The Studio and the Sea, Jessica Warboys Tate, St Ives – 31st March – 3rd September 2017

The Tate St Ives has always harboured a dilemma; how to live up to its remit to have a permanent exhibition of local artists from the St Ives Movement inside its walls. It has never solved this dilemma though it has promised it will with its new extension due in September 2017.
In the meantime it throws a lifebuoy to visitors, locals and critics through artists who use nature and the St Ives landscape to inspire their works.
In the opening show for the new season, Jessica Warboys displays canvases painted by the sea. The technique is to place paints on long canvases (they stretch from the ceiling and one partially across the floor) to allow the ebb and flow of the sea to make the painting.
Contemporary art has long given itself over to the concept being more important than the finished work and one feels almost tired at having to even note the faded meaninglessness and inadequacy of these huge canvases that people should be allowed to walk over in their disgust at the weakness of form. We simply know the sea can do better than this.
This is an ancient, natural force that sinks ships, that rules our lives, that forces island nations to become seafaring. She is, in fact, our mother giving life to the whole of the planet. Is this really the best she can stretch to in our unobstructed postmodern condition?
You can look in vain here for her strength of purpose, her wisdom of the ages, her vision of the future, her commentary on the overfishing and pollution of her oceans. There is no pain here, to mass slaughter, no injury, no floating plastic. A marine biologist would look at these works and see nothing recognizable of the depths of the sea at all.
It is a tragedy of indifference that the Tate did not ask Warboys to ask more of the St Ives coastal waters. As an opening show this was a chance to make waves, but it is another wasted opportunity that doesn’t even ripple.
Better luck with the next tide

Daniel Nanavati

UK Editor

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