Head to Head at Penzance Public Library Nov/Dec 2013
These works were made in the last ten years of John B Anderson’s life. To quote from the notes at the library, “The fine lines adopted from his abstract period remain as precise: less indeed can be more. The work is observational, some of it quite quirky including bad hair days and some serene moments……… John B Anderson pushed his figurative work as far as he could towards abstraction: he then returned to a figurative style with a more restrained and pared back approach resulting in these fine line works.”
The following images scarcely do these paintings justice taken hurriedly with my mobile. They are hung rather high and difficult to see at their best advantage. However, their geometric style and their delicate colours make them very appealing and remind me in particular of the work of Oskar Schlemmer (4 September 1888 – 13 April 1943) who was a Germanpainter, sculptor, designer and choreographer associated with the Bauhaus school. Some of the images displayed may indicate this similarity as well as with the Bauhaus theatre designer, Lothar Schreyer.
The days leading up to Christmas are associated in my memory with a series of various festivals and events from Guise Dancing to Fair Mo and then Christmas itself. This too was soon followed by the scarlet coated and spectacular grandeur of the Western Hunt during St Ives Feast. The Guise Dancing was ominous and noisy; it seemed to myself-perhaps a timid child, with masked figures, lanterns and loudly beating drums. It was still commonly performed until the mid fifties but seemed then to have died out with the corresponding popularity of television. However, by Fair Mo, a Church based fair situated in the Guildhall and taking place at the end of November it was by then always clear that the Christmas season would soon be upon us. It is described now on the History of St Ives website, as,”… a less rowdy tradition, celebrated just before Christmas. This ancient ‘pig fair’ reflects the long-standing custom of keeping pigs in virtually every Downlong yard. Today local ladies dress in traditional costumes and hold their fair, or market, in the Guildhall.”
Around Christmas Eve, or a day or two before, everyone in downlong had been serenaded by the agreeable euphony of perambulating choirs from the Primitive and the other MethodistChurches. These were accompanied by a clarinet or two and everyone emerged to the truly blissful sounds of Thomas Merritt’s Carols, before each the verses were briefly intoned and led by the choirmaster. “Hark the glad sound” resonated and reverberated against the cottages and along the cobbled streets with such utterly superb harmony that Christmas, together with its peaceful promise, seemed as imminent as the arrival of “the Saviour promised long.” The effect was utterly magical and glorious; recalling it again makes the hairs on my neck stand up on end. So that neighbours emerging from their doorways were thoroughly receptive to the “Tidings of great joy” that Gabriel brought “to you and all mankind.” After the melodic repetitions of Cornish and other carols people returned to their houses prepared by such benedictions to enjoy Christmas Day itself.
Most pubs and inns similarly resounded with affirmative renditions of the “Old Time Religion.” The Cock Robin choirs provided youngsters with the opportunity for mild horseplay- as evidenced the next day by seeing a punt or skiff hoisted on to the roof of the fisherman’s lodge. Few would have ventured as far afield as Mousehole, for either Tom Bowcock’s Eve or even Starry Gazey Pie. There was absolutely no rowdy celebration on New Year’s Eve but grand and elegant Scottish or Hogmanay dances, attended largely by the professional classes at such grand venues as the Portminster Hotel or Kenegie Manor in Gulval.
Preparations for Christmas in the home were concerned with food, presents and decorations. There was an early ecological arrangement whereby potato skins were placed in a special bin and collected each week by the ‘pig man’. The result at Christmas was that every house received a good sized pork joint. The turkey-some in the family might have had goose -was paid for on a card signed for, again on a weekly basis, at the butchers over the autumn months leading up to Christmas. Pickled onions were prepared over a longer period and stored with peppercorns and tiny red chillies on a shelf above the stairway on the ground floor. Military pickle and piccalilli were purchased to go with the tongue, pulled together with skilvin (quality string from the Fisherman’s Co-op) and pressed in a saucepan, with a weighted lid-usually a smoothing iron. Salt beef was also prepared with other cold meats for suppers over the Christmas period.
The house was extra warm from the heat generated from the kitchen and if it was windy in the wrong direction, especially before a cowl was fitted, smoke from the coal fire would fill the sitting room. The resulting “smeech” would deposit smoke particles of varying sizes spoiling some of the coloured paper decorations in the sitting room. After saffron stamens had been floated in a small bowl to extract the lovely liquid yellow concoction, bowls both of dough and cake mixture were placed by the fireside, covered by tea towels and left to rise. Cakes purchased especially at Christmas included batten burg, chocolate log and walnut. Macaroons, coconut pyramids were prepared on rice paper as well as congress tarts. The one cookery book –the one which probably came with the oven- were referred to on an annual basis. Reference was made to on one or other well thumbed pages.
The Christmas tree was always a holly tree and the large fairy light bulbs were checked and replacements inserted into and the holders, some of which were in small copper lanterns my father had made and into which rice paper was inserted to diffuse the light. Embroidery thread was cut into lengths and tied on to the baubles or shiny things. The extra demand meant that the electricity meter ‘went’ more frequently and had to be fed and wound with two shilling pieces that were of course known as florins. This process was often accompanied by the question, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?” There seemed to be much to do in those days leading up to Christmas Day and my father might describe how in the 1920s he and my uncle would mostly just have oranges, some wrapped in silver paper and walnuts and brazil nuts as the main fillers in their Christmas stockings.
After Christmas dinner, the turkey which was taken upstairs afterwards into the preservative cool of the so-called small bedroom, borne on the large appointed Victorian ornate and crazed platter. It was carved for suppers and other dinners over the next few days. Nobody could quite get through all the cakes or biscuits, so my father took it, as a snack, with his thermos flask of tea to the factory where he worked until about the middle of March. Apart from Sherry and usually Port – there might be a bottle of each- there was little in the way of drink until white wine, in the form of Blue Nun became a favourite with my mother in the seventies. On reflection much of the fun in the celebration of Christmas was probably also a recovery from the tough period during the war when my parents had travelled around air stations. From Filton in Bristol, where they both worked and had been bombed, they journeyed to Hull and Girvan in Scotland and other places. Housing shortages, especially in Cornwall had to be endured and the severe economic pressures of the Cripps austerity period had also just ended.
“In 1960 Ida Kar (1908-74) became the first photographer to have a retrospective exhibition at a major London art gallery. Her portraits offer a fascinating insight into post-war cultural life and her subjects included some of the most celebrated figures from the art world of 1950s and 1960s Europe and Russia. A number of the artists Kar photographed also included artists from the St Ives School.” as it says at http://www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/.
I saw this exhibition on Saturday and was truly moved at this small but fascinating exhibition and the sculptures that came with it which included Hepworth and Epstein. Lovely picture of Ida with Victor Musgrave with whom she lived in the 1940s in Cairo. Delightfully bohemian, her work is taken from the studios and ateliers of Paris and London. Even more exciting I found her photographs of St Ives in the 1950s. Her Braque portrait captures the essence of the artist-his eye sockets look as though they were a Picasso portrait brought to life. The portraits of Leach, Denis Mitchell whose reputation is still growing and Hepworth forming an armature from wire for a sculpture are all lively and moving. The original exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is reviewed at http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/mar/13/ida-kar-bohemian-photographer-review. There is a great review of her photographs at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11998337. Should you get to Truro Museum at the moment there is an intriguing collection, A Century of St Ives Art 1840-1940.
Having just returned from the International Art Fair http://www.20-21intartfair.com/ in Kensington Gore, where I was particularly taken, indeed entranced by the Artists of Russia stand, it was great to see the quality exhibition of Nancy Pickard’s work together with that of Simon Turner at the Cornwall Contemporary here in Penzance. The Art Fair in London was great fun where I not only saw for the first time work of the German Expressionist, Käthe Kollwitz (July 8, 1867 – April 22, 1945) but also discovered the lovely paintings of Olga Oreshnikov. (http://www.artistsofrussia.com/olga-oreshnikov)
As Julian Ravest has written, “In 1990, Olga immigrated to Israel. She works in oil, tempera, watercolour, and gouache in a unique style. Her paintings are humorous, symbolic, and yet serious in content, meticulously executed and with a fresh and dreamlike quality. Her assured drawing, elaborate composition and rich use of colour are in the tradition of European painting. Her images and landscapes seem to be from a different timeless world, telling stories that are tender, dreamy, overpowering and seductive.” I was particularly taken by a work, an acrylic, called “Whispered Aside” which has a theatrical and magical quality about it. The expression on the face of the aging sailor and the slightly astonished young actress transported me to some imaginary dramatic venue in St Petersburg. The quality of execution in this painting too was quite extraordinary and delightful.
In “Garden Light”, Orishnikov has depicted an ingenue, endearingly innocent amongst a cavern of leaves, peering into the distance under her straw bonnet and surrounded by blossoming mauve flowerheads. She clasps her hands in a gesture that reinforces her distance as an observer and suggests her naivety. Tragicomedy, flora and contemplation combine in her work to embody an elegant exuberance. This is repeated in “Country Girl” where the girl cherishes a crimson sweet pea and beholds the blossom on the spindling stem.
Arriving this sunny morning at Sarah Brittain’s delightful gallery in Parade Street Penzance, my attention was drawn to Simon Turner’s bearded “Landlady” painted on found panel. Many of these pictures seem to have a Victorian or Edwardian quality, perhaps a little reminiscent of Monty Python. These reminded me a little of Adam Birtwistle’s portraits which I had recently seen displayed at King’s Place, http://whosjack.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/adam.png especially in relation to the horizontal structuring of the composition. Simon’s surreal playfulness shown in several zany mosaics are a nostalgic investigation into time, dream and reminiscence. I particularly liked “Man sending an e-mail”.
The exuberant compositions of Nancy Pickard, however, made the visit. Nancy, who has been in Cornwall for over ten years now is clearly influenced by the landscape and the sea. It is the blue luminescence of her inspiring canvases that drew my attention. It is the domestic peace of these compositions which attract the eye, which is echoed in her ceramics. Her delightful work may be viewed at http://www.nancypickard.co.uk/gallery.html
Ben Batten and Mary Quick have both referred to various home remedies used when calling the doctor might have been expensive. For many purposes a kaolin poultice was a frequent resort, as was various sorts of herbal tea or for sore throats honey and lemon was a simple palliative. Looking through copies of The Cornishman from the late 1920s an impressive number of remedies were advertised as being on offer:-
1) Women who are tired out
-How to regain lost vitality for women who feel tired out, nervy and overwrought, and suffers from headaches and backaches.
Try Dr Williams’ pink pills –of all chemists 3/- a box
2) Clarke’s Blood Mixture
“Just as good for abscesses, ulcers, bad legs, inflamed wounds, swollen glands, haemorrhoids, also rheumatism and gout- all of which are signs of blood impurities.
3) Swan’s Oxygen Therapy, Alperton, Penzance
Inhalation therapy for asthma, tuberculosis and pneumonia
Each copy of the newspaper would carry around five of such adverts, some large but few efficacious.
Had medical science a great deal to offer? As the CountyMOH report of 1933 shows the Women’s Hospital in Redruth was busy-some due to unsanitary home conditions- and some areas of the county, like Sennen, had no midwife coverage of any kind. Puerperal fever as it was termed had not been eradicated although the work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Boston Physician with literary leanings, as far back as 1843 had shown the risk of physicians carrying infections from one infected patient to others. Whilst this was recognised, effective treatment for the condition depended upon the development of antibiotics. It was only in 1936 that Colebrook’s research was reported in the Lancet about the effectiveness of sulfa drug on a condition that was more lethal than pneumonia. They also worked on meningococcal meningitis so that the death rates for such conditions started to fall after 1940.
Eric Kemp mentions in ‘We want to speak of Schooldays’, that because his mother lost a sister, who died soon after she was born in St Ives, he comments, “…they decided that when I came along, they’d go up to London, and be born in a proper hospital.”
At the end of May I had the opportunity to meet Maggie at her lovely granite cottage just off the coast road from Land’s End to St Just where I interviewed her about her development as a painter and printmaker. She has recently bought herself a new etching press which was on the table where we sat and had coffee around the sturdy wooden table. Her next exhibition will commence at the Cornwall Contemporary (http://www.cornwallcontemporary.com/ ) on the 17th August and runs to the 10th September.
Maggie grew up in Brynmawr in Gwent, South Wales and first came to Cornwalljust after leaving Exeter College of Art and Design. (Further details may be found at http://www.maggiematthews.co.uk/). Graham Sutherland was an early interest, particularly his use of colour. Having already been inspired by the landscape of South Wales with its magnificent mountain scenery, she was further impressed by the fabulous light of Penwith. Her family had strong naval connections, her grandfather had in fact been bombed out of Devonport, and the sea itself was an additional attraction for which she felt a strong, familiar affinity. Her palette changed completely and she became deeply interested in the St Ives painters. She was now to paint in bright and vivid colours which she soon came to use and to love.
Porthcawl andBarryIsland, nearCardiff, during the Miners fortnight holiday had already started a love of the beach and its natural history.ComprehensiveSchoolhad encouraged her interest in art, ceramics and sculpture but in addition Maggie enjoyed biology and maths, interests which were to prove an inspiration as her work has developed.
The facilities at Exeter, near the river inspired her interests in printmaking and ceramics. The geological society had an outward-bound bus and so there at weekends came down to Cornwalland whilst other students examined the rocks in CotValleyand other places, Maggie would be enthusiastically sketching. The sea, the mining and the Celtic connections were an additional attraction. After a period working on the manufacture of air and oil filters in industry in South Wales, Maggie arrived at Penzancejob centre whilst on a two-week holiday. She got a post working on the Jetsetter computer graphics project drawing paired-down sketches of simple objects like wine glasses and pencils.
Maggie continued to sketch the landscape intensively at weekends. She also went on Friday nights in St Just with Mary Stork to draw life studies, which she found a useful exercise and with Mary’s support she exhibited her work for the very first time.
Her first solo show was in Brown’s Restaurant which Maggie then proceeded to show at for another two more years and then had a further displays at Avalon in Marazion. Her very abstract colourist compositions at this point were very much influenced by her attraction to Patrick Heron’s work. In particular Maggie likes his later garden works and the space and depth created in these compositions. Paul Nash, Samuel Palmer, William Blake and Sutherland remain her favourite works for their pastoral, lyrical qualities. She remains interested in printing, ceramics and expresses an interest too in sculpture.
This issue contains a wide variety of contributions from over sixty poets from Scotland(which also provides the lichen encrusted wheel arch cover image from Callander) to Germany, from Wales to Spain. Naturally the emphasis are on Cornish poems and it is the landscape of Kernow which provides the inspiration for many of these verses in dialect and Kenewek with a translation and interpretation section carefully chosen by Grand Bard, Mick Paynter. It is good to see the enthusiasm for good poetry in the Duchy from such various sources as French, Scots Gaelic and even the Romany language of Gurbet. This is a collection which is not afraid to approach the edge, like Sam Harcombe, who at Warren Cliffapproached, ignoring stakes and danger signals:-
Hoping to catch sight of seal,
I wanted to look closer at the inlet far below, but
riddled with rabbit holes and
cracks it was obviously dangerous.
I went a few steps past the stakes
And still saw not enough
Bernard Jackson prefers the sylvan safety of the Sunlit Leaves as the sun sinks and he wanders entranced by the magic of a slow watered stream:-
Eternal is the flame that ne’er consumes,
Yet blazons leaves, nor shall one instant fade.
From woodland reign that readily assumes
This seasoned garb, immortally arrayed.
In traceries where sunlight shines between,
God’s glory is a miracle of green.
Besides such nature poems form Perranuthnoe to Predannack, there are some moving poems inspired by the cheerful and encouraging words from the nursing staff on Geevor Ward which as Donald Rawe puts it “Restore humanity to the clinical desolation”. There are sad, human reflections on Casualty and Geriatric Wards. There are too the lifting memories of repairing with his father My Pink Bicycle by Graham Rippon:-
“Paint it any colour you like”
But the only colour we had was Pink
This little collection is a gem and a tribute to the current interest in poetry in our Duchy.