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Kurt Jackson - working off the Cornish coast

Kurt Jackson - Cornwall on canvas

Kurt Jackson is one of Britain's leading contemporary painters, renowned for his love of Cornwall's landscapes. We explore how the area's stunning natural beauty has inspired his work over the last 20 years.


Kurt Jackson spends much of his time exploring and painting the rugged countryside and coastline of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

His highly individual landscapes are much prized in the art world, and have a distinctive Cornish quality, reflecting the area's light, weather and natural environment.

Kurt made Cornwall his home in 1984 after he'd graduated from University, settling in Boscastle, before moving to his current home in Cape Cornwall.

Some of Jackson's favourite subjects are the valleys, moorland and coast near where he lives, which he returns to repeatedly in his paintings.

On location

Kurt in action
Kurt Jackson working at Lands End

Kurt uses Cornwall's coastal landscape as a key motif in his work, often working on large canvases in the open air in all weathers, through wind, rain and sunshine.

Living in Cornwall, Kurt is constantly aware of the richness of the natural environment and landscape, and the vibrancy of the Cornish community.

"In Cornwall my subjects are mostly places I know well, that I visit over and over again - certain areas of coast, moorland and valleys," he says.

"I also work on projects, usually one a year, which are either based on a particular aspect of Cornish culture or on a distinct track of countryside.

"Capturing a fleeting impression doesn't interest me. In all my paintings the aim is to convey my feelings and sense of awareness in that particular environment."

Through his paintings Kurt aims to explore the idea of Cornishness, and is deeply aware of the area's rich heritage embracing both past and present.

Kurt lives near St Just, surrounded on three sides by the sea, where the landscape is a mix of the natural and the post-industrial. 

Many of his watercolours combine these elements, some featuring landscapes with the distant silhouettes of redundant tin mines or bands of travellers in the background.

The great outdoors

Kurt Jackson sees himself as a contemporary 'plein air' painter in the tradition of the great Newlyn School of Cornish artists.

His work is generally completed in situ, with very little time spent in the studio.  

Jackson prefers the outdoor life, exploring the South West carrying his paints, sketchbooks and canvases.

Kurt Jackson
Working in west Cornwall

He carries a sketch book with him at all times, ready to capture a visual diary of events, places, thoughts and ideas.

To get an intuitive inner response to the landscape in his work, Kurt recently walked St. Michaels Way, an ancient pilgrim route running from Lelant in St Ives Bay to Marazion in Mounts Bay, resulting in a series of 172 drawings.

By painting outdoors and on location he feels he can immerse himself in the landscape and weather.

Cornwall's rich canvas

To get a real sense of place, Kurt regularly paints large canvases out on the cliff tops, weighted down by granite boulders.

He will also incorporate debris and found objects from the scene into his canvases -  he feels that it helps him to capture the essence of the location.

Kurt is also not afraid to write directly onto his canvases. Words and phrases that spring to his mind whilst painting find themselves incorporated into the piece.

Amongst his outdoor paintings is the monumental work, 'Do You Ever Wonder What's Out There?', a wild atmospheric seascape.  The painting's powerful quality has led one critic to liken it to standing on the cliffs in the middle of an Atlantic gale.

In his early career Kurt sometimes painted in a cliff-side mine, but high tides, storms and falling rocks made it precarious.

Today he paints on the cliff tops and in a small converted fisherman's hut overlooking the sea, and occasionally goes out in a small boat to capture his spontaneous impressions of the coast.

Kurt Jackson
Kurt Jackson

The brush strokes resulting from being on a boat which rocks and rolls in unpredictable weather conditions lends an air of immediacy to his landscapes.

As Kurt points out, "Who needs a water pot and a brush when you've got the sea throwing itself at you?".

Brush marks

Many of his Kurt's paintings feature Priest Cove, near where he lives in West Cornwall, the culmination of nearly 15 years work in this location.

These huge collaged paintings embody Jackson's powerful and personal response to his environment, his thoughts, feelings and memories.

"Cape Cornwall and Priest Cove in particular have been a focal point.  I go and work in other places and other countries but I always return to here … There's so much that fascinates me about the place," says Kurt.

"It feels quite desolate, neglected and on the edge of everything, and I like all those feelings.

"To the visitor and tourist there's nothing special which is probably why I like it.  It's small, it's dark and it's got uncomfortable rocks when you walk barefoot.

"Once upon a time this was a sand cove with beautiful white sand but being in West Cornwall, this sand was taken away to be processed for tin."

Kurt reflects these changes in the landscape by incorporating sand from the cove  into his own paintings, as he explains.

"There's a sort of roughness and untamed edge to it .. We're on the edge of the Atlantic coast so there's this forever dynamic, changing situation of the light, the weather - every day's a bit different."  

All-action painter

Born the son of two painters, Kurt Jackson was encouraged from an early age to both paint and draw.

He grew up exploring the hedgerows and streams of his surroundings, often sketching the animals he observed.

His father was an important influence, painting open air landscapes for fun during family holidays on the Cornish coast. 

After studying Zoology at University, Jackson moved to Cornwall with his wife - he became immersed in the area's natural landscape and grew more sensitive to the threats it faces.

As a result Kurt is a committed and active environmental campaigner, and often gives paintings to charities to help them raise funds to protect the landscape he loves.

In 2004 he painted a scene of the Fal-Ruan estuary and nature reserve to raise funds for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Kurt Jackson
Painting off the Cornish coast

Jackson has also been artist in residence at the Glastonbury Festival for the past seven years, painting the landscape of crowds and the venue as well as artists such as Coldplay, Moby and Oasis.

The work he produces is auctioned at the end of the festival to help environmental charities such as Water Aid. 

Kurt has also been painting on the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, which is campaigning against pair trawling for sea bass, a practice which is killing thousands of dolphins.

As an 'all-action painter', Kurt sketches continuously whilst he is on the boat, even when the Esperanza tries to cut the trawlers' nets.

He has also been painting underwater off the Isles of Scilly to illustrate his concern for global warming.

"My work is about the environment I choose to live in, what's happening to it, who is living in it, how they're changing it or working with it, and how the environment is the result of people and things that have happened in the past," says Kurt.

Kurt is also working on a new project about the Cornish hedgerow which he describes as "a very specific feature of our landscape - a reflection of Cornwall".

He sees the hedgerow as being "akin to the rain forest … there are different types of plants and animals living there together ". 

Cornish champion

Kurt Jackson's paintings are renowned for their fluent, dynamic and intense qualities, which result from an artist working at one with his landscape.

The Cornish countryside and coast has been a hugely influential factor in his work, resulting in paintings with an overwhelming sense of place.

He also has a deep regard and respect for nature, reflected in his environmental concerns and involvement in campaigns to preserve the balance between man and nature.

Kurt Jackson's wonderfully organic paintings of Cornwall capture the real essence of the area, with an intense passion for his adopted home.

Jackson has become not just an artistic crusader, but a supporter of everything Cornish - and a great ambassador for the area's natural landscape.

'A Picture of Cornwall' is part of a related TV series called 'A Picture of Britain' which runs weekly on BBC One from June 2005.

The TV programme is getting an extended repeat on Monday 25 July as Kurt Jackson's 'Picture of the South West' on BBC 3 at 23.30.

last updated: 20/07/05
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