Who were the younger generation of St Ives modern painters?

St Ives, Cornwall in the mid fifties was the epicentre for British abstract art and had been dominated by the influence of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth but by 1956 the “Middle Generation” of Peter LanyonPatrick HeronBryan Wynter and Terry Frost were becoming well established in Britain and were soon to be known in New York City. At this time a younger generation of painters had moved to St Ives including Trevor Bell, Anthony Benjamin, Joe Tilson, Karl Weschke, and Sandra Blow and it is noticeable that three of these painters had strong associations with Italy Bell, Benjamin, and Tilson followed in Lanyon’s footsteps to Anticoli Corrado in Abruzzo.   All of these artists’ work are much admired and sought after today.

Trevor Bell

Bell was awarded a scholarship to attend the Leeds College of Art between 1947 and 1952 and in 1954 met Terry Frost on the Gregory Fellowship. Bell was encouraged by Terry Frost to move to St Ives to find a visual language. With an introduction to Denis Mitchell he and his wife rented a cottage at Tregerthen, near Zennor. Bell drew close to Hilton, while Heron became a champion of his work. Bell’s painting gradually replaced the linear structures derived from the cityscapes with rich areas of strong colour contrasted with bold gestures.

In 1958 Waddington Galleries gave Bell his first solo exhibition in 1958. Patrick Heron wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, stating that Bell was ‘the best non-figurative painter under thirty’.

The following year the Waddington Gallery sent a group of Bell’s paintings to the Paris Bienniale of Contemporary Art and he was awarded the prize for painting. He stayed in St. Ives for five years constantly developing his technique and painting language but in 1960 was offered the Gregory Fellowship in Painting at the University of Leeds so he moved back to his hometown

In the 1960s Bell showed work in exhibitions in the UK and USA including a major touring exhibition covering the period of 1966 to 1970, organised by the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh, which travelled to Belfast and Sheffield. During this time his work was bought for the Tate collection.

In 1973 he presented his new work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, having just taken part in a major exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the next thirty years Bell combined painting with teaching in various locations eventually moving to Florida State University, Florida, in 1976 to become the Professor for Master Painting. Here with the provision of a warehouse sized studio and time to really develop his painting he produced new and powerful work. He would spend the next 20 years in America before returning to west Cornwall, whose dramatic coastlines were an influence upon him, permanently.

In 1985 Bell was included in the London Tate Gallery’s St Ives 1939-64 exhibition and in 1993 he was part of the inaugural show of the Tate St Ives, where he was again re-established as part of the St Ives artists. He moved back to Cornwall in 1996 and was invited by David Falconer, the former Director of Millennium (Now Anima-Mundi), to have a solo exhibition in St Ives, which has culminated in a long-term relationship with the gallery and its current Director Joseph Clarke.

Anthony Benjamin

On graduating from college in 1954, Benjamin’s paintings were accepted for exhibition by Helen Lessore at Beaux Arts Gallery. However, when he started using a broader range of colour and looser brushwork, including elements of abstraction, he was told by Lessore to toe the line or leave the gallery. Benjamin moved to St. Ives, using a legacy from his mother, to buy a small cottage that had belonged to the sculptor, Sven Berlin. Benjamin became Lanyon’s protégé alongside Karl Weschke. He accepted Peter Lanyon’s suggestion to join the Newlyn Society of Artists and had his first one-man exhibition there in 1958. His work, inspired by the Cornish light, land and seascape led him to a new understanding of tone and temper. Henry Moore encouraged him, Francis Bacon gave him canvasses, and working within this rich atmosphere, Benjamin produced work which became more expansive and colourful, and gradually more abstract in concept and moving towards Abstract Expressionism. In 1960 he went to Italy and, as Lanyon did before him, spent time at Anticoli Corrado where he developed a new mode of painting.

Joe Tilson

During the early 1970s, Tilson’s work transitioned from Pop Art themes and collages to mysterious, symbolic works based on classical mythology, lunar cycles, and Neo-Platonic theory. Born on August 24, 1928 in London, United Kingdom, he worked as a carpenter and served in the Royal Air Force before studying at the St. Martin’s School of Art under Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, and at the Royal College of Art, London from 1952 to 1955 where he received the Rome Prize. In 1957 he bought a house between St Ives and Penzance, nearby to Bell and Hilton. Previously as a Prix de Rome he had made textured paintings using hessian and canvas with dry oil paint. This continued and his paintings were comparable to his peers in particular Sandra Blow. The artist represented the United Kingdom in the 32nd Venice Biennale in 1964, which famously included the works of Robert RauschenbergJasper JohnsClaes Oldenburg, and Jim Dine. His works are in the collections of the Tate Gallery in London, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Kunsthalle Basel, among others.

Karl Weschke (1925 – 2005)

Karl Weschke was encouraged to paint by the artist Otto Dix. He came to England as a teenage prisoner of war in 1945.Weschke studied at St Martin’s School of Art, 1949. Weschke met members of the David Bomberg-inspired Borough Group and then spent time in Sweden in 1954–5.

In 1955 Weschke moved to Cornwall in after becoming acquainted with the artist Bryan Wynter in London. He had several shows in London the first at the New Vision Centre in 1958 were he was compared to the Bomberg and Lanyon by the critics. A large triptych entitled the Deposition (183x 122 cm) was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The exhibition attracted the attention of John Berger, who went on to write about his work on three separate occasions in the next two years. Berger praised the way that Weschke’s paintings ‘vividly convey the weight and “settlement” of his landscape forms’. He also discussed what he perceived as Weschke’s ‘passionate identification’ with his subject matter. In 1960 Weschke moved to a small cottage at Cape Cornwall. It was remote, set in a harsh and unwelcoming landscape; with the desolation of the moors on one side and the vastness of the Atlantic on the other. It is a place that was repeated over again in Weschke’s work. The cliffs and coves below his home are the setting for Floating Figure 1974 and The Pool 1966; the view across the valley from his home to the ancient hill of Kenidjack appears frequently and is the setting for images such as Figure in a Landscape 1972 and Feeding Dog 1976-7. Following the move his work began to change. He started to work on a larger scale, to use washes of paint and line, having come to regard the use of thick impasto as ‘false acts of bravura’.

Weschke went on to win an Arts Council Major Award in 1976; he was a John Moore’s Liverpool Exhibition prize-winner in 1978; a Southwest Arts Major Award winner in the same year; and two years later he won an Arts Council Purchase Award.

Sandra Blow

Blow enrolled at Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1941, where she studied until 1946 under teachers including Ruskin Spear. During this time she joined the artists’ social scene, meeting people such as Lucian FreudJohn Minton and Francis Bacon. She spent a short period in 1947 at the Royal Academy schools, but found the teaching dull, so instead travelled to Italy to study classic art. There she was inspired by Nicolas Carone to enrol at Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. There she met Alberto Burri, with whom she began a relationship that would influence her work for the rest of her life and they travelled together in Italy during 1948.

After Italy, Blow travelled in Spain and France and she and Burri worked together in Paris during 1949, but finding Burri’s influence too overwhelming, Blow returned to the UK in 1950 pursue her work free of his influence. The pair would create works in response to the each other throughout the 1950s and 60s while Burri rose to international recognition. Blow faced the challenge of not only establishing herself as a woman artist in the 1950s but also as an abstractionist. Blow’s success further changed when the leading London gallery, Gimpel Fils, began representing her work from 1951. Under Gimpel Fils, Blow had regular exhibitions and secured her first solo show in New York. The gallery also represented St Ives artists, including Barbara Hepworth, beginning Blow’s life-long connection with the British coastal town. In 1957, Blow moved to St Ives for one year and would return there years later to live permanently. In 1961, Blow began teaching painting at the Royal College of Art, where she remained until 1975 and earned a position as honorary fellow, whilst also painting in her studio in Chelsea, London. She was elected to the Royal Academy in 1978.