It’s a summer in St Ives for three UK galleries – which is to say each business is taking this season to promote the works of the 20th century British artists who lived and worked in the Cornish coastal town.
Modern British art is a popular collecting field (see the huge prices achieved for Barbara Hepworth, News this week) and notable names such as Terry Frost, Alan Davie and Victor Pasmore have established buyer bases.
So it was up to Calvin Hui, cofounder of 3812 Gallery in Hong Kong and London, to find a new entry point if he was going to showcase St Ives pieces, he says.
Enter his exhibition Looking East: St Ives Artists and Buddhism, which runs from July 13-September 3 in the St James’s gallery.
“In 2021 it was the 10th anniversary of our Hong Kong gallery and I announced that the new curatorial direction of the gallery is east meets west”, Hui told ATG. “Modern British art is already established for collectors in London but we discovered a new angle.”
A growing familiarity with St Ives artists since setting up the London branch in 2018 convinced him they were driven by both the natural world that surrounded them and their self-reflection.
The show examines the cross-cultural influences that were central to these artists, particularly in the post-war years. Many learned about and were directly influenced by Eastern schools of thought; in other cases, interest in simplicity of form and lifestyle that characterise Zen and principles of harmony and emancipation which are central to Buddhism appear unconsciously.
But, Hui says, these works have a “certain common spirit” with those of Eastern artists.
Among the works on offer are those by some of the St Ives big hitters: stoneware pottery by Hong Kong-born Bernard Leach (another connection the exhibition draws on), 1960s collages by Frost (recently the subject of a solo show at the Hong Kong space), an Alfred Wallis seascape and a sculpture by Peter Lanyon, shown with a selection of Asian pieces. Prices range from £10,000-400,000.
The popularity of St Ives school artists means that prices for some are prohibitive. Few private buyers can now afford major pieces by Hepworth or Ben Nicholson, and even moving down to the next tier means a serious financial commitment.
However, some lesser-known names offer the familiar St Ives charm – colour-drenched abstractions or flowing organic forms – at a more achievable price point.
Belgrave St Ives features one such artist, Jeffrey Harris (b.1932), this summer. Not included in a solo show in the UK since the 1960s, Harris is now the focus of a trio of shows that the gallery stages in St Ives and online, offering his paintings for £1750-4750 and etchings for £350-550. It comprises a collection of oils, reliefs and etchings and a series of abstract paintings recently rediscovered in his Australian studio.
Harris moved to St Ives in 1956 when its reputation as a centre for modern art was celebrated internationally. He was influenced by Pasmore and Harry Thubron and worked to create paintings that evoked early memories and landscapes. In the 1970s he moved to Australia, but revisited St Ives several times.
The initial show at The Crypt Gallery closed last week, but his work is still on display at Penwith Gallery and The Studio at Belgrave St Ives in Towednack until July 18.
Finally, in Edinburgh, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) stars in The Scottish Gallery’s Summer Exhibition until July 23. She is the subject of A Life in Colour, one of a series of ‘vignette solo exhibitions’ staged to mark the gallery’s 180th anniversary.
The much-loved artist first found fame in St Ives and later moved to her family home near St Andrews and started dividing her time between the two coastal communities. A Life in Colour, which spans 40 years of her career, features compositions that reflect the warmth of the sun. All feature the natural world represented in earthy colours – oranges, yellows and browns. Prices range from £4500-20,000.
Also taking place at The Scottish Gallery are shows on Contemporary artists such as John Brown and Kurt Jackson.