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No errors among these Spoonerisms

By West Briton  |  Posted: February 20, 2014

By Frank Ruhrmund

  • Cornwall Contemporary - Penzance. Ken Spooner Òignition exhibition and book launchÓ 14th February - 10th March 2014. Ken Spooner with ÒChariotÓ . PZPM20140213B-002_C.jpg

  • Cornwall Contemporary - Penzance. Ken Spooner Òignition exhibition and book launchÓ 14th February - 10th March 2014. Ken Spooner with ÒChariotÓ . PZPM20140213B-001_C.jpg

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ALTHOUGH tiny, like so many Cornish hamlets, Crows an Wra, not far from Land's End, once had its own Wesleyan Methodist chapel.

While it still has the building, for the past 15 years it has been the home and studio of Ken Spooner and his wife Pat.

The title of his exhibition Ignition, which now fills all three floors of Cornwall Contemporary in Penzance, could not be more apt. Comprising no less than 210 works – ceramics, sculptures, assemblages, paintings and photographs – it sets the gallery ablaze.

Warmed by the heat of his talent, engulfed in the explosion of energy that flows from such a collection of artworks, almost all of which have been made during the past 18 months or so, it is impossible not to be impressed by him. It is also impossible to pin a label on him – multi-talented, a maverick and a half, fortunately he is good humoured and I'm sure he won't mind me calling him that.

Whatever medium he happens to be working with, whatever his subject matter, he captures and conveys a sense of the magic which places a work of art in its own world.

The key to his approach is to be found, perhaps, in the slogans that adorn a couple of his pieces and are worth bearing in mind when considering his work – "If you rest you rust" and "I am what I am because I love what I do".

As happy in the scrapyard as he is in the studio, the manner in which he adapts his found materials is magical in itself, his entrance to the art world was accidental and came about when he was in his mid-20s.

Laid off from work as the result of an accident, he spent his spare time in his father's shed making things. As it happened the owner of an art gallery saw what he had made, liked it, offered him a show, and the rest as they say is history.

Born in Leek, Staffordshire, and now in his 70s, like so many he first came to Cornwall when young on family holidays and had to wait until he was older to come on his own. In the late 1950s, having bought a motorbike through Exchange and Mart for £25, he drove to St Ives where he soon became part of its vibrant art scene, becoming friendly in particular with painter and poet Bob Devereux then working as a deckchair attendant and, having a guitar, strumming alongside Donovan.

He wasn't to know then that he would later become a member of the Penwith Society of Arts in St Ives and of the Newlyn Society of Artists, or that he would be awarded a first class (hons degree) in fine art by the University of North Staffordshire, or, indeed, that in the 1980s he would exhibit for five years in Gallery County West, San Francisco, and in the 1990s for seven years at gallery Five o' Clock, Lausanne, Switzerland.

A "one-off" if ever there was one, whose favourite phrase must be "mixed media", for several years in the Midlands he also ran a highly successful antique and interior design business through which he sold his own paintings. He exported to Europe and the USA, where many of the objets d'art he was handling found their way into the homes of a number of movie stars and celebrities in and around Los Angeles.

Ignition is accompanied by a limited edition of a book with that title. Priced £25 and generously illustrated, it comes with a foreword by Sarah Brittain, director of Cornwall Contemporary: an appreciation of Ken Spooner's ceramics by fellow Penwith-based ceramicist Tony Lattimer, winner of the Emilia Romagna Prize, Faenza, Italy, 2013, plus a coda by Ken Spooner himself who says, "art for me is not about having a style. I see style as a trap. A box or cage. A prison for creativity. To make art one has to let go of what one knows and to take a leap into the unknown".

To take a leap with him into Ignition, which can be seen, admission free, in Cornwall Contemporary, 1 Parade Street, Penzance, 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, until March 10, is an experience not to be missed.

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