An interview with Cornish artist, Peter Ursem
To round up The Maker’s Summer of Literature, and August’s focus on the Arts, I reached out to local, Cornish artist, Peter Ursem. He kindly answered my questions about working as an artist in Cornwall and his experience at the 2022 Charles Causley Festival of Arts and Literature this July. See an image of Peter’s artwork below the interview portion, but to find out more about his artistic process and experiences as a Cornish artist, please read on!
Tell us a bit about your work. What mediums and materials do you use and what would you cite as your biggest inspirations?
I’m an artist as well as a writer. I was born in The Netherlands where I studied both literature and fine arts. I settled in England in 1998 and feel enormously lucky to have been living in the beautiful Tamar Valley (my studio is near Calstock) for the last decade.
As an artist my work is often inspired by the landscape, and in particular by places where you can feel a deep sense of place, where the land and the sky seem to express how beautifully meaningful life on earth is — can be — if we live our lives respectfully, with a sense of grace and a desire for understanding (but not pulling things apart) for nature, for each other and for the planet. I make charcoal drawings, multi-coloured lino prints, wood engravings and oil paintings. My artistic expression is also nourished by my love of language and some of my works are text-works, poems made into hand-cut prints.
As a writer (writing as Petrus Ursem) I have published an adventure trilogy for young adults, starting with ‘The Fortune of the Seventh Stone’, which is also hugely inspired by the Tamar Valley landscape, in particular by its mysterious mining history. I believe it is our task as human beings to enrich the world by making what we do and who we are to be meaningful, and I feel privileged to be able to do that through my passion and creative work as a writer and visual artist.
How do you feel your work has impacted the local community? Do you feel your work as an artist has let you become more involved in community events and activities?
For a creative person it is always hugely rewarding when the images or stories that you have chosen to work on chime with how your audience experience them, when people are clearly moved or excited by something I’ve written or visualised in a drawing or a painting, when the pickup the mood of a landscape that I’ve worked hard on to express in a lino print. Many people have supported me over the years by buying my artworks, books or cards and sometimes people email me photographs of the purchased works in their houses. It’s lovely to know that my artistic expressions find their way to other homes. I also sing in a choir in Calstock and with my wife, singer Helen Porter, we run a programme of creative workshops at Gresham House Studios. It’s always so clear how much people enjoy stepping into the creative process. Fortunately, there are also good opportunities to enjoy cultural events in East Cornwall. I try to support live events as much as I can.
Did you attend any of the Charles Causley Trust’s Festival of Arts and Literature events this year? If not, do you believe the festival was beneficial to local creatives?
I was partly involved in this year’s Charles Causley festival through the Tresorys Kernow, Studios on the High Street project, which came to a close during the festival weekend. During this project I have been working in ‘Fabulous Fables’, a new collection of fables that I have written. People who came to my ‘high street studio’ could request me to read one of the fables to them and in exchange make a quick doodle in my fabulous fables’ sketchbook. It was such a lovely thing to do, reading one to one to an attentive listener and sharing the delight of gentle word and story play with them. Many people said it made them feel so much calmer and less stressed.
The Charles Causley festival is a brilliant event. Through his life and poetry Charles Causley expressed so clearly how important it is to live consciously, observe the detail of the world around us, be it in small occurrences or wild adventures, and re-form that into beautiful gems of poetry to make us smile or cry. There is a kind of observational intimacy to Causley’s work (as there is to for example the work of the painter Pierre Bonnard), which brings a gentle understanding of things that are important.
What keeps you living in Cornwall?
My home and studio near Calstock are just the most perfect place to live and work, surrounded by brilliant landscape. I am close to the sea, to Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, and the Tamar Valley itself is already so perfect and full of stories and adventure. No need to be anywhere else!
And one last question! What are you reading at the moment? and would you recommend it to our readers?
I’ve just finished Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’, a beautifully written family history in which the meaning and power of art and stories gradually unfold. Definitely a must for anyone who likes to explore where imagination and reality meet.
Image: Peter Ursem
Interview undertaken by Anna Craig, The Maker’s digital intern