Imagine, six days at the edge of the land with permission to immerse yourself completely in art. No phone, no internet, just the vast Atlantic ocean outside your window.
This is the promise that comes with a residency at Brisons Veor, a studio set up to enable professional artists to spend a focused period of time developing their work. Its purpose is to provide accommodation and work-space to selected practitioners in need of assistance and who are making a significant contribution in the creative arts sector. Located on the westernmost edge of Cornwall (Cape Cornwall), Brisons Veor provides a dedicated live-work space for self-funded residencies of between one to four weeks.
In mid-April I travelled to Brisons Veor for a week with Leila Godden.
Spring has finally arrived with 2 days of clear blue skies and sunshine as we set off early for Cornwall on Friday 20th April 2018. A scheduled stop at Messams in Wiltshire sets the bar high for this trip, awesome artwork and sculpture in a beautiful setting complemented by lunch, an artwork in its own right: duck salad topped off with fresh twirling peashoots.
The journey is slow and steady with frequent jams on the A303 but the sun is shining and the views expansive. We're staying overnight just outside Hayle with a day planned in St Ives before our time at Brisons Veor begins. A thick cloudbank is spotted to our right and soon the skies are grey with seafret, the temperature dropping by 15° as the sun disappears. Warm land and cold seas at this time of year can cause coastal mists and there is a worry this will be our weather for the week but Saturday dawns with clear blue skies again and St Ives twinkles in the sunshine. An early start to beat the crowds and a glorious day of Hepworth and Tate and the plethora of Galleries that remind you why Cornwall has drawn so many artists over the years. The light and shadows encouraging the sketchbook out of its bag
The views are hidden as you approach Brisons Veor down the narrow winding Cape Cornwall road from St Just. Typical high hedges atop Cornish dry stone walls enclose you, likely full of wildlife and waiting to be explored. And suddenly the Brisons are ahead, dark craggy rocks amid the gentle waters, the sunlight glistening and sparkling. It's hard to know what to do first. A childlike need to explore the rock pools but the coastal path inviting you around the headland and up to the coastguard lookout, thrift flowers just emerging around you with other as yet unidentified wild flowers rippling in a warm gentle breeze, huddled in cracks and crevices. The light is perfect, afternoon shadows highlighting the rock markings. Endless photographs, endless watching until the need to sketch takes over. A fear that this beautiful weather won't last and everything must be instantly captured.
It's hard to stay inside, heading back out after dinner is rewarded with a complete change in light as an orange/red orb settles though a mottled layer of soft pastel pinks and yellows, casting an apricot glow. The tide is further in now, large waves rolling and pounding the rocks, the plunge pool submerged.
After dark, the constant noise of the sea could as easily be wind rustling the trees.
Sunday brings cloudy skies and a light breeze. The opposite cliff invites exploration. A small bird of prey zigzags round me and continues to swoop low along the path. The slugs are jet black.
I'm slightly disappointed to find a car park at the top with several camper vans enjoying the early morning view, but excited to find a bronze age burial mound. From here you can see the Coastal Path to Sennen Cove. A walk for another day, 5 miles up and down the craggy outcrops. Today's gentle walk takes me back to St Just, perhaps a mile, 20 minutes if you don't count the endless stopping to watch, draw and photograph.
The top road is open, edged with gorse, brambles and seed heads of the unknown umbellifer. Gradually you become tucked below the dry stone walls topped with gorse, wildflowers and grass. It's quieter and gentler in this haven, the occasional insect, bird calls yet to be identified. On the return a wren keeps me company, trilling away, sometimes behind and then in front. A flash of brown, more song and then finally revealed in silhouette perched on a gorse branch looking out across the fields calling to its potential mate, a quiet echo in reply.
I realise how much I don't know or don't remember about such nature walks. Are male and female wrens similar to look at? What is the bird that calls "peep pip" and has such a distinctive flight: mad flapping followed by a long deep swoop before flapping again. There are nature books back in the cottage, perhaps I will find time. The gorse is a mini treescape on top of the wall and I begin to find the promised lichen. I will ponder for a while but for now the craggy rock formations beckon.
The afternoon brings sunshine again, creating shadows where the cracks and crevices meet. Concentrating so hard on the rocks I almost missed the seal playing in the foam.
Later I walk among the rock pools in Priest Cove. Sit quietly and observe, gradually the world reveals itself: sea anemones, crayfish, seaweed and darting fish, a strange vibrant blob of orange, whelks and other shells slowly moving across the rocks.
I haven't mentioned the white bell flowers, but then they are everywhere. Not listed in the little wild flower book but I find the umbellifer is probably wild angelica. The bell flowers resemble white bluebells but their stems are distinctively triangular and I remember they are considered particularly invasive and not to bring them home! I shall have to look them up on the internet next time there is connection. (Allium triquetrum : three cornered leek.)
I have a hankering for a long walk and Sennen Cove seems just the ticket, 5 miles, approximately 3.5 hours, and the weather looks good today. It's up and down, along gentle paths and then slight scrambles over the craggy tops. Breathtaking views and each cove wild and raw as the tide is high. Plenty of flowers but a dearth of insects until we reach the sand dunes of Sennen.
We pass an area where we are requested not to stop as the rare choughs are nesting and need to be left alone if they are to stay. Distinguished from the rest of the crow family by their red beaks and legs, I imagine they love these windy outcrops with their acrobatic flight. Sadly we have yet to spot one, seeing only jackdaws so far.
Five miles is quite far enough with the constant roar of the sea and battering breeze. Although quieter amongst the dunes, making headway in deep sand is hard work and the water's edge was still quite soft going. I was glad to reach the restaurant where we could watch the brave early surfers and then a taxi back to the quiet lanes below St Just.
Tuesday bought rain, a much needed day in the studio and the need to closely examine and draw the Lichen. A joy to have time for such concentration again. We felt alone in the world as the views disappeared and even the Brisons no longer kept us company for a while. Amazingly, despite the dismal day, the weather cleared for our 3rd fantastic sunset just around the point.
I must collect some dried spiky bits of gorse before I go home - not enough time to try everything.
Wednesday started with a trip to St Just (to see the Kurt Jackson Foundation, sadly closed this week). The morning light through the lanes created floral silhouettes on top of the walls, with perfect moody skies behind. Tangled thorns, mini trees and little dots on sticks. I couldn't wait to get back to recreate these in graphite. Having read "in grandmother's footsteps" created and donated to the trust by Katherine Holmes, I wondered how graphite would react if applied dry with a pallet knife.
The diary ended as I immersed myself in playing with the graphite, initially responding to the rock structures and then succumbing to the cornish hedges, dry stone walls topped with gorse and wild flowers.
"What a wonderful place, so clean and organized, so comfortable.
I'm not a natural coastal flower but I enjoyed the rawness and rhythm of the day, working with a view across the cove and surplus light to be able to draw, the waves sounding like a wind through the trees at home. Concentrating so hard on the rocks I nearly missed the bobbing seal. Heavenly to escape to the relative quiet of the lanes, insects and birds, a wren keeping me company on the daily walk to St Just, trilling away, sometimes behind and then in front. A flash of brown, more song and then finally revealed in silhouette perched on a gorse branch looking out across the fields calling to its potential mate, a quiet echo in reply. The sparrows squabbling in the hedges and something new swooping and peep peeping above the Golf Course.
One week is too short, I was just beginning to find a natural rhythm to my days and there is so much more I would like to see and do. I hope to come back one day.
It took me a while to settle, conscious of the time disappearing while I absorbed my surroundings and I found I needed to apply a number of strategies to calm me down: a daily walk in a different direction, time for a sketchbook and diary, a detailed drawing in my comfort zone. Then inspiration in Katherine Holmes book “In Grandmothers Footsteps”, a walk through the lanes and the work began to roll off the page. Great to be able to focus completely without distraction of phones and internet and simply play with the graphite, working fast and loose in a new way. A small body of work completed and continuing to inform my practice."
Any regrets? I failed to venture out after dark, the curtains closed or windows reflecting the room inside, I was unaware that the sky in Cornwall is magical. If you visit, please send me a photo of the stars to keep me going until I can return.
Thank you Leila, for introducing me and keeping me company, and the trustees, for maintaining Brisons Veor, a fabulous experience.
Watch the videos created by Leila:
See more at the exhibition at Kaleidoscope Gallery, Sevenoaks:
Kaleidoscope Gallery, Museum and Library
Buckhurst Lane, Sevenoaks TN13 1LQ
Gallery Opening Hours
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday 9:00am to 6:00pm
Thursday 9:00am to 8:00pm
Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm
Closed Sunday and all Bank holidays
Exhibition open Wednesday 8th August to Saturday 18th August