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A place to breathe

Words by Hannah Tapping

Falmouth’s new progressive art gallery, showcasing emerging talent alongside established artists.

As you step into Morgans, a gallery with a family at its heart, it feels more a combination of art studio and home than what we’ve come to think of as an art gallery. It’s spacious, with high ceilings to accommodate larger works, but not ostentatious or grandiose; it’s at once inviting, comforting and calm. Scrubbed floor boards bear the paint splashes of historic décor mixed with the modern mediums used by the artists in residence. Walls are left with the marks of time, exposed in their authenticity. This raw backdrop is deliberate, as I learn from owner and curator Ann Morgan.

Morgans is a family business; Ann Morgan, Tony Holmes and their three daughters are all involved. Martha who studied in Falmouth and shows in other galleries in Cornwall has regular collections of paintings in Morgans, including a solo show in late summer; Ella assists in front of house with customers alongside her final year university studies in Product Design, and Clara exhibits paintings whilst also in her first year at university.

The five-storey building was purchased in October 2019. It had been a firm of solicitors with a warren of offices and storerooms requiring a major renovation programme to transform it into a gallery space. Through his architectural design practice Tony was able to undertake the design and management of the whole project, working closely with teams of local craftspeople.

During the renovations, stud walls and false ceilings were removed, wall paper stripped and period features revealed. An external courtyard was glazed in and incorporated into the gallery to create a light flooded space, filled with olive trees.

The result is a large gallery space on the ground floor that incorporates a main room, leading through into an atrium and on into a set of smaller spaces; each with their own identity but all connecting with each other via the artists’ work. There are then a series of studios on the upper floors and, as Ann says: “I think it feeds in very well, having working studios, artists and makers within the building.” The three floors of studio space above the gallery are occupied by a collection of young creatives. Ann’s daughter Martha Holmes’ abstract paintings capture a raw and honest sense of the Cornish landscape with the use of bold colour and expressive mark making.

A second painter, Alex Yarlett, engages emotionally with his environment, translating what he sees in the moment into a painted story using layers of different medium and texture. Ceramicists, Julia Florence and Sam Marks, occupy two of the other studios. Julia studied illustration at Falmouth University and uses both large scale and functional pieces as a medium for her striking paintings, while second generation potter Sam’s works have a simple aesthetic, influenced by a combination of nature and the environmental elements of the British coastline, as well as the aesthetics of Korean and Japanese pottery. Testament to Morgans’ ethos of inclusion and an interest in the wider concept of what constitutes creativity, the final studio is occupied by Studio 1850, a design and consultancy business offering holistic and insightful reviews of creative practice alongside highly considered print and brand work.

Ann has a background in design and fashion textiles as well as being an educator, something which is very much behind the ethos of Morgans: “Our main thrust is to choose artists with a connection to Cornwall, particularly young people. It doesn’t mean they all have to live here. It could be a young person who’s trained at university here and has then moved away. The art we have won’t necessarily look to an outsider that it’s connected to Cornwall, the connection is very much about the person who’s making it.”

When Morgans first opened its doors, most of the shows were large mixed shows, designed to test the water and gauge the reaction to the new space. With a year’s success under its belt, and a committed following of collectors, the model will change slightly this year. There will be solo shows in August and September, followed by a mixed show for Christmas.

There will also be an emerging talent show in the autumn, which will showcase a lot of graduate work. Abstract painting features prominently in all the shows combined with collections of ceramics. The gallery has work from a group of ceramicists who produce new collections several times in a year. These are displayed on purpose-made tables and shelves beneath several of the walls of paintings. Many of the ceramics are monochrome or neutral in colour which are a calm contrast to the vibrant paintings above.

Show No 1, which opens 3rd March 2022, will include the work of six painters. Martha Holmes will show a new collection developed from observations and studies undertaken in Mousehole. Diane Whalley, a self-taught abstract artist, uses playful gestures which dance over the canvas bringing positivity, fun, joy and discussion, while Maria Floyd’s paintings reflect the passage of light and change of seasons in the local landscape inspired by the dramatic scenery of Dartmoor. In juxtaposition, Sophie Harding’s still lifes focus on the ‘small’, creating feelings of joy, escapism, calm and stillness; and there is an exploration of the domestic environment and everyday objects in the paintings of India Whitwell, where colour and light is used to draw attention to the subject matter. Finally included is a collection of work by Ella Carty whose vivid ink paintings investigate her own experiences of the world, creating layers of associations from scavenged sources.

Ceramicists will include studio resident Sam Marks with Tor Harrison, whose hand-built pots combine a deep earthy quality where light reflects from the surface highlighting the imperfection in the handmade. Jan O’Neill’s work is contemporary, using a minimal palette. Some pieces will be part or un-glazed, revealing tones and textures reflective of the natural elements and organic shapes that influence her, and the clay in its raw beauty. The striking geometric patterns used by Bjork Haraldsdóttir hark back to her architectural background and create a conversation between the pseudo-perfection of the pattern and the tactile impurity of the clay. The monochromatic palette of her work is a reflection of the Icelandic landscape of her upbringing.

Wendy Wilbraham’s wheel-thrown functional tableware, thrown using porcelain clay, offers a collection of vessels that capture light and invite touch. The pieces are designed to be used either on their own or as part of a wider collection, each using one of three contrasting glazes. Alongside these ceramics sits a collection by Feldspar, a ceramics studio based in Devon, producing simple and timeless ceramics under the ethos of ‘Objects for Life’. The team make everything using a method called ‘slip casting’ – pouring liquid clay into plaster moulds – and all of the pieces are hand-painted in Devon. Work from Emma de Clercq, whose Brutes Ceramics are made in a co-operatively run pottery studio in London, complete the pottery collection for Show No 1.

In keeping with the desire for the gallery to be more of an inclusive space, Show No 1 will also see work from a collection of makers. Theo Brogan’s stone bowls and spoons are born from his passion for stone; its beauty, longevity and permanence.

As a practising stonemason he uses ‘off-cuts’ from larger projects to push the boundaries of the medium and how it is perceived. Furniture from Will Nock will be on show in the various gallery spaces. Working from his nearby studio on Falmouth’s harbour side, pieces are shaped by hand in oak and ash, using traditional joinery methods and finishing techniques, referencing natural textures and forms found in the landscape beyond his workshop.

The jewellery cabinet in the main gallery room will see work from Hilary Brown, whose gold and silver rings and bracelets are influenced by that of the ancient world, combing texture with paper thin metal to create what are, in essence, miniature sculptures. Heather McDermott’s contemporary pieces are unconventional in size and structure, taking inspiration from the ever-changing shoreline of the Isle of Skye.

There is a sense of place in all of the work at Morgans, often related to the Cornish or coastal environment. It is Ann’s ability to curate with an eye that moves from the micro to the macro that sees visitors leave with a strong sense of the artist and their practice.

Show No 1 takes place from 3rd March to 10th April at Morgans Gallery, 49 Arwenack Street, Falmouth TR11 3JH. Autumn 2022 will see another show for emerging talent, highlighting the work of recent graduates in the south west.

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