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Representing the Finest

Porthleven’s Customs House Gallery, is a calm space in which to appreciate a mixture of fine art, textiles, jewellery, sculpture and glass.

Words by Jamie Crocker

Stroll along Harbour Road, out from the centre of this little Cornish fishing village and you’ll eventually come to an oasis of calm. A place that celebrates the abundant talent that can be found in this part of the world. Showcasing pieces that have been thoughtfully curated by owners John and Louise Winterton it is a gallery that makes the most of its bright and airy setting. Walk in, and unlike a lot of its contemporaries, you’ll immediately feel that you have left the hubbub of the world outside, free to appreciate everything laid before you without being overawed by a cascade of competing artefacts. There is a synergy that somehow manages to connect all of the pieces, bearing testimony to John and Louise’s skill in bringing together various artists under one roof.

The Customs House Gallery, Porthleven
The Customs House Gallery, Porthleven

Established some 30 years ago by Bob Hood, he eventually passed the baton to local artist Heather Howe, who still exhibits her work here. About 12 years ago she too decided to move on to allow her to concentrate on her painting; it was then that John and Louise took the helm.

Their driving motivation is to present high-quality and original art in a friendly environment with a commitment to give artists a viable platform for their work. They believe a gallery should be welcoming, encouraging everyone to feel comfortable once they have stepped through the doors. Louise, in assessing their modus operandi says, “We feel strongly that each artist that we represent should always have work on display, rather than being hidden in a cupboard for months on end between exhibitions. So, our walls and plinths are aesthetically curated to offer the best possible opportunity for our artists to have their works seen. We consciously steer away from presenting ourselves as an intimidating space.” 

LEFT: Rebecca Walklett - Copper bowl with rubbed back verdigris patina

RIGHT: Jake Boex - Orange Bowl

The gallery showcases a diverse range of styles to cater to their existing and new clients’ predilections, but there is an overarching homogeneous feel to the choices made by the couple. Resisting the dictates of the gallery’s location to mainline on seascapes and coastal scenes, they also feature landscapes and still life, with the latter being particularly popular currently.

The selection process is organic, with Louise and John often discovering artists during travels, both geographically and digitally. They aspire to create a curatorial balance, exhibiting a diverse range of artworks and artefacts that come together to create a cohesive display. This process aims to reflect the gallery’s unique vision while supporting artists and fostering a sense of community. The couple love to build close relationships with their artists, fostering mutual trust to ensure a successful partnership. As a consequence, they are fortunate to work with a fantastic group of people. 

The gallery ensures constant representation for their stable of artists, affording them the advantage of the gallery’s high footfall. As well as being active on social media they maintain a comprehensive and dynamic e-commerce website. They also host year-round exhibitions, including group shows in 2024 that have featured a broader selection of work and larger pieces. Strengthening their appeal, they have also been a member of the Arts Council England funded Own Art scheme since 2015. This inspired concept allows collectors, both large and small, the chance to purchase original creations via an interest free staggered payment method, thereby spreading the cost over a period of time. This approach supports both the aesthetic and commercial aspects of the gallery, maintaining a balance, despite the increasing overheads that are the bugbear of many independent enterprises these days.

TOP LEFT: Heather Howe - The Lacey Gown of May

TOP RIGHT: Amanda Hoskin - Foxgloves against a Silver Sky

BOTTOM LEFT: Phil Ward - Penzance in Yellow

BOTTOM RIGHT: Barry Wilson - Last of the Light

As well as maintaining the gallery and online presence Louise and John constantly keep an eye on industry trends by visiting other galleries, attending art fairs allowing them to keep abreast of movements within the art world. They recently responded to market challenges by organising an exhibition called ‘Collect,’ featuring small paintings by gallery artists, which received an excellent response. As  a  consequence, they plan to make it an annual event, incorporating trends to suit their clientele and artists.

While they currently lean towards established artists, the gallery remains open to emerging creators who can add a unique dimension to the gallery’s offerings. As part of this approach, at the end of each year, they reflect on what has worked and plan for the next. This year, they are running group exhibitions with three artists, allowing each of them to show a wider range of work. Studio visits are part of the selection process, and deadlines are set to ensure timely updates to their website. It’s a rewarding exercise for both the gallery and participating artists.Three featured artists, ones who fit neatly into the gallery’s ethos, include Ben Taffinder, who lives and works on the Roseland peninsula. Known for his distinctive use of a palette knife, creating unique textures, Ben studied sculpture at Falmouth College of Art and, after working as a lobster fisherman and commercial diver, returned to his artistic roots. He began painting en plein air in the landscape where he was raised. Andrew Barrowman is the second member of the triumvirate. Based in Cornwall, he primarily paints with oils but eagerly experiments with various media, including charcoal, egg tempera, and casein paints. An enthusiastic plein air sketcher, he works outdoors in all weather conditions, capturing the play of light and tide as it plays upon the landscape. When not traversing the county, he can be found at his studio at Krowji, Redruth. Finally, there’s Phil Ward, who uses oils on canvas, employing bold brush strokes and palette knife marks to lay down images of land and sea, capturing their movement and energy. His studio is ideally nestled in the valley of New Mill not far from Penzance.

LEFT: Andrew Barrowman - Morning Light Porthleven Harbour Wall

RIGHT: Jenny Sutton - Coverack Slipway

As for the future, Louise and John aim to continue enjoying their work and exposing as many people as possible to their artists’ creations. They are particularly excited about their upcoming group exhibitions, with the next one featuring Amanda Hoskin, Eric Ward, and Barry Wilson from June 29th to July 8th. More details on subsequent exhibitions can be found on their website along with what’s in the gallery at the moment.

LEFT: Ben Taffinder - Tangerine and glass

RIGHT: Karen-Carlyon

Peter Boex
Peter Boex


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