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Muddy Meets: Henry Garfit, Newlyn School of Art

Ahead of the exciting Penzance Arts Festival in June, we caught up with Henry Garfit, founder of the Newlyn School of Art to find out more about the festival, his favourite artists and which beach he heads to walk his dog.

Henry and Sasha Garfit, Newlyn School of Art

What was your first job? 

I was quite motivated about getting a job in the art world from an early age and so wrote to several art galleries and auction houses when I was about 17 to get work in my summer holidays. I think my earliest job was at Kettle’s Yard public gallery in Cambridge which was originally the home of Jim Eade the collector of so much Twentieth Century art from Cornwall by artists like Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Alfred Wallis.

Most memorable moment at work? 

When I was 18 I worked assisting research on a book about one of my favourite artists at the time, John Piper, who was famous for painting bomb damaged buildings in the Second World War. I was lucky enough to meet his widow at his studio and home near Henley. Going through his sketchbooks in his studio was an extraordinary experience, recognising every piece of furniture in his studio and seeing the work in person was deeply affecting at that age.

Somehow my meeting with the Piper’s widow, Myfanwy, made an impression on her and amazingly five years later after leaving university, when I was looking for a job in a London gallery, I sent my C.V. to all of the galleries who had dealt with Piper’s work and to my astonishment I was told that his widow had written to many of the galleries telling them that if I ever came to them for a job they should employ me! That’s how I got my first paid job in a gallery in Mayfair, London.

What is your career highlight? 

Probably the day we managed to get nearly 1,000 artists painting at the same time in the same place on the cliff top near Land’s End, Cornwall in September of 2019. It was in aid of a National Trust project to repair the coast path there and the idea was suggested by installation artist Anthony Garratt. The wild winds and rain stopped for the hours we had everyone there and we had bright sunshine and no wind so the drones captured the amazing day. The BBC National News covered the event on the Six O’clock and Ten O’clock news that evening as their last item just after (then) President Trump!

Sum up your art school philosophy?

On courses we try to encourage our students not to worry about outcomes. Be willing to take risks and try new things. The best artists, even the most established ones, are always learning by pushing their practice to new places and always looking at other artists from history and other artists around today.

Favourite artist? 

Can I have two? Patrick Heron and Meret Oppenheim.

Favourite gallery? 

Tate Britain

Why should people go to more exhibitions? 

There are so many places that art can take you both in terms of the fact that so much of art is about helping us to see and think about what it is to be in the world but also how art reflects different cultures and a wealth of history.

How did the art festival come about?

Two local artists came up with the idea, Andrew Swan and Winnie Lynn (below). It was one of those ideas that was so right that it felt like the festival should have already been happening as there is so much art being made in this part of Cornwall and so many artists and galleries to share what they do. West Cornwall has more artists than any other part of the UK outside of London and 25% of employment here is in the creative industries. Penzance and Newlyn are both full of a wonderful history of famous painters, sculptors, ceramicists, textile designers and other creatives but importantly it is a really thriving artistic community today.

Could you tell us a little more about the festival? What are the highlights? 

The festival is an amazing kaleidoscope of work by hundreds of artists who live here exhibiting through shows around the town, talks by artists in commercial galleries, blockbuster shows like the Dame Laura Knight retrospective at Penlee House Gallery, there’s a live streamed Q and A between film crit Mark Kermode and Director Mark Jenkin on his Bafta Winning film Bait.

There’s a live streamed illustrated talk on Andy Warhol by Tate Modern curator Fiontan Moran and a host of art courses to attend either in person and online. So you can even learn to paint the dramatic coastline from the comfort of your own home! See the festival website for the full calendar of events and activities.

Any advice for choosing art (for home)? 

Investing in art and just buying something to add a bit of colour to your home should really not be that different. You should always just go with your instincts and buy what you respond to. Learning a bit about the artist gives you so much more enjoyment of the work.

What about being creative – is that something people can learn?

Yes, I genuinely don’t believe people when they say ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body’. We all make creative decisions about what we have in our lives be that what we wear, where we put our sofa or how we cook. It’s all about doing what feels right and trusting that even if the results aren’t how you hoped that you are having fun and learning each time you try your hand at something.

What’s your favourite Cornish beach / view?

We love taking our kids to explore the coastline at Helford because there are lots of little beaches there which aren’t busy and it feels different to far west Cornwall. We also love taking the dog for a walk at Gwithian a few miles north of Penzance which has a National Trust car park and a café and a very long beach.

How do you spend your time to make the most of living in Cornwall?

It is a real privilege living in far west Cornwall. I’m a big fan of Penzance and love to explore the shops and get a few things for a picnic from the delis and bakers around the town then heading out to the west for a walk on the moor or on the coast path.

When your first visitors arrive in Cornwall post lockdown, where are you taking them?

We have just started running our courses again and we have already got them out to some stunning dramatic coastline like Pendeen Watch Lighthouse and Botallack. It’s hard to beat being up above the cliffs looking out to the sea seeing the waves crashing against the rocks.

You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner? 

We love hearty salads using the kale we grow in the garden slightly wilted down and crispy in the oven with lots of added things like roasted cauliflower with turmeric, roasted nuts, grated beetroot and a tahini and garlic dressing. It can actually be put together easily with only about ten minutes of cooking time.

Favourite things to eat when you’re on holiday? 

Can’t beat a BBQ with some fish and a steak.

Favourite cafe/ restaurant / shop / business that isn’t yours! 

We love the Edge of the World Book Shop in Penzance and for food it’s hard to beat Mackerel Sky or the Tolcarne Inn for fish in Newlyn.

Penzance Arts Festival runs from 4 – 20 June supported by the Penzance BID – full calendar events available on the website

Find more ideas here


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