists, trained in the South West at Exeter College of Art, have been committed to painting ever since leaving college twenty years ago.

"The show's called In The World, because it's about putting the work into a different environment - not the usual gallery world," explained Iain. "There's also a reference there to the fact that once you've made a painting, you commit to it only really when it goes on show - out In The World."

shows a painting, Four Primitives two by Clare Wardman, 2002. Oil on canvas.

Left: Four Primitives II, Clare Wardman, 2002. Oil on canvas, 107 x 87 cm. © the artist.

The venue, just outside Hayle on the main A30, is only reachable by car. That hasn't stopped a steady stream of interested viewers making a pilgrimage to the exhibition, perhaps attracted by considerable local press coverage of the show.

"We did put it on originally at the same time as Tate St.Ives 'Painting Not Painting' exhibition," explained Robertson. "We thought it had a kind of relevance to the Tate show."

Both artists are keen to say that their show in no way competes with the Tate's painting exhibition.

"This show is about contemporary painting. Sometimes it feels to us that new painters coming through now, perhaps as shown in Painting Not Painting, feel they have to 're-invent' painting. That's not the case, though," said Iain Robertson.

"We say it's never gone away. It's been evolving. We feel, as older painters, that our work is contemporary too, evolving in St.Ives."

shows a painting, Rim by Clare Wardman, 2002. Oil on canvas.

Right: Rim, Clare Wardman, 2002. Oil on canvas, 107 x 86 cm. © the artist.

The works on show at Contract Interiors are bold, bright and purely abstract. Robertson and Wardman both cite as points of reference the greats of the abstract movement - Carel Appel, the Cobra artists, Asger Jorn.

Interestingly enough, Robertson's Cobra-inspired work attracted the attention of Galerie Moderne in Denmark, who also deal with some of the Cobra artists. Robertson currently has a substantial painting show at Galerie Moderne until the end of April.

"I'm happy to describe myself as an abstract painter, a colourist. there's a high level of colour in the work. It's a direct response to the materials I use. Music as well, the music I listen too, what I see around me."

Clare Wardman's painting is less obviously concerned with colour, and there is a hint of figuration there, entirely absent from Robertson's work.

"It's definately about light. Deep shadows, bright sunlight and days when there's not much light."

Part of Clare's contribution to the show are large panel paintings. These she calls 'blocks of light.'

"It's all about what's going on around me. It goes in subconciously and comes out on the canvas. I'm looking out of the studio window at the road right now. I can see sand on the road, and tyre tracks in it. That'll come out in the painting."

"In a funny way, there is a fluid boundary between the edge of my canvas and what goes on out there."

There's a lot of art going on in St.Ives, and some find it an insular, very intense and even inward looking. Wardman and Robertson, who happen also to live together, look outwards at a wider world.

It is this worldliness and their commitment to painting that makes a refreshing change in today's packaged, marketing-led, personality-based art world.

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