When Stephanie Sandercock arrived in Cornwall in 2014, she was seeking musical inspiration but found love and a new artistic direction instead. Eight years later, she is married and an established artist with an especial interest in the rugged Cornish coastline.
The close details in the Cornish coastal rocks – the lines and cracks, tiny pebbles entrapped in fissures and the variety of colour in the sand and stones – all captivate her and are represented on a larger scale in her work. Textured abstract paintings are created using unconventional materials including shiny muscovite mica crystals, rusted steel, crushed limestone and Venetian marble plasters, alongside acrylic, oil and wax in bright, bold colours.
This summer, Stephanie will take part in a group exhibition on a theme of Cornish Perspectives at Thompson Galleries in London’s Marylebone, followed immediately by her fourth solo exhibition at Penwith Gallery in St Ives, which invited her to take full member status earlier this year.
Stephanie grew up in the Ribble Valley, just north of Preston in Lancashire, and spent much of her childhood “writing songs, painting and daydreaming”. Childhood trips to the seaside were to resorts like Southport and Blackpool or North Wales. “I’ve always been obsessed with rocks, and my dad would have to empty the boot of all the rocks I’d tried to smuggle home,” she laughs.
But her connection to Cornwall is on another level, verging on spiritual. “The rocks aren’t just beautiful – they vibrate, and give off a sense of safety and deep calm,” she says. “They make me feel grounded, like I’ve been here before. It’s like when you meditate and get to your peaceful place.”
Her first experience came at Gwithian. “It had a profound effect on me. I became obsessed. I stood with my forehead on the rock face, feeling the ancient pulse of the Earth.”
She struck up a relationship with the Penwith Gallery in St Ives and her fourth solo show coincides with being made a full member. “It’s a really big deal,” she says. “When I first arrived, I didn’t know if I was any good at painting, just that I loved it. There was a lot of experimentation. At school, we had to paint real things, but when we could do what we wanted, it was always abstract for me.
“There are so many galleries in St Ives, it can be overwhelming, so it helped to focus on one. I felt naturally drawn to the Penwith, with its great reputation for abstract work; I thought if I could get on the walls there, I must be doing something right. As for full membership, my goal was to achieve this in my 60s or 70s.” She’s now 52 so well ahead of schedule.
Gwithian formed the basis of her first exhibition at Penwith, described as a “promising debut” by art critic Frank Ruhrmund in 2016. She has since set herself the deadline of mounting a new show every two years. Godolphin To The Sea (2018) saw abstract ploughed fields creeping into her subjects, and the introduction of limestone and marble plasters. Hayle To Halzephron (2020) drew open the bold colours of lichen and produced heavily textured works.
Her latest collection, entitled Alchemy, leans heavily on mica and is “magical, like jewels – it has glamour and sparkle. I’m a girl, after all!” she laughs, adding: “My work is progressing, and I’m still experimenting. I love being immersed in it, and get a real sense of excitement and freedom. Whether the end result is any good is for someone else to decide.”
Her studio is at home near Hayle, but in 2021 she took on a workshop/gallery on St Ives’ Porthmeor Road. “I love working on my own at home, but this was an amazing opportunity to be part of the St Ives artistic community and it has enabled me to meet so many people and get feedback and sales.” It was here that she was scouted to take part in the summer group show at Thompson Galleries. “It was one of the very few days I opened in December – I got lucky.”
Under her maiden name Stephanie Kirkham, she released the infectiously upbeat album Tiny Spark in 2015 – one track, Easy As 123, was used in European TV campaigns for Peugeot and EDF, as well as for Miracle Gro in the USA. However, music has since taken a back seat. “All my ideas are painting ideas – as long as I have a way of expressing myself, I’m happy,” she explains.
“With music, I would go for a walk and find a beat in my footsteps, leading to a song forming in my mind. With painting, I’m moving my hands and losing all my worries and concerns, just living in the moment. I find an aliveness in it that makes me keep going back – it’s physically demanding, yet addictive.”
Find Stephanie Sandercock at Whites Old Workshops, Porthmeor Road, St Ives TR26 1NP. For current opening times, email email@example.com
Alchemy runs from June 18 to July 17 (preview night Friday, June 17, 5.30pm to 7.30pm – all welcome) at the Studio Gallery, Penwith Gallery, Back Road West, St Ives TR26 1NL.
Tel 01736 795579, www.penwithgallery.com