Art of the west: See Devon through different eyes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Fiona Sturges hires a VW campervan and tours the artists' studios around the county

'Art" reads a tiny signpost skewered into the hedge at the end of three miles of narrow, winding road. All is quiet here in Bantham, a remote seaside village in south Devon, save for the gentle whisper of the trees. I have an appointment with Graham Fish, a 60-something painter, ex-hippy and surfer who has a studio in a huge converted barn. Over the past 30 years, Fish has been bringing the coastal landscape indoors through his atmospheric oil paintings, many of which are propped against the his studio walls.

He loves the sea, not just for the surfing but for the way it changes colour in different conditions and times of day. On a table in his studio lie 50 or so exquisite postcard-sized seascapes. Arranged together, like a large watery quilt, they form part of an ongoing project in which he chronicles the infinite changes on the horizon day-by-day. "Every morning, I wake up to something new," he says.

This is one of several stops on my whistle-stop trail of artists' studios in Devon. Next Saturday, about 180 artists will open their workshops to visitors for two weeks as part of the annual Devon Open Studios event. So far, I have seen mosaics of angels constructed from broken porcelain; felt bunting comprising rows of naked, middle-aged men; shimmering russet-coloured prints of charred gorse; and black and white photographs of farmers hoisting animal carcasses on to trailers during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Worlds away from the enormous price tags of London's Cork Street, or the glossy modernism of the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park, London, Devon Open Studios offers visitors the rare privilege of viewing art in the context of where and how it is made. And, should you feel like buying something, you're unlikely to have to re-mortgage your house to do so.

The county has long captivated artists with its dramatic landscapes. Local institutions such as the Cider Press Centre near Dartington, the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey and the Plymouth Arts Centre have long provided visitors with the edited highlights of Devon's artistic life. But creative types are now keen to show their work on their own terms, hence the burgeoning success of the Open Studios project.

Now in its seventh year, the event has grown inexorably from a handful of artists showing work in their garages and living rooms to a well-organised trail. Weavers, potters, glassblowers, photographers, printmakers, sculptors, jewellers, quilt-makers and wood-turners are all more than happy to explain their practices to visitors for a fortnight, over tea. The event costs nothing to the visitor and there is no prescribed route. The best bet is to pick through the brochure to see whose artwork appeals and just turn up on their doorstep.

In keeping with the Open Studio's air of bohemian cool and to take in as many studios as possible, my family and I have a chosen as our means of transport and accommodation a 1972 VW campervan. Her name is Uma, she's daffodil yellow and she's not keen on steep hills, which is unfortunate since there are many. But no matter. Uma is wonderfully self-contained, she's pretty and my four-year-old daughter thinks she's a playhouse on wheels.

We concentrate our visit on the central and southern parts of Devon, from the coast that lies west of Salcombe, via Totnes and Dartington, to Chagford and Okehampton. These are areas that cover what Devon does best: sea and moor.

It pays to pace yourself: over three days, we visit eight artists, enough to get a glimpse of the breadth of work on offer without suffering cultural overkill and still leaving time to enjoy the wider delights of Devon.

Few of the people that I meet were born in the county, though since moving here all have become fiercely devoted to the place. Indeed, geography is crucial to all the artists who work in this part of the world. The natural beauty of the area, be it the glowering, granite-strewn peaks of Dartmoor, the dinky hamlets of the South Hams or the spume-whipped villages on the coast, is grist to the mill for those who invariably look outside for inspiration.

Across the bay from Bantham is Janice Walton, a landscape artist whose art is in thrall to what is outside her window in Bigbury-on-Sea on Devon's south-west coast. Her attic studio looks out on to Burgh Island, home to a renowned Art Deco hotel that was the setting for several Agatha Christie novels. So in love is Walton with this vista that she has replicated it on countless canvases. Bigbury-on-Sea is also notable for the hordes that unfurl their deckchairs in the summer on the stretch of sand that links the mainland with the island. We roll up our trousers and hit the beach to join the sun-worshippers taking advantage of low tide, with Burgh Island in the middle distance.

The next day, we move inland to the moor where leafy lanes give way to a spread of desolate, heather-clad hills. We pass through Chagford, where we meet a felt maker who creates extraordinary, flower-strewn shrouds, and a potter who works out of a garden studio roughly the size of a telephone box.

A few miles away outside the village of Throwleigh, we visit Chris Chapman, whose photographs grace the permanent collections of London's V&A and the International Center of Photography in New York. While my daughter helps to feed the chickens, he tells me how his work was transformed by his move to Devon in the early Seventies.

Chris has devoted himself to documenting all aspects of Dartmoor life, from portraits of weather-beaten farmers herding their sheep down country lanes and livestock auctioneers at work, to fresh-faced soldiers on exercise. He also gives us the low-down on Dartmoor's best pubs. Thanks to him, we have a fantastic lunch in Widecombe at the Rugglestone Inn.

Nothing teaches you about a place better than the people who live there, of course, and viewing local art at such close quarters is a terrific way to remove yourself from the tourist trail. After three days of being welcomed into people's kitchens, being fed scones and tea, and learning about their work, we start to see Devon through the eyes of the artists who live here. It's a spectacular view.

Getting around

* O'Connors Campers, based in Okehampton (01837 659599;, offers hire of two-, four-, five- and six-berth VW campervans. Prices start at £375 for four nights in September.

Staying there

* Barley Meadow Camping and Caravan Park (01647 281629; has pitches starting at £17.30 for two people. Children under six stay free.

* The River Dart Country Park (01364 652511; offers pitches starting at £17 for two. Under threes stay free.

Visiting there

* Devon Open Studios runs 3-18 September. An event guide is available at

Standard opening times are 11am to 6pm, though on Thursdays (8 and 15 September) some studios will open until 8pm.

More information


Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Brand said he
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit