The sound of the stream gushing over tiny falls in its relentless rush down the valley to spew its contents into the sea, is the most arresting thing that hits your senses the moment you open the gate to the path that leads down to the small studio cottage, one of three that the artist, Lamorna Birch used when he lived in Lamorna. Wrapped in the surround-sound of flowing water, this cottage is in the most romantic setting imaginable.
“It is the one constant!” This is what my artist friend from Jersey days, David Henley who is renting the cottage for a few months, said when we arrived, referring to the constant background tone. With the exception of an occasional fox or a heron on one of his many fishing raids, not much else has punctured that ‘note’ which has been David’s constant companion during his short stay here.
That is, until D and I invited ourselves over for a couple of hours of river bank action, arriving like gypsies equipped with waders, fishing rods and sketchbooks, respectively. (These sketches show some of my results). We were even rewarded for our efforts with a delicious lunch of pasta and rich vegetable ragout that David kindly made for us, minus the tiddly brown trouts that D thoughtfully put back into the river for the heron.
It transpires that David’s mission to Cornwall: to find a new gallery that will represent him in the UK, has been a bit of a wake-up call. I explained that since leaving the relative security of Jersey, I have made major shifts of thinking not only about the ‘Art’ Business (with a capital ‘A’) in general but also how I go about my practice.
For instance, it is possible for an artist to survive in Jersey as a big fish in a little pond. An artist living and working in Cornwall is a mere minnow in a very big pool indeed. Cuts to arts funding has inevitable knock-on effects on the whole industry leaving galleries and artists alike across the country struggling to make ends meet. Jersey, to be fair, has also experienced its share of tough times – relatively speaking. Even previous sell-out exhibition artists are finding it harder to sell work these days.
Apart from pondering his good fortune about living in Jersey making ends meet by selling work and teaching, David’s time in the cottage has been spent playing music on his new Melodeon and developing a new set of paintings, first begun in Jersey and created in response to listening to folk music. Our discussion over lunch inevitably turned to the rigours of trying to survive as an artist in these economic down times, with David admitting that he is increasingly turning to the luxury of painting what really inspires him now that he no longer has to provide payment for school fees. For me, I have come to realise that I cannot pursue my creative endeavours unless I am in total isolation. We both agreed that we can all achieve our aims just as long as we keep plugging away, no mater where we live.
Looking at David’s new body of work, I see the now familiar hum of the river has filtered into his subconscious as all the paintings display a similar tonal quality: the background pitch of running water to his folk-music-inspired paintings. (If you want to see his latest paintings, visit his Facebook page).
It has been so nice to catch up with a familiar face from my Jersey days. It has helped me put my current situation into a more relevant context. Isn’t it curious how people turn up at such opportune moments in one’s life? Yes, you are right David, my guides are indeed looking after me!