Galleries to visit in St Ives

For over a century St Ives’ beautiful scenery, unique atmosphere and infamous light has provided inspiration to a large community of artists who have chosen to live and work here.  Influential artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Alfred Wallis and Bernard Leach firmly cemented St Ives’ position as a nationally and internationally significant colony of art and artists who lived amongst each other in its quaint cottages as they grappled with the many dramatic art movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today St Ives remains a significant location for artists and art-lovers alike with an unusually high concentration of galleries, studios and work spaces that continue to attract both the established and the avantgarde.  In this article we seek to provide a snapshot of the rich tapestry that is the St Ives art scene there for you to enjoy.

The St Ives behemoths

The Tate St Ives recently won the prestigious ‘Museum of the Year’ award for its “deeply intelligent and breathtakingly beautiful gallery”.  It is an absolutely essential experience for any art lover visiting St Ives.  Collections on display usually include work by local artists or work inspired by the local area as well as pieces drawn from a wider context.  The Tate St Ives is found in an iconic building overlooking Porthmeor beach and is open every day from 10am to 5.20pm.

The sculptress Barbara Hepworth is perhaps St Ives’s most well-known artist and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is another essential destination for art lovers visiting St Ives.  In the museum one can find a wide variety of Barbara’s sculptures as well as paintings, drawings and exhibits from her life and work in St Ives.  Opening times are the same as for the Tate 10am to 5.20pm seven days a week

Both the Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden are operated by the Tate Gallery and it is therefore possible to purchase a combined ticket for both venues allowing a day visit to each venue within seven days.

The Leach Pottery is the third of St Ives three feature arts destinations.  Known as the birthplace of British studio pottery, it was the home of the influential Bernard Leach who brought with him ancient and developed techniques from Japan and developed from them a distinct style of pottery in the pottery that bears his name and is operational to this day.  The Leach Pottery is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm year-round and in the summer months on Sundays 11am to 4pm.

Downalong artists

Cutting through the lower area of St Ives known as ‘Downalong’ runs Back Road East and Back Road West, a conjoined set of roads that more than any other location exhibit the vibrancy of the contemporary St Ives art scene.

Travelling along Back Road West the Porthmeor Studios and Cellars is the first venue to be encountered.  This venue houses a large collective of resident artists working in its numerous studios in a grade 2 listed 19th century building that used to house a pilchard works.  The building also houses the famous St Ives School of Painting.  Numerous exhibitions and shows take place throughout the year and the artists in residence also regularly invite guests to observe them working in open studio days.

Continuing along to Back Road East the next venue encountered is the Penwith Gallery, home of the influential Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall founded by Barbara Hepworth and a number of other famous and influential St Ives artists in the immediate post war period.  The complex includes three public galleries, artists’ studios, a print workshop, a sculpture courtyard, shop and archive.

Continuing along the road you will encounter a number of smaller galleries and shops by local artists listed in chronological order:
– the Alexandra Dickens Gallery, a local artist seeking inspiration from local landscapes and vistas.
– the Fish Pye Pottery, pottery and shop with a wide range of locally inspired ceramics.
– the Back Road Arts Work, a collective of artists exhibiting as well as allowing guests to observe them working.
– The Blue Bramble Gallery, a collective of artists of varied medium exhibiting and working in open workshops.
– The Art House Gallery an interesting transatlantic partnership with a  gallery of the same name in Massachusetts.

Traditional Cornish arts and crafts

Along the harbour front, and most notably on Fore Street and the cobbled lanes leading off it, are also located a number of galleries and stores carrying on the St Ives tradition of local arts and crafts, inspired by the area and often using local materials such as rocks, textiles, clay and driftwood.

Finally, in Westcotts Quay at the end of the Pendola Walk stands the award-winning Porthminster Gallery, winner of the ‘Best Art Gallery in Cornwall’ award.  Porthminster Gallery hosts exhibitions displaying a range of contemporary St Ives and British art in a variety of mediums.

As you can see from the above, which has merely touched on the range of options available, St Ives offers a wide variety of possibilities to art lovers and you should hopefully be able to find an experience that suits your taste.