“Small chapel on a hill” A.Viner 2017
If you follow any of my social feeds (Instagram or Twitter) you might well know that I was in Cornwall last week. Polperro to be exact. A location that I have visited before, and liked so much, that I wanted to return.
Last time I visited it was November, and it was as damn near perfect for me as it’s possible to get! It was out of the holiday season, so it was quiet, and it was winter time so it was nice and grey, and a bit choppy! This time however, I went in May, and although it was still fairly quiet, the weather was a bit to nice for me. Don’t get me wrong, I regard the sun as fondly as i’m sure many of you do. But I love the stormy atmosphere, the buzz it gives to the coast is almost tangible. But for a few days it was grey, and a little stormy. So in between the fish and chips, ice cream and beer, i was able to partake in what is without doubt my favourite pursuit, sketching!
I have always drawn things, for me it is the best way to record anything of interest, as well as being rather relaxing. I used to record my surroundings when out gathering inspiration with a camera, taking more photographs than drawing. But in the last five years or, so the camera remains at home. Despite the fact that I am on instagram, I still take very few photos. Even those I do take remain purely for social media purposes. Nowadays I concentrate on drawing, usually very quickly, using the sketchbook I carry as a sort of alternative digital camera, recording as much as I can, doing a number of drawings of the same subject. Starting by spending more time looking at the subject. Then as I draw it over and over, I soon tend to look less and less, allowing the freer interpretation to appear on paper. Then I move on to the next subject. For me, drawing is the most critical thing, from these, sometimes rather messy scribblings, ideas form and take shape. And it becomes a sort of meditation, when your standing on the coastline, especially when high up on a cliff, staring at the great expanse of sea, I tend to zone out, everything else drops away, and life, although far to briefly, is totally simplified. And whilst I was in Cornwall, I also wanted to visit somewhere quite special to me. So one day I drove further west to St Ives.
My love of 20th century British art, most specifically the first sixty years or so, owes itself to many different reasons. One reason however was my discovery of Naive paintings by Alfred Wallis. I admire so many artists, Van Gogh was my first love, and Turner my second. After those great men, so many Artists have come to mean a great deal to me over my life. Some I admire purely for their work alone, others, because of themselves and their personality and ideas. But there are some I admire on an entirely different level. Wallis is one.
His paintings, I believe, are some of the most important work done by a British Artist. This is a personal opinion yes, but I feel one shared by others, both living and dead. Indeed the artists Christopher Wood, and Ben Nicholson, “discovered” Alfred Wallis on a trip to St Ives in 1928. And found in his work,a primitive simplicity that they themselves were seeking in their own work. And through Nicholson, Wallis gained many admirers Jim Ede, creator of Kettle`s Yard in Cambridge was one. For me as a character he sounds fascinating, a sailor and fisherman for most of his early life. He retired from the sea, and moved to St Ives, opening a marine supply shop. And then, in his seventys, his wife dies. And, as he confessed later on, through loneliness he started to paint. And what does he paint? Well rather tragically he paints the only thing he can, the past.
So using scraps of wood, card, jam-jars, anything he can to be honest. He begins to paint “events” as he called them. Diagrams of past experiences and things that an old man can remember. Incredible, simple and yet strangely moving paintings of boats, fish, harbours and lighthouses. And through his simple style, and simple colours, he captures something moving and so powerful. And it’s through seeing this work, and indeed the paintings by those inspired by him, that led me on a more “Naive” painting journey. Trying to create something simple and primitive. I find know that when I see a lone fishing boat out at sea, it just looks like a Wallis painting in my mind. It`s something that i find difficult to explain, I suppose it’s something some people just experience when viewing a certain piece of art. And there are those I dare say that see the naive art of Wallis as just, unrealistic, unskilled and childish. Which is of course there opinion, and not one i share! I wish i could paint and draw like a child! Too much academicism can hinder rather than help.
So after parking at St Erth, just outside St Ives, we took a fifteen minute train ride, along Carbis Bay, and into St Ives.
There are obviously shops and cafes etc, but that wasn’t really the destination for me, for me the destination was a grave, located in Barnoon Cemetery, perched on a hill, overlooking Porthmeor Beach. And amongst the headstones and memorials was Alfred Wallis`s final resting place. His grave is actually exquisite, covered in earthenware tiles made by the famous St Ives potter Bernard Leach. It shows a stormy crashing sea, with an enormous lighthouse in the middle, with a small, hunched figure of an old man, with a walking stick entering the door. It reads…
Artist & Mariner
1855 aug18 aug29 1942
INTO THY HANDS O LORD
It was a privilege to see it.