Sustainability is a subject close to the heart of artist Kurt Jackson, and two exhibitions running concurrently at his gallery in St Just bear testament to this.  

Fragile Earth by Sally Baldwin is a body of work evoking natural forms such as trees, pods, flowers, insects, sea life and water. The materials used – recycled and handmade paper, silk waste and gauzy cotton scrim – are ghostly, white and ephemeral, suggesting delicate, fragile, vulnerable and finely balanced landscapes.  

The work had its origins during the first lockdown. “It felt as if the world as we knew it was collapsing,” Sally recalls. “Not only was the environment under extraordinary threat, with climate change and habitat loss demonstrated clearly all around us, but our society was also crumbling because of a rampaging virus.” 

Sally launched a project with funding from Arts Council England. “Initially my idea was for the pieces to form a white and ghostly landscape, a reminder of what we once had but have now lost,” she explains. However, as the work progressed, she named the collection Fragile Earth: “I felt it was more optimistic, and reflected my belief that we can still reverse this decline if we work together globally and locally to switch to a circular, carbon-free economy, and to protect endangered habitats.” 

Monarch Migration by Sally Baldwin

In the titular hanging installation Fragile Earth, the long, disintegrating tree-like shapes are an indicator of our loss of trees through farming, land clearance and bush fires. The long, stitched paper piece implies moth-like creatures, moths being an indicator species reflecting the health of our eco-systems – as with butterflies, their numbers are in serious decline. In contrast, pod shapes in delicate silk fibres (see also Warming Oceans) represent jellyfish whose numbers are thriving at the expense of other forms of sea life.  

The Monarch Migration wall pieces refer specifically to the Monarch butterfly, which migrates annually over 2,500 miles from the USA and Canada to hibernate in central Mexican forests. Their numbers have dropped by an astonishing 95% since the 1990s, due to a variety of environmental factors including climate change, increased pesticide use, illegal logging (especially for avocado plantations) and the loss of grassland containing milkweed, the only plant they can lay their eggs in.  

Woven by the Tide by Kurt Jackson

Meanwhile, Kurt Jackson’s own Mermaids’ Tears explores the use of nurdles – tiny pieces of plastic which are melted down to create single-use items. These are spilt on land at industrial facilities, and can float off down drains and ultimately out to sea. It’s estimated that around 250,000 nurdles are currently in the world’s oceans, where they are mistaken for food by sea creatures and thus find their way into the human food chain.  

Weighing 20mg each, nurdles have been common on beaches since the 1970s. Kurt takes nurdles from local beach cleans and incorporates them into paint for large-scale collage works. “Artists are often described as people who ask questions. I hope that a body of work like this will make people think, look more closely and ultimately make demands,” says Kurt.   

“We really do need to stop this mentality of making something to use it once, then chuck it away. There is no ‘away’. I want to open people’s eyes to what a beautiful planet we live on; if we abuse it, we abuse ourselves.” 

From Mermaids’ Tears by Kurt Jackson

Running alongside both of these exhibitions is Kurt Jackson’s Clay Country. Having previously explored Cornwall’s extractive industries in collections based around South Crofty tin mine, Delabole slate quarry in North Cornwall and Carnsew granite quarry near Falmouth, Kurt now seeks inspiration in the peaks and troughs of the area close to St Austell, which have been mined for kaolin, aka China Clay, for two centuries. All three exhibitions run until August 13 (check the website for opening times). 

Jackson Gallery Opening Bees

The Jackson Foundation is housed within a former industrial building at the heart of the thriving former mining town of St Just-in-Penwith. Kurt and his wife Caroline aimed to provide a space for the public to reflect on our symbiotic relationship with the natural world. The gallery is powered by an array of high-efficiency solar panels and ground-source heat pumps, and hosts an annual programme of contemporary exhibitions in partnership with a variety of environmental and non-profit organisations. Paintings are delivered within Cornwall by zero-emission fully electric car or van.   

The Jackson Foundation, North Row, St Just TR19 7LB. 
Twitter/Instagram: @JacksonFGallery. Facebook: JacksonFoundation