Walk into The New Gallery and there’s an immediate sense of nostalgic familiarity. The peg board walls, the glass artefacts capturing the incredible light, the tin of old pennies and a hung wicker basket of toys to keep children occupied. It’s a homely and welcoming sense that might throw some visitors on first impressions, when they soon discover that the work hanging on the walls is by some of the most established artists in the country.
In 1997, The New Gallery opened its doors in the small, picture postcard village of Portscatho. It was the fruition of what had so far been thirteen years of artistic collaboration, work and recognition from a small collective in the village, headed by one man, Chris Insoll, who founded the Portscatho Society of Arts in 1984.
For years, the likes of Alice Mumford, Eric Ward, Trevor Felcey, Andrew Tozer, Grace Gardner and Rose Hilton have all found solace, inspiration and friendship amongst these walls and in the company of Chris, an established professional painter in his own right, who champions this artistic hub and all that it offers to artists and art enthusiasts alike.
In order to understand the magnitude of work and talent available in The New Gallery, it’s best to first understand its other, integral role as a workshop and studio. Upstairs, amongst the dozens of drawings and posters of former exhibitions and retrospectives Chris and many of his friends and fellow artists have participated in, resides a room like no other in Cornwall’s galleries. An invitation must be earned in order to view the upstairs part of the gallery, but if offered it’s an opportunity not to be missed,
“Anyone that comes upstairs and looks around forgets that they’re in a gallery, suddenly they’re in an art school.” Chris explains, “We do invite people to view upstairs, if they’re interested, we don’t want it to be a tourist attraction, but people love to come up here and see something that’s real. We don’t have time to set anything up, it gets moved around every day because it’s a working studio.”
The New Gallery’s notability fully began in the late 90’s, with the publication of Portscatho: Portrait of a Cornish Art Colony. The book assisted in raising awareness to the work of Chris and the art collective and in turn attracted artists such as Alice Mumford into the fray. Chris’ mentor, Trevor Felcey, who tutored Chris at the Chelsea School of Art during his studies, also helped attract widespread attention and today The New Gallery has remained a must-see for artists, admiring visitors, collectors and fans alike.
Everything about the gallery is atmospheric. From the self-portrait and the still life subjects of skulls, flowers and ornate lamps to the warmth of the heating, switched on for a model who might be posing later that day. Unlike many small Cornish cottages, the room is blessed with the most delicate light that has, as Chris describes, long inspired and captured those that have worked on the easels of this room. It is a place for professional artists to graft, rest, confer and experiment,
“Most artists, particularly well-known ones, often work on their own,” Chris explains, “…rarely, they don’t spend time with people on a similar experience to them, unless they visit somewhere like here and this place, in a sense, is like an art school.”
Chris, and the twelve artists that show their work at the gallery, clearly relish the chance to work and practice in the studio together, “We’re all at school here, because we’ve always got someone who will teach us something, we get ideas off one another.”
Upstairs is also, without entirely intending to be, a working museum, paying homage to iconic figures long gone. One of Stanhope Forbes’ (1857 – 1947) palettes hangs above the doorway in the kitchen, and Chris often uses one of Forbes’ former paint boxes when working on his own pieces, there’s even an easel from British painter Sir Matthew Smith (1879 – 1959) which is still very much used by artists in the studio today. Art, in all its rich history both Cornish and British, has worked its way into nearly every corner of this studio,
“We have pieces which are part of the history of Cornwall and part of our background,” explains Chris, “there are works on the wall by people who are sadly no longer here, whose works have influenced us all in some way.”
Works from the likes of Grace Gardner, who died in 2013, and Rose Hilton, who passed away in 2019, all have a place and a point of memory. It’s a powerful atmosphere for some of the more recent artists to join Chris and his group, such as Nina Packer, who came on board to help Chris with the gallery, as well as focus on her own work, several years ago. Nina’s paintings have already garnered attention, this summer a self-portrait was barely on the wall for five minutes in the gallery before it was bought and her time amongst the studio has driven her to discover her own style,
“I love to go and look at other people’s work,” she describes, “for example with Trevor Felcey, I admire his work so much, I like to pick out what I think is beautiful about it…It makes me look at how I’m painting myself.”
“You’re in an arts community,” Chris emphasises, “with a group of artists that essentially have a showroom downstairs. There is always something on the wall and there are pictures that won’t be in other galleries.”
Ultimately, the work displayed is a mixture of raw, emotive and thought-provoking pieces from artists at the top of their game and it’s clear that the gallery’s impressive history and quality of work continues to have a strong influence on Cornwall’s creative communities. The openness and welcoming attitude of this society is a testament to Chris, who works alongside his daughter Odette who helps him run the gallery and wife Andrea, an artist herself. Altogether, The New Gallery encourages even the shyest of artists, hobbyists and art enthusiasts to explore something new, whether its buying their first piece of serious art to exploring their own skills.
If you’d like to discover Portscatho’s art hub, you can find The New Gallery open on the following days:
Thursday to Saturday, 10am – 12.30pm & 2pm – 5pm.
Or by appointment.
The New Gallery