An invitation to view beautiful coast's dark side
Curator Cai Waggett tells Jackie Butler why his first art exhibition will banish into the deep the twee traditional picture postcard view of Cornwall’s Atlantic.
The dark side of the sea and those who brave her depths takes centre stage in an adventurous pop-up art exhibition that will briefly inhabit the old stone outbuildings of a historic Cornish clifftop property next weekend.
Forget twee visions of sunny beach scenes, bobbing boats and happy holidaymakers. The painters, illustrators, printmakers, sculptors, photographers and multimedia artists whose work will be on display in 18th century barns at Stowe Barton, have explored a very different brief, set by curator Cai Waggett of the Bude-based, wave-driven, creative collective Hickory Nines.
He says it challenges "the preconceived notion" that the Northern Atlantic coast is a tame and temperate place to visit" and repositions it as "a place of danger and destruction".
Monsters, storms, sinking ships, wet and cold wetsuits, rolling swells, mermaids, tumbling white water and even the odd octogenarian bellyboarder will all be making an appearance.
On a mission to respectfully thumb his nose at the Great British seaside postcard, he was seeking the honest and gritty and fantasy-fuelled faces of the environment he calls home.
"I wanted to look at the vivid and real side to things as well. I walk by the sea every day and for six months of the year it is pretty grim; the sunny side is a very small part of our year," says Cai, an obsessive surfer, blogger and postman, who has lived in North Cornwall for all of his 37 years.
Also one of the organisers of the highly successful annual Leopallooza music festival, Cai visits America regularly and last autumn was particularly inspired by an artist called Derek Nobbs from the Pacific Northwest, who he interviewed for a blog post.
"His work has that slightly dark vibe and he uses loads of detail; I saw that he was putting on a couple of shows in his part of the world," explains Cai.
"I was also reading an amazing book called Republic of Pirates at the time and started to feel that I would like to do something to contrast the kind of exhibitions we usually see."
And so the seeds of The Cruel and Curious Sea were sown; some 12 months later it comes to fruition with the support of the National Trust, which maintains Stowe Barton.
Cai also secured the backing of surf company Finisterre and the Harbour Brewing Co, then put out a call to artists he already knew and spread the word via social networking.
"I got a terrific response. I gave them all some words and themes and all the artists have taken a subjective view. I love the fact that it's a very eclectic mix, says Cai, who is excited about the element of surprise.
"When you go to a traditional painting exhibition, for example, you have an idea of what you are going to see in advance. There's everything from traditional watercolours to edgy sculptures and illustrations," he adds.
Among those exhibiting are Andrew Wightman, Bryn "Byrd" Hall, Claire Chamberlain, Chris Hartop, Dan Fear (who created the atmospheric exhibition poster), Daniel Scott, Danni Bradford, Golden Bear, Hana Backland, Jago, Lee Robertson, Martin Dorey – the Camper Van Man, Neil Stewart, Rebecca Pepperell, Rich McGonigal, Rob Weare, Robbie Jones, Shayne House and Sue Read.
Cai describes the show as "a celebration of all the murk, mystery and myth that underlies most beach communities in this part of the world".
It's entirely appropriate that the reportedly haunted storage barns – which will be suitably dressed for the occasion by Cai and his team of volunteers – are set high above the notorious foreshores of Duckpool and Sandymouth, where many a fateful ship has strayed and many a sailor perished.
"I haven't seen any ghosts myself, but I wouldn't go up there in the dark alone," admits Cai.
The Cruel and Curious Sea runs from 6.30pm to 9.30pm on Friday, September 27 and Saturday, September 28 – at Stowe Barton, north of Bude near Kilkhampton. Entry is free and works will be for sale; you can bring your own refreshments (corkage will apply for alcohol). For more details email email@example.com.