Friday, June 7, 2013

Open Studios Cornwall 2013
Margaret Deans and Julia Cooper

Colour has always been a catalyst for Margaret Deans, and is also linked to turning points in her life. Formerly a garden designer, her experience of bereavement signalled a turning away from the pastel shades she had loved. Bright, vibrant colours began to dominate her planting schemes. Some years later, during a prolonged and uncertain period of recovery from illness, she took up painting. From then on, colour became a life-affirming element of the creative process.
Margaret at work in the studio

Margaret’s home and studio overlook the sweeping expanse of Praa Sands. On the morning of my Open Studios visit early last week, the waves rolling shorewards had tempted a handful of surfers to try their luck. Across the shimmering blue of Mounts Bay lies the fishing village of Mousehole, with Tater Du lighthouse perched above the rocks to its west. Margaret is captivated by the drama of her surroundings – especially the evening sun in winter, staining the sky blood-red as it sinks beneath the watery horizon. On a clear night one can see the winking of the Wolf Rock lighthouse, five miles off the tip of Lands End. Blessed with such an inspirational view, it is not surprising that she finds it difficult to stop painting.
Cornish Solstice
Mixed media on canvas

Her early images of the landscape and coastline of the south west, the Isles of Scilly and Shetland were essentially representational. Seasonal visits to remote, sparsely populated locations such as these, in the company of a group of artist friends, remain integral to her evolving art practice. A degree in Art History in 2010 transformed the whole notion of art for Margaret. It introduced her to post-modernism and conceptual art, extending her horizons to embrace the work of talents such as Antony Gormley, Grayson Perry, and Yinka Shonibare, whose latest exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a memorable experience for her.
Cornish Gorse
on the Coastpath
Mixed media on canvas

Just before I arrived, Margaret had been working on her latest canvas, inspired by a recent visit to London. Emerging from the Ice Age exhibition at the British Museum into a rainy street, she and her artist friends called in to L Cornelissen & Son. The frontage and furnishings of this legendary art shop have changed little since trading began in 1855. A dazzling array of pigments, row upon row of paint tubes and brushes of every kind were hard to resist. ‘Art Shop’ – a complete change of genre - was the result.

Art Shop. Mixed media on canvas

Her desire to follow her instincts artistically has been encouraged by the guidance received in recent months from tutors of the Newlyn School of Art such as Paul Wadsworth and Mark Spray, whose teaching, she says, is of the highest calibre. Paul Wadsworth’s three-day course in Expressive Painting was a revelation to her. His tuition opened her eyes to the expressive possibilities of mixed media. Moving away from watercolour, nowadays she manipulates oils, acrylics, charcoal and ink, building up layers and creating depth in a shift towards abstraction. Margaret’s exploration of these media has tempered her use of colour, introducing a note of darkness to her canvases. She feels that this reflects the emotional texture of her own life experience.
Tin Country
Mixed media on canvas

Margaret’s rendering of coastline and landscape is imbued with a profound sense of rhythm and fluidity, beautifully echoing that of the elements around her. She says ‘I love these wild places and work in the open air with the wind, the sea and all the elements playing a part in my response to the place.’
Dark Sky over
the Poppy Field
Mixed media on board

For more information, take a look at Margaret’s website. Her work can be seen at a group exhibition at Harbour House, Kingsbridge, Devon, from 6-18 August.

Later in the week, I headed eastwards, to an Open Studio in Fowey. As I ascended the steps of a skilfully landscaped garden to arrive at a front door framed by lush wisteria, it became evident that Julia Cooper’s talent is not restricted to painting. The precipitous slope has been planted with colour and texture in such a way as to delight the eye at every turn. In the distance, across the mouth of the river Fowey, lies a source of her inspiration – the sub-tropical Headland Garden at Polruan.
Garden Painting 2012
Oil on canvas

The view which greets the visitor from Julia’s top-floor studio takes in not only the sweep of the estuary and the beautiful harbour far below, but also extends northwards up the creek, towards the boatyard. This is another location which has nurtured her creative imagination. ‘Puffin’ is all that remains of a Fowey river work boat which was broken up as it proved too costly to repair. The reclamation of its weathered timbers and subsequent incarnation as an artwork is entirely appropriate to the ethos of an artist who loves to spend time on the water. While Julia and her husband enjoy competitive sailing, they also head westwards once a year on their yacht Killaloe, to explore one of their favourite destinations, the Isles of Scilly.
Puffin 2010

The assemblage of a selection of aged copper rivets, stitched to a wooden background, creates another intriguing construction. This piece commemorates a tradition of nautical workmanship which would otherwise have been lost in the mud of the riverbed or the detritus of the shoreline.
Rivets 2010

The passage of time and the quest to capture its elusiveness occupies much of Julia’s creative thinking. Sometimes she sits at her bedroom window in the early hours, witness to the ephemeral nature of the unfolding dawn, sketchbook journal in hand. Recording these fleeting moments in pastels or watercolour, she also dates and annotates each image, a recent one being captioned ‘Found in translation’. Elements of her little sketches form starting points for large-scale works in oil. These are created by laying the canvas on the studio floor, which provides the freedom to apply the paint from all sides. Julia describes these paintings as ‘evocative abstracts of the colour, surfaces and texture of Cornwall’.
Abstract 2005
Oil on canvas

Studying interior design in the 1990s, Julia somehow juggled the demands of motherhood and domestic life to pursue a freelance career which involved refurbishing properties. One of her most interesting projects was the restoration of holiday cottages owned by the National Trust in Cornwall. Responsibility for the interiors and soft furnishings required a sensitive respect for traditional materials, combined with a subtle approach to colour and texture – attributes which have become integral to her art practice.

After moving to Fowey and finding that she had a little more free time, Julia obtained a diploma in Fine Arts from Cornwall College in 2003. This experience sparked a fascination for modernism - and in particular its development in St Ives - which has informed her work ever since. A great admirer of the paintings of Patrick Heron, she has also gained much from his writings, identifying with the early struggles he so eloquently describes. Other influences include Sandra Blow, Alan Gouk and Joan Mitchell. Her current work, increasingly abstract, reflects a cerebral approach to the dynamics of colour and energy in relation to form. The resulting impression - one of measured exuberance - celebrates her affinity with the essence of the landscape so close to her heart.
Abstract 2013
Oil on canvas

Since 2006 Julia has exhibited extensively throughout Cornwall. A selection of her work can be seen on Julia's website. Her latest project is a commission to produce the artwork for a new restaurant which opens in July. In October she will be participating in the annual West Bristol Arts Trail.

Jazz 2013 ~ Oil on canvas

Coming across two Open Studios participants whose engagement with their surroundings finds expression in visual language of such diversity has been exhilarating. Both painters are producing work which has tremendous appeal. There is no doubt in my mind that each is heading for wider recognition within Cornwall and beyond.

© 2013 Helen Hoyle

My new blog: Dates in Women's Art

1 comment:

  1. Lovely piece. I would love to be part of open studios cornwall, but the organisation and costs make it prohibitive for anyone in the North Cornwall area, hence there are only two listed artists north of wadebridge.Unfortunately everyone does the rounds of the artists in south cornwall, but don't venture up this way. If you would like to have a look at my blog its