Virginia Woolf – To the LIghthouse

Divine, is the only way to describe my total absorption into the world of Virginia Woolf recently.

Not only was I privileged to explore the recently opened Virginia Woolf inspired exhibition at the Tate St Ives on a personalised tour with director Anne Barlow. But I also spent a whole day at Porthmeor Studios with two renowned Virginia Woolf experts.

The intriguing new Woolf exhibition, housed in the new extension is inspired by her writing. It offers a narrative with a feminist perspective on landscape, domesticity and identity through modern and contemporary artwork. The exhibition includes some outstanding work by  Laura KnightGwen JohnVanessa BellWinifred NicholsonSandra BlowBarbara HepworthClaude Cahun and Dora Carrington.

Inspired by the premise of the exhibition I then joined a small group of twenty on a windy but bright study day, in St Ives. Sarah Phillips and Claire Nicholson, our Masters on Woolf for the day, bestowed on us a deeper insight into the Virginia life. Focussing particularly on her St Ives inspired novel To the Lighthouse, one of my particular favourites, the study day further opened my eyes to the influence of her childhood in Cornwall on her writing.  Symbolically the rare glorious sunshine illuminated the stunning seascape beyond the studio window’s, making it easy to understand how Woolf had been so taken with the landscape that surrounded her during her early years.

Claire Nicholson, is a specialist in Modernism, the history of women’s writing and Virginia Woolf who frequently lectures in Cambridge.  Sarah Phillips, who has made a career of studying the Bloomsbury art and literature has more recently focused her attention on Woolf as a Cubist Writer. Both knowledgeable speakers on all things Woolf, they are naturally also Executive members of the Virginia Woolf Society.

Unfortunately, I shall miss the Virginia Woolf: Art and Ideas conference, scheduled at the Tate St Ives on the weekend of the 2-4 March. Delivered by a huge collection of highly respected speakers and focusing on Landscape & Place, Performing Identity, Still Life, the Home & The Private Self, the conference will no doubt offer further in-depth insight into Woolf’s personal life and writing.

Colourful springtime destinations

With public gardens bursting into colour and the temperatures rising, it’s hard not to be seduced by some of the most famous springtime destinations. The cherry blossoms of Japan, tulip fields of Holland and wildflowers of the Channel Islands, are just some of the options which offer a colourful feast for the senses.

The springtime phenomenon in Japan

The cherry trees start to burst into blossom as early as January in Okinawa. This is the start of a tide of bloom which travels the length Japan over a three month period. From mid-march and into April, the cherry and plum trees have hit the middle of Japan, covering the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park in a gentle wash of pink tones. The spectacle doesn’t stop there. It carries on northward through the remaining countryside, finally reaching Hokkaido in May.

Japan’s oldest and possibly most famous cherry blossom attraction is Ueno Park, Tokyo. With over a thousand cherry trees, this public space is a blossoming spectacle and a deeply symbolic reminder of new beginnings as the gloom of winter disappears. These beautiful blooms also mark the arrival of both the Japanese financial and academic year,  on April 1st.

European splendour

More popular and probably the most well-known spring flower sensation in Europe are the iconic flower fields of Holland. At their most amazing between March and May the spectacular Keukenhof Gardens, provide an overpowering sense of splendour when all seven million tulips are in bloom. So popular is the spring bulb phenomenon that a dedicated cycle track offers a twenty-mile tour of Holland’s bulb-growing region, which stretches from Haarlem to Leiden. If daffodils are your bulb of choice, then March/April is the best time of year to view Hollands fields of cadmium.  With the vibrant hues of the tulip fields reaching their peak in May.

The wild Channel Islands

Closer to home it is in late April that the celebrations begin for the Wildflower Fortnight in the Channel Islands.  As the sun begins to rise higher in the sky and begins to penetrate the frostbitten fields with heat, a blanket of flowers bursts into life. With over thirty miles of unspoiled coastline, the smallest of the island, Sark, allows the best-uninterrupted cliff views of an abundance of species.

Alessio Antoniolli – Porthmeor Studios


Once again I was lucky enough to be invited to Porthmeor Studios for another of the ‘Lunch Break Talk’ series. Alessio Antoniolli was to be our speaker for this session, which was hosted by the Artists Residency Programme in partnership with Cultivator Cornwall.

This was my second visit to St Ives since the new year.  It was also my second chance to mingle amongst the resident artists while I spooned delicious homemade soup from a mug and chomped on chunks of tasty bread.

Alessio’s a passionate, fluent and enlightening talk, dissolved all fears I had of falling into a post-lunch slumber. A naturally gifted speaker Alessio focussed his engaging talk on the unique opportunities offered to artists by  Gasworks and the Triangle Network.

At Gasworks, Alessio leads a programme of research and development.  This non-profit contemporary visual art organisation offers rare fully funded residency opportunities. Gasworks encourages artists to develop new ideas through educational projects, events and workshops. It also organises exhibitions to accompany these programmes. And encourages audiences to engage directly with the often groundbreaking, emerging UK and international artists it hosts. A priceless opportunity, particularly for artists with a small reach.

At its South London HQ, the easy-going, relaxed environment helps to inspire minds and develop talent. Gasworks is also the hub for the Triangle Network. Now a global support system for artists and visual arts organisations, with over four thousand members. The Network supports artistic development and promotes cultural exchange. Through exhibitions,  events, workshops and studio residencies in over forty countries, the Network creates opportunities to bring a variety of artists together in neutral spaces.

Both the Gasworks and Triangle Network have gone from strength to strength under Alessio’s guidance in the last twenty years. Together they offer exceptional opportunities for artists from all corners of the world to research ideas and develop work.

During his talk at Porthmeor, Alessio also hinted at the possibility of residency exchanges, which prompted some interesting enquiries during the Q&A session which followed on at the end.

Manon de Boer – screening and Q&A


Another chance to catch up on some cubist inspired filmmaking from Manon de Boer. With a Q&A hosted by ex Falmouth School of Art student, Laura Smith on her last day as the curator with Tate St Ives.

Manon’s career began as a sculptor and photographer and transcended into filmmaker while capturing her friends on super-8 film. She has since filmed on 35mm for Presto and 16mm, popular for low-budget motion pictures, for film Dissonant.  Her best-known films include a series of portraits, in which the film medium itself is continuously interrogated.

Her work is appreciated internationally and has been featured at the Venice Biennale (2007), Berlin Biennale (2008), Sao Paulo Bienal (2010) and Documenta 13 (2012). Her work is has also been screened at film festivals in Hong Kong, Marseille, Rotterdam and Vienna.

Two films were shown at the Falmouth School of Art screening: Dissonant, which records every movement of dancer Cynthia Loemij and Presto, Perfect Sound, which focuses on composer and violinist, George Van Dam, as he performs the Béla Bartok’s sonata.

Both films was intense and concentrated on the sound rather than the image. This is particularly evident in Dissonant, when the screen turns black during the one minute that is needed to change the 16mm film roll.

Presto, wass a perfect reflection of creative concentration, enhanced by the editing as the film captures the best of his six performances. The fractured image serves to intensify the sound.

She is now developing a new piece of work which will be launched in Cornwall on May 5th this year for the Groundwork programme.

Visual FX – Ben Toogood

FRIDAY 9 February 2018

I graduated from my first course Falmouth School of Art nearly thirty years ago. It was a unique course which evolved during its four-year duration. The course introduced us to a wide variety of media for conveying information including video & animation. Consequently, quite a few of the GID’s, as we are collectively known, pursued a career either in CGI or character animation. A few, including my nearest and dearest, went on to perfect their skills at Bournemouth and subsequently rubbed shoulders with the Aardman team. So when I heard  Ben Toogood was to give a lecture on Visual FX, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to slip into the magnificently lit Chapel lecture theatre to listen.

Ben’s career so far has also given him the opportunity to work with Weta and MPC. As a result, his work can be seen in some amazing films including Superman Returns; King Kong; Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and a couple of  Harry Potter films

Now Head of 3D for the Aardman Animations CGI department, his current work is varied. Which he elaborated upon in his lecture. Budget, safety, quality and just achieving the impossible are at the root of much of Aardman’s current FX work. The CGI department’s specialism is lighting/rendering processes and technologies for TV dramas, commercials and films. A bulk of their work also involves creating environments, crowds and even digital doubles.

Ben’s informative and well-structured lecture delivered some constructive advice on how FX is used throughout the industry. It also introduced the current batch of animation students to the possibilities of work outside the realm of character driven animation. Food for thought for any inspiring animators.

Bed bugs on planes – is there a way to avoid them?

With the latest reports of bed bug infestation on planes, the question is raised – how clean are the seats we sit on?

Complaints from travellers have risen in the last few years, with both bites and sightings being reported to the major airlines.  Planes have been grounded and investigations launched, prompting some flight operators to clean up their act and exterminate the problem. However, the consequence of taking a plane out of circulation costs money, so the clean up has not been widely implemented.

It’s not an easy fix either. The problem doesn’t rest solely in the seat material or carpets. These nasty little nibblers are prolific international travellers and can hitch a ride on any luggage. Once stored safely in overhead lockers they have access to the entire plane. It’s not just luggage either. Attracted to body odour and sweat, dirty clothing is a perfect hideout of these minute creepy crawlies.

Renowned for causing a skin rash in a line or zig-zag pattern. Bed bug bites are commonly found on the hands, neck, face, shoulders, legs and arms. Thankfully no disease is transmitted by their bite. However, unfortunately for some, they can cause extremely inflamed, itchy, red or blistered spots.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Travelers especially worried about bed bugs in any environment can invest in a plastic cover like the Bug Off Seat Cover.  On planes, it is also advisable to take your own blanket and pillow to use and stay eagle-eyed. Once on board, examine your sea. Make sure there is no evidence of dark stains or mobile bugs.

After one of the most recent reports, British Airways were quoted, ‘we are vigilant and continually monitor our aircraft’. Despite this, the company isn’t named in the Top 20 of the ‘Cleanest Aircraft Cabins’. Available online this resource lets you check before you book. Among the long-haul operators featured in the Top 10 are; Cathay PacificQatar Airways; Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.

How serious is the problem?

For many, the evidence of infestation won’t be apparent until they reach their destination. Then it is a matter of conscience as to whether the incident is reported. However, planes are not the only potential source. Cinema seats, rental car seats, buses, trains, hotels etc., can also be infested.

Lisa Milroy – Still Life

Monday 5 February 2018

So far the weekly evening lectures at Falmouth School of Art have focussed on some interesting artists whose work is new to me. Lisa Milroy was the latest candidate to take the stage and fill in the gaps in my comprehension of modern art.

A practitioner of still life in the 1980s, her work doesn’t focus on the normal bowl of fruit, flowers, wine glasses or skulls seen in many Renaissance still life pieces.  Instead, her paintings feature ordinary objects such as shoes, lemons or doughnuts. Her stylistic renderings reflect her contemplation of duality, composition & placement, surface & object, presence & absence. Her shoes reflect on the concept of being part of a pair or being an individual.

Lisa enlightened the audience with her thought processes behind her paintings, explaining that the shoes are a device for expressing emotion. That the repetition of painting them gave her a sense of knowing, that she had truly experienced the object. She also confessed to a certain amount of loss when the artwork was complete and their study had ended. She likened this to an appetite, a need, a hunger to know the objects every detail and appreciate its every possibility.

Lisa Milroy was born in Vancouver but works mainly in London. She won First Prize in the John Moores Painting Prize in 1989and was an Artist Trustee of the Tate from 2013 -17. Her work is exhibited widely on the international and national stage and is held in many public and private collections.

France-Lise-McGurn – on Virginia Woolf

Wednesday 31 January 2018

Another interesting evening lecture at Woodlane by ex-student Laura Smith and renowned artist France-Lise McGurn. Together they offered an interesting insight into the latest Virginia Woolf inspired exhibition on the verge of opening at the Tate St Ives.

The exhibition which is curated by Smith, explores feminist perspectives on landscape and domesticity. It includes contemporary artwork from over 80 artists, including Laura Knight, Winifred Nicholson and  Barbara Hepworth and runs until late April in Cornwall. In May it travels to Pallant House, Chichester and then on to The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge in October.

McGurn’s second piece at the Tate was a result of her recent residency and is on semi-permanent show in the stairwell of the newly reopened gallery. This site-specific wall painting called Collapsing New People,  spans the height of the building and features full-length figures, which are rare in McGurn’s work. Her domestic mural focusses on the function of gossip, anecdotes and the stories that circulate in an artists’ colony. Designed to be read vertically, the mural uses both spontaneous lines and repeated gestures to create loose associations about place, history and storytelling. McGurn is well known for her figurative paintings and often works directly onto walls and floors, so it was no surprise to learn that she also has an interest in the history of mural painting.

I will be visiting the exhibition towards the end of the month, so hope to enlighten you all more in a future blog.


Cypher Exhibition – Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

Like buses, private views seem to come all at the same time in Cornwall, so, unfortunately, I missed the opening night of the Cypher Exhibition. However, undeterred by yet another dull Sunday we ambled over to Mounts Bay to be greeted by some rare winter sunshine and bold colourful works of art.

Assembled from the work of the 2017 students on the year-long Professional Practice Course at the Newlyn School of Art, the ground floor exhibition at the Tremenheere Gallery showcases their finished artworks. Some take the form of installation art, others are drawings, paintings, photography and collaborative works.  However, the real treat can be found upstairs, where you are invited to flick through piles of sketchbooks and portfolios to admire all the contributory study which has produced such a variety of work.

An average of fifteen participants joins the Professional Practice mentoring course which runs twice a year. The unique programme aims to encourage artists to achieve a stronger sense of their own artistic voice and energise their artistic practice.

Tutored by some renowned artists within  Newlyn School of Art, students rub shoulders with professional artists who share their working practices and passion for art. Course Leaders Jesse Leroy Smith and Gareth Edwards, are amongst the staff who provide a high level of tutoring time to the students, which is reflected in their body of work.

The exhibition on runs until the 4th Feb, so catch it while you can if you are anywhere near the Penzance area.


Andrew Lanyon – Nature’s Laboratory: A Fantasy

Once again Falmouth Art Gallery has played host to an engaging exhibition which asks you to question and open your minds.

Nature’s Laboratory: A Fantasy, which will run until mid-March 2018 offers the visitor the chance to ‘immerse ourselves in the tale of Nature’.  Andrew Lanyon’s own work features in this thought-provoking exhibition along with a collective of Cornish artists.

I was lucky enough to attend a short talk by Andrew as the exhibition was being hung in the next gallery. He enlighted us in the processes which help him invent. The use of senses to invent a narrative, in particular, sounds to inspire lyrics.

Andrew Lanyon studied at the London School of Film Technique and spent several years as a freelance photographer. He ventured into book production to accompany his touring exhibitions, The Rooks of Trelawne and The Vanishing Cabinet.  

Andrew has also written highly acclaimed books on his father the painter Peter Lanyon, Alfred Wallis and other painters, sculptors, writers and poets.