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The Interview: Sam Thorne, director Tate St Ives

The Interview: Sam Thorne, director Tate St Ives


You're a year into your role as artistic director of Tate St Ives? Has the move from London to Cornwall, both at work and home, held any surprises for you?

I knew West Cornwall pretty well before I moved as my family and I used to come here every year. We'd stay across the bay from St Ives in Gwithian Towans. So despite having lived in London for almost a decad, I didn't find the shift too much of a surprise. But it's been wonderful to discover how much artistic activity there is across not only Cornwall but also the southwest. I've enjoyed doing dozens of studio visits with artists, as well as meeting all kinds of musicians and writers who are based here.

You're overseeing an expansion that will double Tate St Ives in size. Can you tell us a bit about the new development and how it will change the gallery?


We're incredibly excited about our new galleries. They're designed by Jamie Fobert, a London-based architect whose work I've been an admirer of for a long time. Our new galleries are airy, light-filled and high ceilinged and they will effectively double our current spaces. Really this means that, for the first time since Tate St ives opened back in 1993, we'll be able to offer an extraordinary display from the St ives modernists. We'll be showing key pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Bernard Leach, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynter and many many more.
In addition to that, that our brand new galleries will dedicated to temporary exhibitions of the best modern and contemporary art from Britain and around the world. So the new Tate St Ives will really be a place where you can fall in love with the art of the 20th century all over again, while discovering the art of this generation and the next. Our new galleries themselves will be semi-submerged, and on the roof will be a public garden surrounded by Cornish wildflowers, with beautiful views over Porthmeor. In that sense, the new building is also creating a new space for the town.
Having said that, the galleries are only half the story. We're also going to be doubling our Learning spaces, by building a glass pavilion, designed by Eldred Evans and David Shalev - on top of our existing courtyard education space. This will give us much more flexibility, and allow us to screen films alongside special events and workshops. So it's an extremely exciting time for us at Tate St ives right now, poised to start the next chapter. 

Cornwall, and Tate St Ives in particular, has always had a strong artistic tradition and community. Have you found it an inspiring place to work and could you share with us some of the up and coming West Country artists you feel excited by?


It's been a terrically inspiring place to work. Not only because of what our previous resident artist, Linder Sterling, has called the ghosts of all the previous generations of artists, who still feel very present here, but because of what's going on now. So I think of artists like Naomi Frears, Andy Harper and Abigail Reynolds who all have studios in Porthmeor, or younger artists like Ben Sanderson, Gemma Anderson, ATOI and James Hankey who all have studios in CAST. And then of course there is a lot going on elsewhere in the southwest. In Bristol I've been following the work of James Parkinson and a duo called Clawson + Ward, as well as Oliver Sutherland and Bryony Gillard who we've collaborated with recently. And in Plymouth, people like Steven Paige and the duo Low Profile.

How can Tate St Ives help Cornwall's new generation of artists?


In all kinds of ways. We do a huge amount of projects beyond our gallery walls, whether it's collaborating with the Leach Pottery to produce a ceramic mural for the Nancledra Primary School or organising seminars and concerts where locally based artists  and practitioners and very engaged. It's also about exposing all kinds of people to the very best of the Tate collection, and to build a sustainable network of organsiations across the southwest. This past few months we have collaborated with universities like Falmouth and Plymouth as well as studio complexes such as CAST in Plymouth and galleries such as Back Lane West and Kestle Barton. On a personal note, both our curators and I are very engaged with artists living here and do regular studio visits to keep tuned in to what's going on.

You founded a free art school in East London. Do you feel tempted to set up something similar in Cornwall?


The students from Open School East are actually en route to Cornwall as I write! They'll be doing a week long residency at CAST, which will be the second year in a row that they've done a retreat in Cornwall. So there's still a connection there. More broadly though I really do regard Tate St Ives's education activities as a kind of school, but a school that has many sites and even more collaborators. 

Images Moving Out of Space, Tate St Ives's current exhibition, combines the work of famous Cornish artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Bryan Wynter alongside the work of other well know international artists. Are you keen to emphasise Cornwall's place in the international art scene? 


Of course, and an important lesson of last summer's exhibition, 'International Exchanges', was that artists such as Hepworth were far from working in isolation. In fact they were very international artists exhibiting all over the world. That could be better understood internationally, so we'll continue to make an argument from the importance of Cornish artists who have worked here in Cornwall, as well as those that continue to today.

You holidayed here as a child and now live here permanently. Where's your favourite place to excape?


That would be telling. I'm kidding! I live in St ives so my favourite places to avoid the crowds are Porthgwidden Beach, which is almost on my doorstep but feels almost like a little secret. And then I also walk the coastal path to Zennor pretty regularly and all the way to the Gurnard's Head when I'm feeling hardy.
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