Following on from their highly acclaimed show in Brighton this spring, Rapture art collective presents Paradise, ‘an uplifting celebration of summer vitality, exquisite flora and fauna and luscious painting’ at Velarde in Kingsbridge.

The show is designed around recent work by artist and curator Jesse Leroy Smith, and includes work by Michael Angove, Fleckner, Lucianna Whittle, Jacques Nimki, Richard Ballinger, Anthony Garratt, Mhairi Treharne, Soma Bognar, Sharon Purves, Sethe Smith and other invited artists.

It is the next in Rapture’s programme of nomadic exhibitions, which moves on later this year to a gallery in Chelsea, a warehouse in Swansea, and then the leading European art centre of Berlin before showing in Greece.

Great British Life: Canonteign II by Anthony GarrattCanonteign II by Anthony Garratt (Image: Anthony Garratt)

‘Each Rapture project is a combination of the place it happens in, the community involved and the creative parameters we set,’ says Jesse. ‘Here in Devon, Velarde offered us a wonderful space, with the kind of light and expansive walls that are hard to find, especially in the South West. It means we can really create impact and drama with the curation. The sculpture garden too, with its plants, insects and scents of the earth, is conducive to experiencing nature-inspired works of art.’

Jesse divides his time between his home in Brighton, his studio in Newlyn, Cornwall, and residencies across Europe. Paradise, which is billed as ‘a hot house of devotional images of nature and vivid paintings of humankind, adorned with creatures of the sky, surrounded by abundant flowers and lush terrains,’ is his first exhibition in Devon.

‘Rapture has been intrigued by the art scene in Devon for some time,’ he says. ‘We are getting to know more artists here and are looking forward to connecting with a new audience,’

Great British Life: Mother Sky, oil on organza over oil on canvas, by Jesse Leroy SmithMother Sky, oil on organza over oil on canvas, by Jesse Leroy Smith (Image: Jesse Leroy Smith)

The Paradise exhibition is shaped by Jesse’s recent journeys across Greece, where he made a series of paintings in response to the stories and histories he learned on his travels. At the centre of the show is a huge frieze on canvas tarpaulins, inspired by families socialising in the tavernas and bars of Greece, surrounded by the wild creatures Jesse observed, drew and collaged there on his extended residencies.

‘I focused on painting the natural world,’ says Jesse, ‘by walking to remote monasteries, looking for lizards on ancient routes, or snorkeling off deserted beaches where I could hear my own breath as I lost myself looking for hidden creatures. For me, paradise is found in being lost in the intense beauty around us, in really witnessing it. That wonder at the land and its creatures can form a spiritual connection that shapes our beliefs and values. By experiencing it more fully, I have realised how often I am detached from nature.

‘For Paradise we are reimagining the gallery experience and making it a place to become lost in nature and painting. But... when we think of paradise we think also of ‘paradise lost’. We want to create a truly uplifting show, an immersion in colour and light, but also a sense of urgent passion.

Great British Life: New Path, oil on canvas by Richard BalingerNew Path, oil on canvas by Richard Balinger (Image: Richard Balinger)

‘So much great painting and poetry comes from the anxiety that we will lose what we love.’ The exhibition champions artists that paint in this passionate way, with what Jesse calls, ‘a generosity of spirit and vivid use of colour’.

Generosity is one of the Rapture collective’s core values, as fellow artist and curator Lucianna Whittle explains: ‘Sharing is implicit to our structure, from offering open invitations to graduates, to artists showing up in the gallery space to connect with their audiences. Equal to our care for the audience is our attention to the experience of emerging artists. We recognise our responsibility to nurture a new generation of artists and offer a platform to talented voices who may not otherwise be visible.

‘Rapture believes in mixing internationally recognised talent with rising new artists and graduates, creating a wider portrait of the visual arts right now. Collaborations like this create a huge resource that benefits everyone.

‘When there is an art ecosystem like this, that has exchange and flow, we are only going to see growth.’

Collaboration not just with new artists, but with the public, is also central to Rapture’s ethos: during the exhibition there will be various public events, including filmed interviews, ‘walk and talks’ and a children’s art competition that will encourage young people, ‘to paint more animals and consider the world around us, which makes for beautiful paintings,’ says Jesse.

Great British Life: Shoreline Kiss, oil on paper, by Lucianna WhittleShoreline Kiss, oil on paper, by Lucianna Whittle (Image: Lucianna Whittle)

‘With all our events we want to bring a sense of sharing ideas to Paradise,’ says Lucianna. ‘They generate a kind of spark between the artwork and the person who is encountering it, not as a bystander, but in dialogue.

‘I believe that art is not static, there isn’t something to ‘get’. Art comes to life in the two-way process of looking and being looked at. Events that activate this relationship and soften the boundary between artwork and viewer are of immense value to both.’

Lucianna adds that inviting children, in particular, to Rapture exhibitions supports the collective’s desire to nurture emerging young artists.

‘Children have an unfiltered approach to art that is very fresh and direct,’ she says. ‘They know what they like, and they aren’t afraid to make links, to be curious and to be present with art in a way that makes sense to them personally. In that sense, they are great role models for the rest of us in the appreciation of art.’

Paradise runs from May 25 to July 6