Navigating the uncertainties of the ever-changing Covid roadmap has been a defining characteristic of these last two summers. In Launceston, the next steps towards normality are in motion, as shopkeepers about the town prepare for a third shop window exhibition. Everyone is consistently positive and welcoming — they can’t wait for ‘their’ painting to go up, to see the other paintings and for something to be happening.
The shopkeepers remain cautious. For them, the current uncertainties are not just about what they can and cannot do, but about their livelihood. The pandemic has accelerated changes in retail behaviour which question the whole viability of town centres. Yet during my visits, the Launceston retailers were upbeat, so different to the conversations I had in 2019, organising the exhibition for the first time. They know how much of a difference the shop window exhibition makes in the town centre, as a talking point that draws in new customers.
The exhibition is now very much part of the annual Causley Festival and the fifty or sixty prints and paintings on show this year will all be by local artists. There is a Causley theme in some of the works exhibited – one or two new portraits of the poet look back at you from the window of the gentleman’s outfitters or the bakers; an image from one of his poems nestles amongst soft furnishings in the haberdashers, or between televisions in the electrical shop. There will be numerous landscapes of north Cornwall – Causley’s hinterland – as well as abstracts, figures and still lives. All part of a contemporary exhibition of local art made by people in this community, these works that are displayed in the windows of familiar shops are visible and relevant
Aspects of this street exhibition marry visual art and literature, very much part of a contemporary North Cornwall connection between artists and writers. Not far from the town, in the village of Altarnun (much frequented by Causley) I run the Terre Verte Gallery, where artists and writers have been exhibiting and writing over the past few years, coming together for events, readings and opening nights. There is a strong interest in the links between painting and writing and between a sense of place and what local culture plays back to. The creativity of Launceston’s artistic community is critical to the vibrancy of both town and gallery exhibitions.
The flow of the ‘unseen’ of felt experience between art forms seems to me akin to the threads of life experience that form the local stories that places tell themselves about their identity. And they both take on greater significance at times of change. Charles Causley’s work was profoundly influenced by two periods of disruption considerably greater than what we are facing in 2021 (the gathering threat of climate change notwithstanding ) and he drew upon themes of local place and morality with powerful and timeless effect. So his poetry provides food for thought as we make sense of the turbulence precipitated by the pandemic, as well as being an inspiration to us to keep local culture viable and visible, to open up spaces for the work of artists and writers to be heard and seen – both by the public, and each other.
Terre Verte Gallery
Launceston’s Shop Window Exhibition 2021 runs in the town centre from 17th July to 14th August. Details of Terre Verte Gallery exhibitions can be found at www.terreverte.co.uk