St Ives is unique in British art history. Between the Second World War and the 1970s, many progressive artists chose to work and often settle around this small port in the far west of Cornwall. As Patrick Heron observed, St Ives is the only small town in Britain ever to have gained international fame in art. The careers of Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Bryan Wynter and other artists associated with St Ives have received much individual attention. Yet in the broader historical picture, St Ives art is often isolated from the spirit of the times. Michael Bird opens up new ground in exploring connections - often unexpected - between the St Ives artists and contemporary developments in society, literature and other fields.As the idealism of prewar constructivism was transformed by St Ives artists in the postwar decades, he shows how local themes of landscape and community reflected much wider social and cultural changes during the Austerity era and beyond. For the first time, this book fully integrates the St Ives artists into the cultural narrative of twentieth-century Britain, especially from the 1930s onwards.
It ranges from the intense hopes that accompanied the Labour victory in 1945 to the explosion of consumerism and American influence in the 1950s, and beatnik youth culture of the 1960s - all of which connected interestingly with St Ives. The artists emerge as vivid and very different personalities, as often embroiled in conflict as in any shared artistic agenda.Drawing on fresh research, Michael Bird has created a fascinating and highly readable account of St Ives and its artists. The question 'What was St Ives art really about?' is often asked. This book provides some authoritative, provocative and entertaining answers.