ON THE TRAIL AT TREMENHEERE
Nature provides a stunning sculptural backdrop to the best in contemporary sculpture...
I’ve always considered sculpture’s natural home to be outside. In art galleries it often sits in the middle of the classic white cubed spaces, just waiting to be tripped over as visitors step back to gaze upon the wall-hung stuff. Of course that’s not to say galleries where sculpture is the main attraction don’t work – head to Barbara Hepworth’s old home or Bernard Leach’s old pottery in St Ives and you’ll see that.
But I do maintain that most people will still enjoy the gardens of Dame Barbara’s former home the most – there is just something rather magical about combining the shape, colour and texture of nature’s flora and fauna with its manmade counterpart that makes garden-set sculpture magical.
Head down winding country lanes just outside of Penzance and you’ll find yourself at Tremenheere Sculpture Park where my hypothesis can be tested emphatically.
One of Cornwall’s finest treasures, Tremenheere is home to some of the UK’s best artists – alongside the work of Cornish sculptors, there are works by Royal Academicians and even a Turner Prize-winner waiting to be discovered.
This year there is the added attraction of a new purpose-built indoor gallery showing (and selling) prints and ceramics by a quartet of Royal Academicians (there’s also the very popular Tremenheere Kitchen for afternoon tea). But the weather demands we first explore the gardens. Beginning at the start, you are greeted by one of three works by Tony Latimer, where a serendipitously placed hole provides the perfect frame for the view of Mount’s Bay beneath us. From this spot, the eye is naturally drawn upwards to Restless Temple by Penny Saunders which catches the imagination – especially of our younger companions who watch transfixed as the large classical Grecian-style temple sitting on hydraulic legs bounces around in the wind at the garden’s highpoint almost in worship of the stunning views beneath it. Stop awhile and enjoy this feat of engineering which took almost 15 years to create. It’s like a trick of the eye to see the pillars dance with each other harmoniously in all wind conditions, so the whole temple moves as one.
Speaking at its unveiling in 2015, Saunders said: Restless is about flexibility in the face of the mighty forces of nature. It’s about gravity and rules but also insecurity: pendulums interacting with a temple, symbol of a western civilisation now teetering on the edge.’
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There is a map you can use to find your way around the park and tick off the works as you see them, but put it in your pocket and instead wander around the gardens and find work peeking out of exotic planting and demanding to be explored, whether Minotaur, by Royal Academician Tim Shaw, which peers out at you from above the pathway or find yourself heading into the Tewlwolow Kernow (Twilight in Cornwall) by James Turrell an elliptical place to worship the sky through the viewing space set into the centre of its ceiling. The whitewashed space also offers a great echo chamber…
There is playfulness within the gardens, there are sculptors working within traditional materials of stone, while contemporary artists offer up work that many may wrinkle their foreheads at – is Ian Penna’s Skip of Light a sculpture? I hear someone ask as they pass by the environmentalist artist’s sculpture which bears more than a passing resemblance to a miniskip. Of course, art should ask questions – whether subtle in the form of Noel Betowski’s painted beehives or more curious creations such as Kishio Suga’s untitled work encasing bamboo in scaffolding poles. Large and thick bamboo poles are seemingly randomly splayed around a metal scaffolding cuboid enclosure, like spaghetti dropped in a pan. The use of materials are sublime: the metal poles represent a temporary building structure in the west and bamboo is also used as scaffolding in certain parts of the world. The external material is hard, manmade and unyielding, the bamboo is nature: flexible when tied to the earth, hard and multipurpose when harvested and treated. There is also an apparent combination of the linear and the abstract, the geometric shape of the connected scaffolding poles and the chaotic, yet wonderfully aesthetic placement of the bamboo. Is it nature tamed? It made me automatically think of an inchoate architectural thought; a three dimensional sketch made real.
St Michael’s Mount peeks out from many parts of the garden and becomes an almost adopted sculpture for the park – a fitting tribute as the monks who used to inhabit the mount also owned the land Tremenheere now sits on. A beautiful sheltered valley hosts this 22-acre exotic and sub-tropical garden. Plants have been chosen based on a unifying theme of sculptural forms, textures and colours – nature holding its own against the best in sculpture. I’m no gardener but I can appreciate the shades and shapes of the exotic planting - much of it hailing from Vietnam, I am told.
As well as the everchanging planting, the park itself is forever growing – a new garden area has new sculptures in place for this year and there are loaned works on site such as Peter Randall-Page’s Slip of the Lip.
Onwards and upwards we stop awhile and watch the sun play on Ken Gill’s Skhimza which uses glass to fill in an ancient fissure in the rockface, the light turning it to a frozen waterfall. James Turrell Twilight in Cornwall is a secular space of spiritual contemplation. The alter piece replaced with an intervention in the ceiling, a subliminal skylight, or the silhouette of a prototype of a Wright brothers’ flying machine. In the centre is a crossed shape. It also works as an inverted camera obscura with a small dot of white light surreptitiously moving across the walls.
One of my favourite pieces is Tim Shaw’s Minotaur. A sculpture of that of the part man part bull and the most ancient of Greek/Mediterranean symbols and one which was so beloved of Picasso. This bestial unfettered man/monster is left rampant on the hillside at Tremenheere, released from the labyrinth to devour its human quarry. It seems as though it has been scarred by the whipping winds from Mount’s Bay, but it is defiant, indomitable and really rather moving. In its tragic countenance I felt nothing but empathy.
The tour had to end and for us it was with the work of four-time Turner Prize nominated and one-time winner Richard Long, CBE. This was the piece I most wanted to see. The Tremenheere Line is the crowning glory of the garden. This south-facing line created from the rush-like plant, Baloskion tetraphyllum, marks the uppermost point of the garden.
One of Britain’s best known artists, Long is renowned for his land art, which sees him enter landscapes and change them in some way – as well as creating sculptures from natural materials, such as Cornish slate.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s still a line,’ one visitor tells me as he leaves the sloping lawn surrounding it after a picnic.
But isn’t that the point?
History of Tremenheere
Sitting firmly within Cornwall’s top list of attractions, the sculpture gardens were founded by Dr Neil Armstrong who bought the land in 1997. This spot has a long history stretching from ownership by the monks of St Michael’s Mount to six centuries of unbroken lineage of the Tremenheere family before it became farmland. Armstrong’s idea was to create a naturalistic space that blends the elements of landscape, planting and artworks to create a place for contemplation and wonder.
Open daily 10am-4pm
(Under 11s Free)
Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, nr Gulval, Penzance TR20 8YL