Avant-Garde refers to the new and unusual. It is defined by experimental ideas, specifically in the arts, and the Artists’ Colony or St Ives School, a group of artists living and working out of St Ives, would become essential names to the Avant-Garde art world.
The town of St Ives would go on to become a centre point for modern and abstract art developments from the 1940s to the 1960s. Beginning with the extension of the Great Western Railway to West Cornwall in 1877, many artists would start to settle in St Ives and develop their artwork and careers within the small seaside town. Names from Ben Nicholson to Bernard Leach would become principal figures and key artists associated with this group. The art scene would become crucial to the culture and environment that would eventually be identified with St Ives.
The start of the Second World War would spark artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth to move from London to St Ives along with the arrival of Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo. By 1945, St Ives was a hub for a whole new generation of artists. In the aftermath of the war, the artists would become essential to the community and bohemian vibes that would develop in St Ives. Although the group’s peak was considered to be in the 50s and 60s with the worldwide showing of their artwork, the opening of the Tate St Ives in 1993 would become the perfect place to exhibit the art of St Ives School and breathe new life into the art scene of St Ives.
Seeing art flourish in a seaside town off the coast of what is commonly thought of as a dreary, grey island, is far from the tale that is usually told. Avant-Garde art is rather thought to be found in the flashy scenes of a metropolitan city: underneath glaring lights, side alleyways, and surrounded by a constant buzz of something happening.
Highlighting artists from Peter Lanyon to Patrick Heron, St Ives The Art and the Artists underlines the impact of the St Ives School and emphasizes the importance of St Ives in the origins of the post-war art world. It also testifies beyond the beauty and surviving capability of art and emphasizes arts’ identity in being able to originate anywhere.
Additionally, with the release of Patrick Heron, a comprehensive guide to the life and work of a leading figure in abstract painting in the 1950s, and the Patrick Heron exhibit, currently being shown at Tate St Ives until the 30th of September, the talent and impactful work that came out of St Ives is only more prominent than ever.
Revolutionary art is not limited to ostentatious locations, or high-brow galleries, but is everywhere and all-encompassing. It can be found wherever you choose to look for it. Even in a seaside town in Cornwall, England.
St Ives: The art and the artists by Chris Stephens, is published by Pavilion in conjunction with Tate in September 2018, available exclusively from Tate St Ives during August.
Available here on September 27th, 2018
Patrick Heron, edited by Andrew Wilson and Sara Matson, is published by Pavilion in conjunction with Tate.