3 Artists in a Boatshed
Until recent times this River, which both divides and joins Devon and Cornwall, was the lifeblood of the region, driving the local economy and shaping the communities that lived and worked along its banks.
It has generated wealth through agriculture, boatbuilding, fishing, market gardening and mining of all sorts. In Victorian times it was among the busiest waterways in the country, landing more ships and a greater tonnage of cargo than Liverpool and the River Mersey.
Arthur working on Sea Lavender: Arthur working on Sea LavenderAll that was swept away by the 1930s. Nature returned in force, covering up the remains of all that industry and the remnants of departed communities. Now it is a largely inaccessible and forgotten River, rich in wildlife and a ‘natural’ environment protected by regional, national, European and world designations. Those of us who live here today would be hard pressed to be able to see the wonders of the River Tamar or to recognise its illustrious past.
This exhibition is part of a wider initiative to discover a new human purpose for the River – one which is consistent with current economic and cultural conditions. By finding this purpose we can reclaim our remarkable heritage and build a sustainable future for the Tamar.
Nowadays the Tamar Valley has different economic drivers. Agriculture continues but in a different form: all commercial fishing has been stopped to conserve stocks: tourism is increasingly important and leisure, recreation and adult learning opportunities are being developed to meet the needs of an ageing population. Individual artisans, hospitality businesses, remote workers and hi-tech micro-businesses have replaced local industries.
In amongst this new economic activity, there is a quiet but marked development of the creative industries – film, crafts, fine arts, photography and new media. Artists of all kinds are gravitating towards the Tamar Valley, partly to benefit from a slower lifestyle and partly to draw on its inspirational River and landscape.
In the 8 years of its existence, Drawn to the Valley – a co-operative of professional and semi-professional local artists, has grown from 30 to 150 members. It is not unreasonable to suppose that in the near future the Tamar Valley will be characterised, along with its river heritage and its food production, by its artistic endeavour and the contribution it makes to our collective creative imagination.
For this exhibition each artist has been invited to produce 12 to 15 original works inspired by their personal response to the River in all its guises.
It includes the urban docksides of Plymouth, the convergence of 3 river estuaries, and the tidal meanders to the weir above Morwellham Quay. Each aspect of the river is represented here.
At the midpoint of the tidal reaches on the Devon bank stands Weir Quay Boatyard, a traditional yard with 100 moorings for cruising yachts and a modest but important employer of local people and marine trades.
The 3 artists were selected initially not for this exhibition but to provide the covers for the Boatyard’s annual Tide Tables. Ian Heard was the first to be commissioned for the 2007 Tide Tables because of his close family ties to the boating industry. Richard Allman, who has done so much to chronicle the changes to Plymouth over the last 20 years, provided the cover in 2008. For next year’s Tide Tables, Rita Smith has agreed to the cover commission. The originals of all 3 commissions can be seen in this exhibition and are the only 3 works marked NFS.
The work of good artists is always distinctive. It is axiomatic that their response to colour, shape and light makes images which are entirely individual. This is very clear when you look at the work of Ian and Richard and Rita.
Ian’s watercolours have a deceptively light touch and are highly illustrative and atmospheric. For Richard, line and draughtsmanship is paramount and the subject always seems to be in a state of transformation. Rita’s work is intense and detailed but gives rise to a sense of wonder and stillness.
Together these artists recreate the many moods of an eternal river which is never the same for 2 moments. Their images touch different aspects in ourselves and may give us pause to reflect and to feel differently. I hope so.