'An Axis of Abstraction': Art in Cornwall and Yorkshire - Then and Now

23 Mar 2024-30 Mar 2025

Leeds Art Gallery
Leeds LS1 3AA


Since the second half of the 20th century, there has been something of a cross-fertilisation between the respective arts practices of West Cornwall and West Yorkshire. Cornwall, and in particular the harbour town of St Ives and its surroundings, has attracted artists since the late 19th century. In the early decades of the 20th century modern artists began to congregate in the area, while the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the artists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson seek sanctuary in nearby Carbis Bay. 

The gathering of artists in and around St Ives during the wartime period made it a magnet for a younger generation of artists after the war ended. At the same time, the establishment of the Gregory Fellowships in painting, sculpture, music and poetry at the University of Leeds in 1950 offered new opportunities for artists to work in Yorkshire.

One of the major hubs of artistic activity in and around St Ives has always been the Porthmeor Studios. The opening of Tate St Ives in 1993 provided the impetus for new projects and residencies at the studios. From 1998 to 2000 the sculptor Veronica Ryan was artist-in-residence at Tate St Ives, working in Hepworth's former Palais de Danse studio. In 2019 the artist Ro Robertson relocated from West Yorkshire to Newlyn, near Penzance and they are based at Porthmeor Studios.

Ryan, Robertson and the Yorkshire-based Emii Alrai are part of a generation of artists working today for whom Hepworth's work has acted as an important critical touchstone. Recent acquisitions by these artists are presented in dialogue with sculptures, paintings and ceramics by Hepworth and other artists living and working in Yorkshire and/or Cornwall from the 1920s to the 1970s.