Away from the main towns and villages of Cornwall the process of tracking down galleries, studios and artists can be a bit like a game of hide and seek as many are hidden away amongst Cornwall’s lanes and coves. The treasures found at the end of the search are often worth the journey as you’ll often find the most stunning work created by some of the most talented artists who’ve opted for place of peace and quiet in an effort to concentrate on the work itself, Robin Leonard’s workshop cum gallery in Golant is no exception as myCornwall found out.
I was greeted by Bren the wolf, as Robin describes him, and Dodo, a little Jack Russell/Collie cross and Robin himself. With Bren and Dodo’s approval Robin and I sat outside to chat about the location, the artist and his work.
“I came down here back in 1981 and more or less started painting straight away,” Robin explained. “I’d originally done a graphics course at Dunstable Art and Design College, intending to get a stable job…which never happened”.
Robin went on to study at Plymouth University. “That was something completely different,” he continued. “environmental science, as a mature student.”
Robin had a young family and wanted to “be responsible as art provides a very unreliable income. Unfortunately I didn’t do my homework. I started to apply for jobs within the environmental science field and began to wonder how anyone could rely on the wages being paid. I went back to art.”
“I thought if I stayed with environmental science I’d have extra costs such as running a vehicle to get to and from work. With art I’m free.” says Robin. “and I’m just about making a living from it.”
Looking at the gallery Robin sighs: “I might have made a mistake taking this place on as there aren’t many people walking past.” He’s right, only three people have walked passed in the half hour we’ve been sat there, and they all live locally and offer greetings as they walk past. “I’ve got to see how it goes, maybe run it for six months or so. In some ways it is helping me as it’s given me a base away from home and I’ll turn it into more of a studio than a gallery. There’s another reason I want to keep this place on. There’s talk of the railway line being used again.”
Robin has only had the place a couple of months so it is still early days. “It used to be a gallery before I got hold of it,” he says. “It’s not just my own work on show here, there are also works by the likes of Jethro Jackson and Chris Prindle”.
Who was buying the works on show in the gallery? “There’s a few people who stay in the village during the summer months and there’s a hotel nearby.” says Robin pointing along the road.
Who,where or what influences him? “I’m staying in a place called Trenarren with my daughters. It’s five minutes from St Austell. I stumbled across the place thirty years ago and nothing’s changed. It’s timeless. It was a manor that went back to the doomsday book.”
So you’re looking after the house in Trenarren. Are you working there? “Yes, that’s the plan. It’s such a paintable place…everything is there. It’s a tortured part of Cornwall,” says Robin. “This is the thing that’s fascinating to me at the moment. The geology of the place. It’s a tortured place…the natural environment. It’s been exploited industrially.”
I asked Robin if he’d ever explored any other art forms? “Just painting,” He says. “I spent a long time exploring water colours, but now it’s just oils.”
Does he get many commissions? “One of my first jobs was illustrating a book about the Saint’s Way project.* Working like that was very interesting but I’ve not done many commissioned pieces.”
The artist tells me that the works he most admires are by artists such as Picasso, Peter Lanyon, David Hockney and Patrick Heron.
Robin’s own work is enticing to those who are looking for seascapes and landscapes without the predictability of some other artist’s work. Beautiful, accessible, bright and original is how one recent visitor described Robin’s work after visiting to the gallery. How does Robin do it? “Only by observing nature and tirelessly applying paint,” he says. “does the art start to happen.”
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