Henrietta Dubrey: Introduction to our Launch Exhibition

3rd September 2020 by Octi in Blog

Artist Henrietta Dubrey introduces our launch exhibition in St. Ives

“Throughout my childhood regular trips to St Ives at Easter or during October became the highlight of my year. The tiny streets in St Ives, their fascinating names, Love Lane, Back Road West, The Digey, became a magical maze for me to explore and discover, in total safety, my independence in a small town. Long days were spent walking the coast path, and visiting Penzance, Newlyn and of course all the galleries and some notable pubs; The Sloop, The Tinners Arms, and The Gurnards Head. Sketch pad always in hand, I observed the rich colour of the rusty moorland bracken, amongst which monumental stones protruded interrupting the horizon, and alongside which rose tall majestic chimneys from the now redundant mining era. 

“This landscape, as well of course as the harbour with its fishing boats, piers, lighthouses, surfers and seagulls, was a fertile ground indeed for a young aspiring artist. I would follow my architect father around, sketching and observing the contrast to my normal experience. We used to stay in a top floor apartment in ‘Piazza’ overlooking the magical Porthmeor beach, the special light flooding in from north and south, with light reflected from the sand and sea surrounding St Ives, itself an island promontory. 

“Fascinating shops, galleries and characters, in particular Kathy at the Penwith Society of Artists, Henry Gilbert (Gilly) at Wills Lane Gallery, Bob Devereux at the Salt House Gallery, the Sloop Craft Market with its silver and knitwear, a New Year’s Day swim with Patrick Hughes and Molly Parkin, and the Porthmeor Studios where the latter shared a workspace, all stuck in my mind, and I would return to all these memories in my imagination once back at home with my sketchbooks. From this inspiration, I generated motifs which would appear again and again in my paintings all the way through my art school years in London, and henceforth during the five years I spent living in Northern France. In the end the pull of all this was so strong that it became inevitable that a move back to England had to be to Cornwall. 

“To be immersed into the area of west Penwith felt like a homecoming in an artistic sense. I felt at home with the artistic heritage which had recently been so vibrant, especially surrounding St Ives and along the north coast road in the direction of St Just where the influence of the landscape upon Peter Lanyon, Brian Wynter and Roger Hilton had been so prevalent. In 1999 when I moved to Cornwall Terry Frost and Sandra Blow were both still alive and working, the last great survivors of a truly golden era in British Art. Patrick Heron died just in that year. St Ives was the true birthplace of British modernism, a centre of excellence where Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth had drawn in the likes of Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko, thus inspiring the New York School which later led to Abstract Expressionism. 

“This sensation of the importance of the artistic heritage of St Ives has obviously become a common thread amongst many contemporary painters working in west Cornwall and further afield.

“In this respect, having decided to move to west Penwith in 2000, I began to feel my own connection with the place and a real possibility of genuinely being able to carry on the tradition of the middle-generation artists in my practice, using the knowledge and experience of being amongst the zeitgeist of their inspirations and methods of working.  

“In September 2018 I had a solo exhibition at Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Oxford entitled  ’Genius Loci : A painterly response by Henrietta Dubrey to works by Peter Lanyon’. This group of paintings were a specific response to the centenary of his birth. 

“‘Landfall (Icarus)’ was one of, I quote from my exhibition essay, “the five medium sized vertical paintings following suit, (from the other paintings in the exhibition with) bold shapes, meanderings through Lanyon’s language and the question arising in ‘Landfall (Icarus)’ as to whether I myself was flying too close to the sun? Had I bitten off more than I could chew in responding in a rather lighthearted and free-spirited way to Lanyon’s serious and much acclaimed portraits of Cornwall?”

“This painting has a Lanyonesque element of free gestural mark making. Land and sky seem to fuse together forming an almost birds eye view of sea and earth bonding together, a fusion of natural forces describing a wild untamed land. The central falling figure is most definitely female, and she is dissolving and disappearing into the rugged coastal landscape, fully immersed in the drama of the location. Pale blue brush strokes of thick oil paint describe the sea and the sky; the linear boulder shapes evoke the majestic granite hedges, lichen covered and ancient looking. The painting could be compared to Lanyon’s ‘Landfall, 1960’, in which a central pink form reads as a falling figure, rather like an Icarus perhaps.”

— Henrietta Dubrey, August 2020 

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