Based in Porthmeor Studios. St.Ives 1981 – 2 Foundation.
Loughborough College of Art. 1982 – 6 BA (Hons) and Printmaking Prize. Sunderland College of Art
2016 Kestle Barton
Beaux Arts London
2014/15 Newlyn Art Gallery
2013, 2011, 2009 Beaux Arts Bath
2010, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999 Millennium Gallery, St.Ives
Selected Group Exhibitions
2017 Beaux Arts London, London Art Fair
2016 Award winner at Exeter Contemporary Open. Exeter Contemporary Open. Exeter Phoenix.
2015 Plymouth Contemporary Open. Plymouth University. INK Miami Art Fair Falmouth Art gallery Porthmeor Past and Present
2014 London Original Print Fair, Royal Academy London Art Fair, Islington, London Collage Wilson Stephens. London
2013 Picture Room, Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn 20/21 Royal College of Art
2012 20/21 Royal College of Art IMS Falmouth Art Gallery
2011 Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London Five by Five, Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn Print! The Exchange, Penzance 2010 House of Fairy Tales, Millennium, St. Ives
2009 Insomnia, series of new prints. The Exchange, Penzance 20/21, The Royal College of Art, London Double Vision, Exchange Gallery, Penzance
2008 Treasures from the Wilson Collection, Falmouth Art Gallery Drawing Show curated by The Drawing Room, The Exchange Gallery, Penzance Crossing Over, Beaux Arts, Bath
2007 Art Now Cornwall, Tate St.Ives A Fine Line, Artonomy, Truro
2006 NSA Exhibition, Goldfish Contemporary Fine Art, Penzance Porthmeor Printmakers Show and Portfolio, Café. Tate St.Ives From the Edge, Sherborne House, Dorset
2005 3 Person Show, Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn
2004 Critic’s Choice (John Russell Taylor), Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn New Cornish Art, Edgar Modern, Bath Drawing Newlyn Art Gallery
2003 Critic’s Choice (Joan Bakewell), Newlyn Art Gallery Conflict and Resolution, Harbour House, Devon ID, Newlyn Art Gallery
Publications / Catalogues
2016 Kestle Barton. New Work Beaux Arts.
2015 Newlyn Art gallery Still Here Plymouth Contemporary Open
2013 Interview by Mark Osterfield Porthmeor Studios & Cellars. The Architects’ Story. By MJ Long.
2011 Essay by Aidan Quinn 2010 Essay by Gill Nicol (Head of Interaction, Arnolfini Gallery) Art and Graft. FT Weekend Magazine
2009 Artists Studios. MJ Long Essay by Elizabeth Knowles CBE (Also essay 2003)
2008 Emma Thomas. Telegraph Magazine
2007 Art Now Cornwall, Essay by Susan Daniel-McElroy, (Director Tate St Ives) On the Very Edge of the Ocean, Ben Tufnell, Tate Publications Work in Education and Residencies
2015 Lecture as part of Visiting Artists Series. Plymouth University.
2013 MA Lecture Series. University College Falmouth
2011 Residency, Kestle Barton Visiting lecturer, BA Fine Art, University College Falmouth.
1993-2016 Tate St.Ives. Leads practical sessions, special events and talks.
1995-2016 Newlyn Art Gallery – Involved in devising and leading courses including printmaking and ‘Drawing a painting’.
2007 – 2014 Falmouth Art Gallery. Leading printmaking courses.
2002, 05, 07 Vyner’s School. Artist in Residence Collections Pallant House Wilson Collection University College Falmouth Falmouth Art Gallery Sunderland University Cornwall Council Royal Cornwall Museum Slaughter and May Other
2016 Study in Hindsight selected by Lux for Side by Side screening event. Hosting an interdisciplinary residency at Kestle Barton.
2015 Organised, selected and presented an exhibition of four artists (Strepitus Crepitus Fragor) in St Ives. Co founded LDM, a monthly discussion group with artists and curators. Start Printmaking for Boys – irregular printmaking sessions for contemporary artists.
2013 – 16 Work appears regularly on cover of London Review of Books 2014 Article published in issue 14 of Turps Banana.
2013 Sketch Open, Winner of Fine Art editioning prize – Rabley Contemporary Selected for The Cornwall Workshop – A forum for dialogue and exchange with international artists, writers and curators, Kestle Barton.
2011 Art In Cornwall BBC Four.
2010 Art and Graft FT Weekend Magazine, photos by Rosie Hallam.
2009 Filmed for Memory Bay as featured artist Interviewed for ARD, German radio
2008 Telegraph Magazine. Photographed by Paul Massey and interview by Emma Thomas. Featured artist in film by Ray Bird about Porthmeor Studios Featured in Merian German magazine Photographed by Max Edelman Photographed by Andreas Sterzing Photographed by Gary Treadwell
2006 Coast, BBC One Subject of Process a film by Stuart Lansdowne
2004 Guardian Artist of the Month Cover of Guardian Supplement Living on the Edge
Sometimes you may just have to look away.
To spend time with the work of Naomi Frears is an overwhelmingly evocative experience, full of open endings and expectations, a period of ambiguous haunting. To say that she makes emotional paintings would be to sell them short: they are psychological explorations, always charged, modestly euphoric. She doesn’t let the viewer off easily, in other words.
Something supremely fertile happens in her new collection of work, and while some of the pictures talk directly to the artist’s previous concerns – errant nature, ethereal pleasures, wandering figures in outlying scenery – much is strikingly new: a stronger figurative expressiveness, a toughening of the images in a lusher context. The paintings carry both intensity and serenity, and a clear maturity. You can’t leave this display unaffected or underwhelmed; you may need a break before re-entering the plain world.
As befits an artist whose process involves continual overlaying and reconfiguring, there is little straightforward comfort in Frears’s works. The layers are both journeys and realities, atmospheres steadied by concrete houses in a field or rooted landscape. When the figures within them glance at us directly they don’t let much slip. The canvases are sculptural in their depth, and they remain lodged in our memory. But perhaps they have been our memories all along.
Frears occupies what is unquestionably one of the most desirable studios in the world, unless one has hopes of productivity. Looking out through vast windows onto Porthmeor Beach and the Atlantic, it’s St Ives at its holidaying best, and it’s always been a wonder that precisely none of it appears in Frears’s work. Here it is the artist who must look away, although she doesn’t appear to struggle with the manoeuvre. The sea is not a common visitor to her canvas, and nor is cloudless blue; perhaps the storms intrude more often, and the town’s legendary light transmutes to melancholia. Previous occupiers of her studio were headstrong too, not least Francis Bacon, whose brief sojourn is said to have marked a discreet lightening of his work, in hue if not in menace.
Away from the beach window there are stauncher stimuli: the pattern of a studio sofa has seeped into a vast amber palette; music seeps in too; and her small sketchbooks are packed with jumping-off points – a bit of airport ceiling, moods from her travels, an engraving in a poetry collection – that are often reconfigured on grander scales in fresh work. The fragments may later merge with personal history, as when a brief sketch of Walt Whitman from a book takes on the guise of her father in British Summertime (JF as WW) and a landscape from elsewhere is rotated to become the bower above his head.
The notion of creation by happy accident is a consistent one for Frears, although one shouldn’t mistake this for loose thinking. One of the most strident works on display, Couldn’t Love You More, is a typical amalgamation, and novel in its rare depiction of something so plainly salty. But the two people in the high-sided boat may not be having the best of times, and that denim blue threatens to envelop. And note how the thin paddle and sails combine in their uncertainty.
The title comes from a John Martyn song on the radio during creation, while the boat has been extracted from a busy scene of herring boats on an old St Ives postcard. The canvas itself has a bit of previous too, a palimpsest of other creatives: a group of young visiting artists were let loose on it for a while, although their efforts are now entirely hidden. ‘I seem to feel a bit more at ease when things are upside down,’ Frears says. The painting was so much of a departure for her that while she was making it she locked the studio door. Would an intruder ridicule her folly? Or would the bristling unshackled image make a run for it?
Her images remain disturbingly present. Recently she told me, ‘I am more attracted to working from a source if I don’t have all the information I need. Quick drawings and parts of images with gaps and unknowns are more interesting for me.’ She had previously reasoned that she was always looking for an edge, an awkwardness to make things right. The potter Edmund de Waal has described similar reevaluations in the paintings of JMW Turner. It is simply what being an artist is about, a constant disruption and reinforcement. ‘The ode on mourning becomes a lyric on spring.’ Frears has the instinct down pat: the soft destructiveness imbued in the creation of the work results in pictures that could never be anything else, or anything less.
I’ve experienced these transformations first-hand. A picture that appears to be settled one day is, by the following week, almost unrecognizable. What was once the central concern has become a feint glimpse on one side: a new impression from another source has taken its place. And sometimes the image stays solid but shifts its emphasis: viewed full-on, the woman standing assured in Inlet becomes translucent from either side; flip the title and we’re all let in. The painter’s narrative is not necessarily our own, although Frears once told me that sometimes she thought she was telling the stories in other people’s lives. There is certainly a desolation that sets her human figures apart, but has seclusion ever seemed more inviting?
And with all the fluidity and volatility, it is the authority of Frears’s work that shines through. That her solo exhibition somehow resembles a themed group show is testament to the strength of the imagery, at once hefty and weightless, and to the flirtations with adversity so beautifully contained within each piece. Wherever one rests ones eyes there is the muted power of suggestion from an artist with much to say.
Simon Garfield, author of Mauve, Just My Type and Timekeepers.