Friday, 3 December 2010

'The Art of Cornwall' on BBC4

Last night's 90 minute special on the Art of Cornwall was, as they say, a game of two halves. At first it seemed as though the main subject of the programme was its presenter, who we saw walking purposefully through the streets not only of St Ives but also of Cambridge, Paris and London. With each change of venue and outfit I yearned slightly for the days of Kenneth Clark, when presenters stood about in suits and spoke the Queen's English.

Anyway, around half-time things began to improve dramatically. We saw Barbara Hepworth, 'the witch of St Ives', chiselling one of her trademark holes out of a large stone - an activity she loved, according to fleeing husband Ben Nicholson, to the exclusion of all else. The work of Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron received an excellent treatment - thoughtful, lively and entertaining - and I will certainly be heading to St Ives once this Ice Age is over.

I was reminded of Paul Nash writing in the 1930s about the particular challenge of 'going Modern' and 'being British'. He found his own, eccentric way of meeting this challenge, culminating in the ferociously expressive paintings of Wittenham Clumps that he made in the last years of his life.

What last night's programme did so well was to put Heron and Lanyon's careers in this context. They were modern painters with a New York following, but they drew inspiration from their surroundings and - importantly - used their technical mastery to describe, interpret and celebrate those surroundings. Lanyon in particular succeeded in balancing a fascination and love for the local with a feeling for international art movements.

As for presenter James Fox, we can expect to see more of him...


  1. Anonymous26 July, 2011

    I saw the programme last night on BBC4. Very interesting but far to little of the art itself was shown- I agree, much to much of the presenter in shot!

  2. I disagree with the comments about the presenter. He seemed, to me , to put his narrative in context in a straightforward manner. There were lingering landscape shots which allowed for personal reflection by the viewer. The point about visiting locations, in for example Hampstead, made the point that this now ultra fashionable suburb was at one time a haven for radical thinkers. The research into the lives, thoughts and behaviour of the artists was superbly done. I thought that this programme provided a valuable discourse about the time, the place and the personalities involved. It was very refreshing and gave a master class in how to present an arts programme.

  3. Superb presenter
    Fabulous art
    Location to die for