a week with Cornish artist Gareth Edwards 

May 2016

Porthmeor studios is set in an atmospheric, Grade II listed building, and has been an inspiring workspace for artists for over a century. Today, the School of Painting operates out of two of the studios while the Tate Gallery has historically run a residency programme in Studio 5. The remaining studios are rented out to local and national artists. Meanwhile, twelve boats continue to work out of the fishermen’s cellars lying beneath the studios. The culture and tradition of St Ives is characterised by the Porthmeor Studio complex which has continued the relationship between the town, the artists and the fishermen, and ensured that it carries on into the future years


Gareth Edwards is a contemporary landscape and seascape painter who lives in Cornwall and who works in the famous award-winning Porthmeor Studios in Saint Ives near to the Tate Gallery, once occupied by such luminaries as Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon. He lives in Lamorna Cove with his wife and two daughters. 


Reflecting on my time in Studio 16 to some extent, it was quite dialoge heavy, understanding the ins and outs of being a full time professional artist. We discussed the art world as a business venture and whether or not this is a bad way of looking at it, whether it's selling yourself? In reflection, I no longer think earning a living and promoting yourself or taking the odd commercial job is such a bad thing. The modern world no longer fits with the ideal of the suffering genius artist who is locked away from society and the world around them, unless it is the elitist world of 'high art'. More and more, I am inclined not to paint to live but to earn money to live and then paint. Whether this means working outside of the creative world or within it but more commercially, I'm not sure. 


Conversations often turned to how much of an affect his gallerists and agents have on his actual, physical work. It was interesting learning about how important these people are to Gareth's practise, their expert knowledge of where to place certain styles of his paintings or scales depending on the clientele. To some extent, Gareth does keep his agent and gallerist happy as more often than not they know best, but it was interesting learning where he does and does not put his foot down. Essentially he doesn't churn out paintings robotically one after another in order to simply sell to a clientele, however if things aren't selling and a gallerist advises a compositional alteration, Gareth is not too proud or precious to stubbornly refuse this alteration. But original compositions are not contrived or commercially driven, unless of course for a commission. 


We both came to conclusion that we have rather old fashioned views of what we believe art to be. Agreeing that we both produce work as a strive towards an almost enlightened state of existence, a focused and 'tapped in' way of perceiving the world around us. Gareth and I aso got on to discussing the nature of conceptual art and how we both lean towards the production of what he puts as 'lumps', things, paintings, sculptures rather than events or happenings. 


Gareth lectures part time at Falmouth School of Art therefore on the Tuesday, I had the studio to myself. This was both exciting and nerve-racking as it felt very professional unlike being in uni where there is always someone around; I was very much alone, in a studio, for an entire day. 


Thursday was the day in which Gareth and I worked on a commission together. This particular piece of work was initiated after the client had bought several of Gareth's smaller works at previous gallery events. The said client then commissioned Gareth to do a specific piece based on a old fashioned property in South West Cornwall. The piece is supposed to be a direct response to a particular view, a particular grounds of this large old estate house. Working on a commission with such a successful artist like Gareth was a one off experience that was such a privilege. I learnt so much about large scale painting, how it develops and can change and shift as you work on it. In reflection, I’ve also learnt so much about how best to approach a commission of this kind, how to keep a record of prep work and notes as a way of keeping clients involved and informed. It was an incredibly valuable learning experience. 


Something which had been soaking into me as I had observed Gareth all week was that less is more and sometimes what you leave out or spaces which you don't fill completely are often way more interesting to the audience than a wall of mark making coming straight at you.The space was such an inspiring one to work in and I have definitely produced some practical work that hopefully fed successfully into the residency which I did in the following two weeks after the week spent in Studio 16.My week with Gareth Edwards was an incredibly valuable learning experience; not necessarily in terms of the practicalities of painting but more about the way in which a modern painter navigates the art world as well as what it is to be in studio full time as a professional. 


I have learnt the humbling lesson of the importance of surrounding yourself with people who do a good job of the parts of being an artist that you are not good at. There is nothing wrong in bowing to the advice of agents or gallerists who know what they're doing and through Gareth I have realised that there is a validity in having a team of people around you or collecting a network of people as you journey through that will help you along the way and most importantly to accept this help and not isolate yourself.


We discussed at length the nature of what it means to create work and be in studio full time and how he splits his time between practical and admin. He begins most days with checking emails and responding appropriately then paints or creates for the rest of the day. It was interesting that he didn't' just split his weeks into chunks of days either for creating or admin, I think this way of approaching his time works really well as a balancing act to feed the two strands of his life as an artist. 


In terms of making Gareth has taught me so much practically about what to think about before even starting the work. Yes there is a pleasure in instantaneous works but just that little bit more prep can help you so much when you are further down the line. As an oil painter he has definitely taught me alot about usage of this material snd which mediums work best for different styles.


Most importantly Gareth inspired me to keep going, to keep creating and keep learning, not to become static and get comfortable with where I am at the moment with painting. Not to pigeon hole myself but at the same time keep a consistent way of working that allows itself to feed into the different but equally important strands of your practise. The most valuable part of the week has been the dialogue between myself and Gareth, talking through what it is to be in art school and how to avoid certain blunders such as making work purely to tick boxes and please tutors. The week to some extent reaffirmed thoughts that had begun to form in my mind just before Easter, ideas around the way I approach my practise in a very organised and fast paced intensity; this is not sustainable fundamentally and Gareth encouraged me to listen to my gut instincts and not produce work which felt unnatural. You can still take risks and push limits and boundaries but make work you ARE interested in. The subject matter should be something you are passionate about but its what you do with this that can then push boundaries and play with limits producing innovative work. 



I was incredibly grateful that Gareth kindly offered me the opportunity to be his assistant for a week and will definitely be keeping in touch with him. I will be helping and attending his private view in London at the Jill George gallery in June. 

Show More

© 2019 Holly Nicholls