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Coastal kaleidoscope

Landscape painter Amanda Hoskin’s latest collection of work shows a mastery of her subject – the evocative Cornish coast.

Words by Lucy Studley

Amanda Hoskin will show a new body of work at Lighthouse Gallery in Penzance this spring, and it has collectors excited. Amanda’s work epitomises a distinctive phase in the Cornish landscape tradition. Over the past 25 years, she’s honed and perfected her mark-making with sublime results, culminating in this confident, immersive, and deft collection of canvases.

The arrival of a new collection of paintings from one of Cornwall’s most acclaimed contemporary artists coincides with the gallery’s own 20th anniversary. Directors Tracey Spry and Christine Weschke first opened the gallery on Causeway Head in 2003. Over the course of two decades, Lighthouse Gallery has firmly established itself as one of the most respected in Cornwall, showing work predominantly inspired by the Cornish landscape. Christine, who retires this year, reflects with pride on the gallery’s contribution to the Cornish art scene: “Over the years, we’ve supporting emerging artists, helping them forge successful careers by connecting them with a diverse audience. It’s wonderful to have created something alongside a dear friend out of a shared passion, and to have the privilege of calling it ‘work’ for two decades! Lighthouse Gallery will continue under Tracey’s extremely experienced directorship and I’ve no doubt will go from strength to strength.” Amanda Hoskin has been represented by Lighthouse Gallery for around 15 years. “Amanda has a loyal following with collectors,” says Tracey. “Her work is technically accomplished, but it also brings a warm, life-affirming feel to the spaces in which it’s displayed.”

After studying at Falmouth and Chelsea Art School, Amanda’s career began as a wildlife illustrator in London. She spent her time meticulously detailing plant and animal life – from the prickly seed head of a browning teasel to the unique markings of a swallowtail’s wing. Using a magnifying glass, her task was to record nature on a micro scale, revealing details few people paused to see. Then in 1990, she moved back to Cornwall and began experimenting with landscape painting.

From the beginning, her painting practice was loose and expressive. “It was probably a bit of a reaction against that quest for detail which I’d been so focused on in my work until then,” she posits. “I immediately found a wonderful freedom in trying to capture nature on a much bigger scale, one where land, sea and sky are all part of the picture!”

As Amanda recalls, everything just clicked with this new phase of her artistic practice. “The art scene in Cornwall was buoyant at that time, and happily my work started to sell right away. The Affordable Art Fair popped up in London at the end of the 1990s, and that was a big boost for lots of artists like me.” Christine says: “We have a stand at The Affordable Art Fair in London every year, showing Amanda’s work alongside other gallery artists including Benjamin Warner, Mark Poprawski and Kirsten Elswood. It’s a fantastic way of connecting our gallery artists with a wider audience.”

The Own Art Scheme, which was introduced in 2004, has also helped both artists and art lovers. The scheme allows people to live with the art they love, spreading the cost of purchases over 10 months. This in turn supports contemporary artists by encouraging increased sales of work and generating a steadier, more reliable income. “We’re proud members of the Own Art Scheme,” says Christine. “Making art more accessible and inclusive has always been part of the ethos here at Lighthouse Gallery.”

Amanda’s style is best described as impressionistic, fluid and expressive. Her brush responds to landscape at a visceral level. Standing in front of any of her canvases, you can sense the unbridled joy she finds in her long walks on the Cornish coast, and her intense protectiveness of this whole gnarled peninsula, perilously striking out into the Atlantic. However, the details don’t escape her notice either, as you’d expect from someone with her training. In the foreground you might find a congregation of sea thrift nodding eagerly in a clifftop breeze, or gorse flowers popping in the hot summer sun. Elsewhere, bluebells form a bright carpet in spring woodlands, while grasses slowly brown and crisp, heralding autumn.

Amanda’s practice is also informed by another important aspect of her life – her love of sailing. She has sailed all her life, and for many years worked as an instructor in the summer months, a job which gave her both the freedom and the inspiration to paint. When you learn this, a final piece of the puzzle falls into place. Here is an illustrator of the tiniest of details, who sees the Cornish coast as if through a kaleidoscope – from all angles and scales. From wave-pounded coves, along windswept clifftops, across pristine beaches and through sheltered harbours, Amanda knows this land like few other artists working today.

A landscape thoroughly observed and experienced – from changing tides and shifting seasons down to the details of flora and fauna – is the subject of her work, but light is its lifeforce. As Amanda explains: “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m after what every other landscape artist in Cornwall wants to capture – that ephemerality of shifting light. It’s a constant challenge and one that happily will never be fully met; what makes it so fascinating is that it’s always just out of reach.”

Whilst out on her daily wanderings, Amanda undertakes quick outdoor sketches using watercolours and pastels before returning to the studio. Here the work begins to evolve from a combination of sketches and memory as she builds colour and depth with each layer of oil paint. “Even in the studio I work quickly,” says Amanda, “it still feels like a race to capture the essence and energy of a particular moment before it’s gone.”

Amanda feels it has taken years to truly get to know the nature of oil paint. “Learning to build up layers, scrape back and then rebuild again is something you steadily learn to master. My work has evolved over the years and it’s now richer, with stronger colours and more sophisticated textures.” She continues: “I’m increasingly introducing mixed media – acrylic inks, pastels, watercolours and charcoal – but it’s a very natural, gradual evolution. I don’t think you can force things as an artist, you have to go on the whole journey, not just skip ahead to the destination! You also have to bring the regular viewer with you. Collectors love to see an artist’s style evolve if they can understand the process.”

Although this latest body of work isn’t on the scale of a solo show, it is a collection intended to be viewed as a whole in the bright, contemporary space of Lighthouse Gallery. “I like to produce ‘capsule collections’ I suppose, where different themes are explored but which coalesce beautifully as a whole,” says Amanda. “In this collection there’s a recurring theme of mining stacks and engine houses, which aren’t that common in my work. I enjoyed introducing these manmade features into my landscapes – I love that the landscape is gradually claiming them back!”

Another theme in the upcoming collection is a heightened sense of drama, moodier colours, and greyer skies, as Amanda subtly pushes the boundaries of her practice. “From one painting, another will often develop, as I light on a passage of mark-making or a chink appears in the sky that needs exploring more thoroughly,” explains Amanda. Again, here she shows her creative maturity, knowing the limits of what can be achieved in a single work.

For Christine, the arrival of Amanda’s collection is a fitting farewell to her work as a gallerist. “Amanda’s distinguished career is already inspiring a new generation, especially through her teaching practice as one of the tutors at Newlyn School of Art,” she says. “She has always had a deeply ingrained relationship with the Cornish landscape, which is conveyed in every brushstroke. But this latest body of work is something special – it’s infused with the kind of self-assurance and honesty that only comes with decades of experience. I certainly feel as if I’m going out on a high, with this beautiful collection on our walls!”

Amanda Hoskin’s new collection will be available to view at Lighthouse Gallery in Penzance, 16th – 29th March.

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