Bryan Pearce, St Ives Artist – some exhibition context for you to enjoy.

With one long weekend left to see the Pearce exhibition, we thought we’d share texts and other context related artwork we have on show. Consisting of oil paintings, drawings by Bryan, the exhibition also includes work by Leonard Fuller (who led the St Ives School of Painting in the 1950s attended by Pearce) and work by his mother and artist friends.

From the 1970s, with the help of other St Ives artists, Pearce produced a series of etchings. Also, under the direction of fellow artists and master printmaker, a number of silk screen stencils based on his oil paintings were produced. Sympathetic to the original paintings these limited edition prints are signed by Pearce.


Pearce remained largely uninfluenced by other artists although is mother was a good amateur artist. Often paired with the earlier local Naive artist, Alfred Wallis, although with different temperaments, both are genuine ‘Outsider’ artists with a similar matter-of-fact freshness and singularity of view.

Lanyon_StandingStones_1957_LoResPeter Lanyon Standing Stones 1951.
Sheet size: 55.5 x 38 cms Signed and dated Registration Proof

Peter Lanyon

The harbour, the coastguard, or the bridge over the railway happen to Bryan Pearce who is a native of St Ives. All these things have an activity which is not only seen, there, is evidence in every painting of an awareness which is more direct, the knowing which a man will have for land or sea or craft. When this understanding is linked to the kind of play which is common in child art, the combination is called Folk Art. If a category is necessary, Bryan Pearce is nearest to this.

His art emerges at a time when sophistication is disintegrating St Ives painting, and a self-conscious group of artists is mourning the decline of a fictitious ‘St Ives School’. Bryan Pearce takes a walk to Carbis Bay, returning by the cliff path to paint what has happened with a blue sea and green grass and side-seen house and around corner looks, that have been avoided in the quaint and pretty concept of picture postcard St Ives, and exploited in boutique primitivism. Because his sources are not seen with a passive eye, but are truly happenings, his paintings original.

Theory and speculation usually put distance between the event and its descriptions, and the painting is subjected to stretching by miles of elastic works, so that the acts of observing, making and communicating are all studies out of context. These paintings may be subjects of analysis to some people but that activity is not going to make the paintings more understandable. It is necessary to accept these works as the labour of a man who has to communicate this way because there is no other. It is then possible to celebrate the facts and not the theory.

Catalogue introduction
St. Martin’s Gallery, London 1964

Denis Mitchell and Kate Nicholson

Sir Alan Bowness

These enchanting sunlit paintings are mostly of St Ives—the boats in the harbour, the fishermen’s cottages and gardens, the parish church that ones sees below Bryan Pearce’s studio window. It is a serene untroubled world that reflects the natural innocence and delight of a man who has found relief and rehabilitation through painting. For Bryan Pearce has suffered since childhood from a crippling mental illness (phenylketonuria) that has made normal communication impossible for him, and in Peter Lanyon’s words he ‘…has to communicate this way because there is no other.’

Catalogue introduction
New Art Centre, London 1966

Mary Pearce (Pearce’s mother) and Leonard Fuller (Pearce’s teacher)

H. S. Ede

If anyone is in need of peace, trust and joy, they will find it in the work of Bryan Pearce. He gives with his whole being, totally free of sophistication and totally altruistic; he paints as he breathes. These stones which form a pier, this blue which surrounds a ship, this island and lighthouse, this road, church, window, flowers in their pot, a thousand visual things, are the deep unconscious quality of this interior life and his immediate contact with his close friend God.

I know of no artist with whom I can compare him in this direct simplicity and devotion save Fra Angelico who would place one colour against another with assurance and tenderness, and yet, so it is said, when he painted the body of Jesus, he closed his eye in humble knowledge of his own frailty

Bryan Pearce has this inward vision, undisturbed by greed, desire of worldly achievement, concern with his own personality and much else; and such wholeness lives in the his absorbed loved, expressed he know not how.

It isn’t at all as a naïve painter he should be classed, or even perhaps as a ‘painter’—he really knows little of technique—but as an individual actively happy in reproducing the beauty of the visual works and his instinctive entrapment in it. I am grateful to him for this unhindered vision which is the deathless source of art.

Catalogue introduction
Falmouth Art Gallery. Cornwall 1982



Breon O’Casey and Barbara Hepworth 

Always beginning a painting with a feint pencil outline and gradually blocking in areas using a personal palette of colours, a sense of order and calmness, bathed in the ambient light of western Cornwall, pervades Pearce’s work.


Ffiona Lewis – Tide Lines but also flowers

Ffiona is currently holding her fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. For this showing, the artist has focused on broadly maritime themes that sit particularly well with the gallery’s St Ives location, however she still harnesses the still life and deals with flowers such as in ‘Hemlock Chalice’ below.

It’s interesting to re-visit the catalogue essay from the last show when looking at this work.

On the Table: Collage and Painting

‘It is working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? Since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall, and grind through it slowly and patiently.’ (Van Gogh, letter to Theo.) In Ffiona Lewis’s show, a slow and patient process is revealed. She has always been a maker of cards, whether birthday or thank you offerings. This has been a major starting point for this body of predominantly interior still lifes. Both worlds share their socialness, their tributes to friendship and events around tables.

The starting blocks are small collages (‘Single Bloom’), manageable, and very importantly, quick to finish. Lewis’s familiar vocabulary is here glued down at the table. Flower shapes, receipts, napkins, sugar in paper sachets – all testimony to things that have happened, arranged into a series of planes, edges and colours with the inherent surprises and enrichment of the collage process.

In tandem with the collages, Lewis remains deeply influenced by her long exploration of flowers. Like other work ‘on the table’, these bouquet offerings are not nature studies, but memories of events and circumstances. Nature is then a springboard into colour. ‘New Rose Cuttings’, with its lustrous red blooms and dark raw umber and olive greens becomes its own investigation, transforming nature’s colour balance into oil paint on board. A quick glance at the work on show might suggest a fork – flower paintings, which retain Lewis’s strong figuration, and the series of apparently more abstract work, clearly related to her collages.

This would be an oversimplification. In ‘Still Life with Broad Bean’, Lewis shows the intimacy of a small table, its cloth and a series of abstracted planes which we can imagine as the leftovers of some event. The work is then anchored by the beans, which we can identify, slightly preposterous, slightly humorous, testaments to something remembered.

‘Glass on Nappery, Indian Yellow’ is not seen by Lewis as an abstraction. It is evidence of a new relationship with colour, mined from the collage and flower paintings. Paint is applied in blocks, but then scraped back in a series of edits to reveal under-painting of lime greens and turquoise blues.

These bigger paintings are informed by the smaller oil studies, back and forth. The balances Lewis sees in nature must be worked out. A plane of white goblet in ‘Still Life – Café 6!’ must be restrained with the tone of its context. It is a work of establishing foregrounds and avoiding ‘splintering’ the composition’s unity.

For Lewis, ‘On the Table’ is not a series of compositions. It is her latest report on the slow and patient process Van Gogh describes. It is a theatre of conversations around the stage of the table, as well as a series of spatial concoctions. For the viewer, it is the product of a discipline of finishing.

CNK, August 2014.

Kate Nicholson

The below essay was written for our Kate Nicholson solo exhibition in 2013.

Here is an inspired flow of words that could be applied directly to Kate Nicholson’s paintings:

“. . . the rhythms, the variety, the weights, the aerial delight and certitude – as free as swallow’s flight – no correction – no cloying sweetness . . . . “

This was written by a potter about the “linear brushwork” decorating an ancient Chinese stoneware jar. The potter was Bernard Leach. Kate knew him at St Ives, and surely listened intently to him. His eloquent words touch on the intuitive naturalness, the freshness, of her works no less than the pot they describe.

In the striking photograph by Pamela Chandler of Kate in her St Ives studio, beautiful pots gather on her large table. Pottery has been an emphatic inspiration for her, clearly, both in form and decoration. On the wall behind her is one of her own paintings. It is next to a white relief by Ben Nicholson, her father, and a hanging scroll or banner decorated with Eastern calligraphy. The meaning of this calligraphy would seem to lie in image and gesture, in movement and deftness quite as much as in language. In her abstract paintings Kate adopts and invents her own swift forms of “calligraphy.” They speak for themselves in colour and brush-sweep. They seem to have leapt into existence with sudden energy and “certitude” out of some kind of deep contemplation. “Nonchalance” Leach also wrote, “is a good word to describe the way the Koreans and other craftsmen of the East approach their work” He quickly added that nonchalance is by no means the same as sloppiness. “. . . nonchalance and care are both present. It all depends on the spirit in which the work is done.” Again he could be speaking of Kate’s paintings. She, like Leach, tried to bring East and West together, exploring ways of balancing the West’s mechanistic culture and personality-worship by an Eastern kind of craftsman’s humility.

I first encountered her paintings years ago when Kate invited me down to St Ives. She persuasively suggested that as a very new writer-about-art something would be lacking if I had never been at least temporarily immersed in the St Ives atmosphere – clearly for her a centre of the art universe. She introduced me to several luminaries, including Bernard Leach. I could see that Kate held him in high regard. What was precisely said on that visit I do not really recall, but I do remember feeling his presence and his “certitude” while sipping a delicate green tea. Here, I realised, were certain depths of thought and experience I had not been aware of before.

But today when looking at Kate’s paintings, on very welcome display in Belgrave St Ives, past history is not what comes to mind. These paintings express nowness. They seem recent and new. The immediacy of a quick, vital swirl or curl, wave, ripple, flick, loop or upswing, is something sharply and swiftly in the present. These “aerial delights” occur on the picture plain, or in some imagined space between the viewer’s eyes and the canvas surface. There often are movements and colours interplaying and interweaving behind this prominent frontal happening. But all this movement has nothing to do with conventional linear perspective. Nor is it simply a descriptive foreground and background. It is – without being “kinetic art” that actually moves – a liberated free flight.

In a letter to Kate, the painter Winifred Nicholson, her mother, talked about the “gulf” of air between the very near (perhaps flowers on a windowsill) and very far (horizon or hill) that greatly engaged her attention. She suggested, however, that Kate might not see it that way. I believe that Kate didn’t see it that way. Her work seems more a matter of near and nearer, rather than a contrast of very near and very far. As her work became more abstract, the energy and content of her paintings were less and less restricted by a recognizable subject. Their theme is increasingly the direct encounter of brush with canvas, of paint and gesture. “Gesture” might be an ambiguous word here if it suggests some sort of theatricality, a performance act rather than an authentic experience. Kate was certainly aware of such apparently playful artists as Miro and Klee, and of “action painting” or “abstract expressionism.” Her time as a student of Bath Academy of Art, taught by William Scott, would have made her fully aware of such things. She was particularly struck by the work of Mark Tobey, another artist bringing together Eastern and Western culture. But she found her own individual means of discovery.

There is playfulness in her work, a hop-skip-and-a-jump quality, but it is not showing off and it is not naïve. Nor does it carry sinister or surreal undertones. This sense of light-hearted play may have been inherited to some extent from Ben Nicholson, who on at least one recorded occasion joined in with the very young Kate and her older brother Jake, playing a game that involved rolling a ball around one of his reliefs. “Fun” was a very allowable part of making art, however serious that art may be. The titles attached to her paintings have a poetry and humour that hint at this lightness of touch. These titles are not really frivolous or naïve, but have a kind of innocence: “Spring Frolic” and “Snatched in Short Eddies” in this exhibition join such earlier titles like “Fancy Free” and “Skip and a Twist” and “Hay Diddle Diddle.”

“Liquid Sky” is another title that perfectly conveys one aspect of her work which connects the earlier, comparatively realistic paintings in this show with the later, more abstract ones. In these early landscapes, she is without question a wonderful and exciting painter of skies. She relishes the ever-moving changes of cloud and light. Her skies are not looming or ominous; they are filled with obvious delight as if she is saying “Here is a realm where the very act of painting is set at liberty, where observation and imagination can mingle in a free cosmic dance.”

When her images have been most successful – like the marvellous “Sun Dance” in this exhibition – Kate Nicholson has managed to invest her paintings with a remarkable balancing act. On one hand they seem evanescent and elusive. On the other they have bold strength and distinct permanence. The originality of her achievement deserves far greater recognition.

Christopher Andreae April 2013
Catalogue Kate Nicholson Painting from the Artist’s Studio
First published in 2013 by Belgrave St Ives



Andy Hughes: Musings About Making Photographs

We invited Andy, prior to the opening of his exhibition Photographic Works at the gallery on Jan 26th, as a guest blogger. He writes about his fine art practice in relationship to St Ives, illustrates a few of his key works and tells us about his current research.

With the invention and development of photography in the late nineteenth century many have discussed and concluded that it liberated painting with the burden of depiction. Whilst for some the argument about art and photography is over, for others it might not be, especially as photography appears to be one of the most ubiquitous and attractive media forms in the public sphere. There are now hundreds of millions of new photographs circulating around the world everyday. Photography has that very particular way of describing with precision the likeness of things, objects, places, spaces and people. It’s both a science and an art, enabling humans to ‘see’ the farthest and deepest depth of our galaxy as well as reminding us of a lost loved one, a long departed pet or a sublime snow covered mountain.

Fine Art Photography
What one might term ‘fine art photography’ conjures up a myriad of forms of image making; from a fibre based darkroom print made by a keen amateur to a larger scale work by Gursky. There is no one simple way of looking at the discourse described as fine art photography: the topic and discussion about what constitutes fine art photography splinters into all kinds of sub-groups. There are artists who ‘use’ photography, photographs ‘used’ by artists, photographic artists, contemporary photographic artists and so on.

I would describe my practice as ‘making photographs’ and that my project Dominant Wave Theory consists of a set of photographs that were created under varying conditions that reflect my particular mind-set. Clearly when one organises a large body of work into a project and book you can be explicit in terms of writing about the work. You can outline the conceptual frameworks that surround the work and direct the reader towards some kind of conclusion.

The text by Susan Daniel McElroy for the Art Now Cornwall exhibition held at the Tate St Ives in 2007 describes my work with precision.

Hughes presents us with not only an ecological message but a knowing heady rush through artistic strategies using the power of photography’s saturated colour to highlight, frame, and play with scale, in an irreverent awareness of art historical practices (Daniel-McElroy: 2007).

Having lived and worked for nearly twenty years in and around St Ives the experiences, interests and direction of my work have been influenced by both its geography, cultural and artistic histories. Dr Chris Short contextualises my work in terms of looking at my surrounds and St Ives Modernism.

Across the body of photographs contained in the present volume, we may identify three dominant issues, each of particular importance to Hughes’s encounter with West Cornwall in general and St Ives – Hughes’s home for nearly a decade – in particular. The first is the formal, aesthetic engagement of the land and sea that was so important to leading British modern artists in and around St Ives from about 1930. Hughes describes his relationship to this tradition as ambivalent, at one moment developing in relation to it, at the next seeking to avoid it (Short: 2006).

Dominant Wave Theory Work
Often when talking about my photographs some assume that a series of works depicting discarded waste objects washed up on the shoreline is very obvious and clear; it conveys a direct didactic message, almost journalistic perhaps. But when one stands in front of a full-scale work it’s not entirely the case. A typology of plastic waste washed up a beach in all likelihood does offer a journalistic reading but as Dr Short discusses in his essay many of my works speak in a contradictory voice. Am I entirely cognisant of how this becomes so?

Repeatedly, though, the previous identity of the objects depicted threatens to return, to destroy the purely formal quality of the work. Unlike Hepworth’s social message that remains buried within the form of the work of art, Hughes’s photographs speak with two, apparently contradictory voices. The aesthetic dimension of the photographs is challenged the moment that each object, as waste, speaks. The voice with which it speaks is social and political: it speaks of responsibility, of economic excess, even of destruction (Short: 2006).

Recently another photographic artist commented on my work in a private discussion ‘Your work seems to be at one time commercial but on another level it’s not that at all – it has a peculiar sense of existing somewhere between fine art and commercial photography.’

Andy Hughes, Begrave St Ives, Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles (Red Lighter)
Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles (Red Lighter)

Hermosa Beach was made just before sundown and is a great image to explore in relationship to the meanings such work offers. It plays with the traditional visual motifs of the sublime sunset. Rather than trying to illicit the ‘perfect moment’ the upturned lighter acts as a kind of inverse black monolith. Namely, the monolith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – a film that explores elements of human evolution and technology. The setting sun is precisely centred, cascading the light rays through a scratched and distorted plastic surface. A red sky at night heralds a new dawn; a dawn where the previous days left over food and consumer waste suggest a landscape that is an environment oozing with waste.

I, Jack Russell Work
My recent project I, Jack Russell may appear to some a million miles from my work made previously but in terms of reflecting on it, now the work is complete, I think people will see it is not. I understand that my interest in beach debris is a theme that has its roots in my personal history: growing up next to a coalmine and chemical factory; playing as a child on coal slag heaps but owning Jack Russell’s since I was a child has certainly influenced my practice too.

Dogs have been featured in many art works for many centuries. Artists such as Gainsborough, Warhol, Wegman, Nixon, Lucian Freud and others have all made works that have featured dogs. Photographing the kind of dog I grew up with doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me. Roberts Adams summarizes one of my first thoughts on this. ‘Artists live by curiosity and enthusiasm, qualities readily evident as inspiration in dogs’ (Adams: 2005).

Andy Hughes, Belgrave St Ives, Girl With Dog, Camborne Show 2012
Girl With Dog, Camborne Show 2012

The above portrait depicts both a dog and human swathed in modern folded textiles and is at its heart both an observation and construction. The Madonna and child are pictorially represented here, but the dog gazes not at the viewer, nor at the owner but beyond the framing and out towards a blue sky…

Alaska Study Work
Just over a year ago, I received a letter from the Anchorage Museum in Alaska. Its contents included an invitation to join a very dedicated and renowned team of scientists and international artists in a journey along the Alaskan coast. Titled GYRE-X its remit hopes to change the way we view some of the most disturbingly profound cultural artefacts of our time, marine debris. It’s a collaborative approach involving the Anchorage Museum and Smithsonian. A unique project in which artists and scientists will make-work and consider this threat to life in our oceans today. It’s a groundbreaking approach to a problem that didn’t even exist 50 year ago.

Andy Hughes, Belgrave St Ives, R/V Norseman, Alsaka
R/V Norseman, Alsaka

And so this summer I will travel to Alaska and join the team on-board the R/V Norseman for what will be a truly amazing journey.

Join Belgrave Stives and me at #photostives 4-5pm GMT Sat 26th to extend, discuss and enquire about the work. Note, discussions can develop using the hashtag throughout the lifetime of the exhibition too.

Adams, R. (2005) Why People Photograph, Aperture: New York
Daniel-McElroy, S. (2007) ‘Andy Hughes’ in Art Now Cornwall Tate Gallery: London
Hughes, A. (2011) I, Jack Russell Booth Clibborn Editions: London
Short, C. (2006) ‘The Work’ in Hughes, A. Dominant Wave Theory Booth Clibborn Editions: London. p. 4-6.

All work is available to purchase through the gallery.

Setting the Stage for 2013

Today we are getting ready to hang our British Modern exhibition which will span the two galleries as well as our first solo photographic show in the back gallery. We’re also gearing up for discussions/feedback and we’re chatting live on twitter Sat 26th Jan 4-5pm so join us if you can on #photositves (you need a twitter account to take part and are best talking with us using tweetchat).

Email us if you’re new to it and need a bit of help. We will post a summary transcript of the chat.

W Barns-Graham: An Artist in St Ives – a note from the director

The life of an artist, dedicated to the pursuit of the intangible truth, and the means of its expression, is in many ways a lonely one. Choices have to be made regarding how one’s time and energy are spent and this is at a cost to normal human relationships, family and material needs.

I met Willie the first time the year before we opened the Belgrave Gallery in St Ives over 15 years ago. She was introduced to me by Sue and Sebastian Halliday, who were mutual acquaintances, at their Barnaloft flat and although I was familiar with her work (the gallery had purchased paintings by her as part of its Modern British Art Collection over the years) I was immediately impressed by her perceptive intelligence, keen interest and warmth as a person.

As I came to know Willie a little more over the following years I became aware, even at this relatively late stage of her career, of her fortitude, resilience and determination, qualities that had never faltered. But also, this apparently hard exterior masked a sensitive, sometimes vulnerable human being. She was ever supportive of my efforts with the gallery and generous through her empathy with personal matters.

A critique of the artist’s work is found elsewhere within this exhibition, so I’ll simply say I understand her work to be a rare combination of rigorous structure (constructed drawing) and personal expression (emotive handling of form and colour).

Although I came to know Willie only in the later period of her life I was pleased to witness her receive the various accolades she so rightly deserved for a lifetime’s dedication to art.

I hope this exhibition helps to mark in a small way the legacy of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham with our particular emphasis on the St Ives work in this centenary year of her birth.

Michael Gaca

Gallery Director

You can explore the exhibition via this photosynth view or via the website