CIRCLE Gallery

We pay a visit to Circle Contemporary Gallery in North Cornwall

Stepping out of the hot August sun and into CIRCLE Gallery is quite the juxtaposition. At Hawksfield, businesses are housed behind industrial-chic facades, with sun-bleached wooden panels and eye-catching metal signage. But step inside CIRCLE and you’re greeted by pared-back interiors, crisp white walls and contemporary artwork.

As I was welcomed by gallerist Lucy Thorman, I took the opportunity to glance around. At once, I was reminded of a stylish London gallery, and yet there was a conspicuous absence of any pretension. To our left, I spied row upon row of neatly spaced white-washed shelves, showcasing affordable artwork by local and international artists. A large-scale woodcut print by Pine Feroda immediately caught my eye thanks to its eye-pleasing colour palette and its dramatic depiction of ferocious January waves. There was also an eye-popping explosion of colour, courtesy of Spencer Shakespeare’s gloriously abstract ode to mother nature (more on this later).

CIRCLE Gallery

As you walk through the bright and airy space, you can’t help but feel like you’ve left behind the rugged backdrop of North Cornwall and stepped right into a slick Mayfair venue. But despite this shift in perspective, Lucy assured me that the Cornish landscape was not forgotten, and a common conceptual thread tied the entire collection together.

“All the work we showcase here – be it paintings, prints, sculptures or ceramics – take some form of inspiration from nature,” she explained. “We have a distinct style that is shaped by artists and artisans who live and work in country and coastal places.”

As we climbed the gallery stairs, I started to see a pattern emerging. We stopped at a particularly unique piece of art by local ceramic artist Jenny Beavan. Three tall ceramic poles that bore an uncanny resemblance to silver birch trees stood out from the pristine white wall. It was almost as if someone had plucked the trees from the landscape and placed them there to stop you in your tracks. Alongside this piece, Lucy had hung a particularly captivating woodcut by Pine Feroda entitled ‘Sea Change’; an almost hallucinogenic rendering of an enormous crashing wave.

“As you’ll see, each artist shares a deep connection with the natural world,” Lucy told me. “Whether they are walkers, surfers, divers, botanists, geologists or bird watchers – everything has been created by artists who live surrounded by an expanse of land and sea.”

She went on to explain that artists at CIRCLE are represented in two categories: CIRCLE Core and CIRCLE Guest. Talent from both categories come from far and wide, so some of the art on display is created by local Cornish artists, as well as international names from places such as Serbia, Egypt, America and Australia.

CIRCLE Gallery
CIRCLE Gallery

As far as CIRCLE’s core group of artists is concerned, Lucy explained that their work typically falls into one of three categories: The Human Landscape, The Landscape of Pleasure, and The Material Landscape. Feeling a little out of my depth, I asked her to expand on these ideas.

“From a city dweller’s perspective, landscape-inspired art is often dismissed as ‘romantic’ and ‘unquestioning’,” she told me. “But we believe that art born from a true dialogue with nature is life affirming, ever present and continually evolving. We feel that this is best understood through these three conceptual categories.”

John O’Carroll perfectly encapsulates The Human Landscape through his work. From his cleverly concealed studio on the top floor of the gallery, John creates wide-angle gestural paintings influenced and inspired by the landscapes around him. With studios in Dakleh Oasis (Egypt) and here in Cornwall, John can explore a range of unique landscapes, both cultural and physical, with an emphasis on combining historical and contemporary painting techniques. His work expresses a deep connection and understanding of the spaces through which he has travelled and lived.

The work of CIRCLE artist, Spencer Shakespeare, also depicts The Human Landscape. Shakespeare discovered his addiction to the natural world during his yearly holidays to Cornwall which, after 20 years of living on Australia’s Gold Coast, he returned to and now resides near Penzance. Spencer’s colourful and playful paintings are often a response to places of intersection — the coastline, the edge of forests, sometimes even his own garden — as well as his own imagination. His abstract canvases showcase the blurred boundaries of the world he sees around him: a door, if you like, into a wonderland.

As we continued to look around the space, a flash of vibrant colour against the pale wall introduced me to the work of Susan Bleakley. Her large abstract paintings no doubt represent The Landscape of Pleasure. Susan’s work is nuanced and beautiful, utilising a technique known as ‘simultaneous contrast’ to great effect. Her choice of colour reflects the Atlantic light she sees from her studio window and is synergetic with the flowers and foliage that grow in her Cornish clifftop garden.

Throughout the gallery, it’s easy to spot art that represents The Material Landscape: artists who quite literally use the natural environment for inspiration and making. For example, sculptor Simon Gaiger creates free forms and furniture from fallen trees and abandoned metal; keeping the evidence of past use in his work.

Circle Contemporary gallery
CIRCLE Gallery

There’s also the unmistakable Pine Feroda. Not to be mistaken for a single artist, Pine Feroda is the collective name used by three British artists (Merlyn Chesterman, Ian Phillips and Judith Westcott), who together create large-scale, dramatic woodcut prints inspired by the extraordinary coastlines of North Devon and Cornwall. Craggy rock formations, tumultuous waves and the interplay of light and water are all explored through their unique work. The trio can often be seen on their local beaches and headlands, collectively drawing on clifftops, or in the ocean itself. Of all the work that has been carefully curated by Lucy and John O’Carroll at CIRCLE, these striking Pine Feroda prints are among my favourite.

As we came to the end of my gallery tour, Lucy showed me the latest addition to CIRCLE: a beautifully curated collection of ceramics, including a number of pieces by renowned Cornish ceramicist, Chris Prindl. Lucy is excited that the artefacts will add more diversity to the gallery, showcasing traditional craftmanship alongside contemporary art.

All ceramics will available to purchase through the gallery website, in order to make them more accessible to a wider audience. With big brands like Anthropolgie and Soho Home catching on to the beauty of stoneware, it seems only fair that independent makers ought to be celebrated too. As we descended the gallery steps once again, Lucy explained why she feels that CIRCLE is one-of-a-kind: “The response to this tribe of artists has been hugely positive thus far. We have a loyal following of interior designers and art collectors who work with us time and again. It’s extremely important to build those genuine connections with our clients.”

Truthfully, CIRCLE Contemporary Gallery isn’t comparable to the tourist-trap venues of St Ives and the south coast. Cornish art seems to have become synonymous with postcard-perfect scenes and cheery nautical prints. Artwork that is bought alongside clotted cream fudge and sea glass trinkets isn’t necessarily showcasing the outstanding class of artists that the county has nurtured over time. CIRCLE’s small collective of local artists and international creators are committed to celebrating art that is made in harmony with nature. In an age when environmental sustainability and climate change are among the most pressing topics of our time, CIRCLE sets a strong example and elevates conscious creators. This is a gallery that would not be out of place on a busy metropolitan street in London; yet it perfectly encapsulates the contemporary Cornish art scene, with its roots very firmly planted in the land.

Visit CIRCLE at Hawksfield Wadebridge PL27 7LR or circlecontemporary.co.uk