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Muddy Meets: Zara Devereux, Tate St Ives

You've been round the galleries but have you ever wondered about the people that work there? Zara Devereux tells us about her fav piece in the gallery, growing up in St Ives and inspiring a future generation of artists. 

Cornwall is absolutely stuffed full of amazing women doing interesting things. You just need to know where to look. Inspired by the themes of International Women’s Day, we’ve done some digging which has led to some refreshing chats… here are some of the women we spoke to.

Zara Devereux is the Senior Visitor Experience and Operations Manager at The Tate St Ives, working as part of a team of women who are championing female artists and using the gallery space in St Ives to inspire a future generation of artists.

The Tate in St Ives grew out of the artistic connections in St Ives which date back to Victorian times when numerous artists came to the town to paint, attracted by its special quality of light. The first Tate building was created in St Ives in the early 1990s with the new extension and gallery space being completed in 2017.

So what’s day to day working at the Tate St Ives like?

My role is ensuring the visitors, and staff, have the best possible experience, every day. I do plenty of desk-based operational stuff and meetings, plus some bizarre and beautiful conversations in the galleries, fixing things that have broken (a lot), keeping the people, art and building safe and secure. I also find myself solving lots of unusual problems such as how to clean a huge room that is 15 feet deep in balloons?

But my primary drive is to make all those hours spent at work,  genuinely rewarding and enjoyable for my team.  At Tate St Ives we have a truly exceptional front of house team and there is a strong family feel, that everyone contributes to. I hope I have facilitated that ethos and made space for the team to be themselves as well as personifying the Tate brand.

It sounds a pretty dream job – what led you to it?

I was born and grew up in Cornwall in the 70’s. Both of my parents were artists and ran a gallery in St Ives. Many of the artists, often referred to as “The St Ives Modernists” were family friends. I guess it was quite a bohemian, beachy childhood, rich with experiences and colourful characters.

After finishing art school it was really hard to find year-round work in St Ives. I was exhibiting my collage work around the county and holding down various part-time jobs in the leaner times.

I came to Tate St Ives as a weekend gallery assistant in 1998, gulp a long time ago! Having been in a number of different roles since then, I’m surprised, but enormously happy to still be here!

What’s your favourite piece by a female artist in the gallery?

It’s got to be  “Vivace” by Sandra Blow. It was painted in 1988, using acrylic paint, cardboard and paper on canvas.

What makes it so special to you?

“Vivace” is so joyous, exuberant, and life-affirming. I can never look at this work without also thinking about the process of making it, of the physicality of creating it and the onwards travel of all that paint!

Whenever I saw Sandra, she often carried with her a clue to her days work, a smudge of black paint on her shirt, or a fine speckled spray of blue across her hair. She was an inspiring person, an incredible colourist, often working on a huge scale, carving her way into a male-dominated world.

“Vivace” means a lively tempo, which further adds to my image of her frenetically at work on this painting, possibly to music, shouting or singing, I don’t think you couldn’t paint this in silence!

A down to earth, twinkly-eyed woman, with a naughty laugh and a great selection of way out hats, she clearly lived life to the full. I see her when I look at this painting and I can’t help but smile.

How do you think that the role of women has changed in relation to the art world?

My impression is that women artists are getting closer to 50/50 now, particularly in St Ives and the Penwith area, but they are still not as well represented in national galleries.

Tate St Ives has acknowledged this and has shown a predominately women artists programme, since relaunching in 2017. This sits alongside Tate’s overall ambition to collect and show more work by women artists. There’s still a way to go but I feel the balance has shifted.

How can we help the next generation of young women find their place in the art world?

Continue to champion arts organisations to represent women artists better; new and established, support, celebrate and talk about them when they happen.

We can’t mention the Tate St Ives without thinking about the view – do you have a favourite?

Of course! Porthmeor beach at sunset.

And what about a favourite beach?

Our family “Secret Beach (somewhere on the Coast of Cornwall!!) is a four person-sized, super private beach of white sands and ridiculously sparkly water.

Lastly, tell us where in St Ives makes the best coffee!

I don’t drink coffee but St Ives is full of really good coffee shops. My coffee drinking friends say the best is “Mount Zion Coffee”, as coffee is all they serve.

Find more ideas here

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