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The Fish Factory

Sophie Sweatman on the studio complex on Falmouth Wharf


Falmouth is a town that has become a significant hub of art education, with University College Falmouth incorporating Dartington College of Art based close by, and it seems important that there are affordable art studios in or near the town.

A far cry from the bohemian lives of the St Ives artists of the twentieth century - as portrayed in Patrick Gale’s book 'Notes from an Exhibition' - the next crop of art students is going to face the biggest challenge for graduates yet, as the costs of studying for three years leaves them with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.

Falmouth provides an alternative platform to St Ives for new artists, thanks to places such as the Fish Factory in Falmouth Wharves, located between Penryn and Falmouth. Recent reports in the press discuss diminishing face-to-face contact between people as social media grows, yet The Fish Factory provides exhibition, studio, photography and workshop space for artists to gather, meet each other, and produce and exhibit art.

Rose Hatcher, who took over a disused warehouse in 2011 to turn it into an arts space, is a keen party- thrower and with help from artists who work in studios in the Fish Factory, she tries to encourage artists in the area to come to social events and to get involved in building an artist community in Falmouth.

A recent graduate from University College Falmouth, Beth Hutchinson, whose work is being shown in the Fish Factory’s summer exhibition Maelstrom, says: meeting with other local artists and finding a space to work in - which I can afford - is high up on my list of priorities.’

The time immediately after finishing an art degree, particularly in the current financial climate, can be particularly challenging for fine artists. Beth says her own workspace, 'really helps bridge the gap between finishing studies and entering the real world. It's essential for artists if they are to continue making art. At college, you become accustomed to these things, and when they are no longer there, it can be a real blow to your routine, creative momentum and output.'

Beth is currently exhibiting her framed work called 'Seven Stages' in Fish Factory’s summer exhibition Maelstrom, which launched on 21 July and runs to 22nd September. Her work is abstract and surreal line illustration, sometimes incorporating a rainbow of colours set against the lines of the picture. To an onlooker it looks like the delicate visualisation of a growing emotion or other abstract element, which creates a beautiful form.

Wood slats left over from before the Fish Factory’s art space days are resourcefully used to create hanging space and studios. This personifies the approach to art of Rose Hatcher and its main contributors including Lee McIntyre, who first got involved to build the photo studio and artists’ workspaces.

Lee helped Rose turn a disused metal wheel – appropriately from Freecycle - into an exhibition mobile from which photographs are hanging from fine thread.  He has also created a selection of enigmatic shapes using glossy black paint sprayed onto a table covered in possessions, including an open mobile phone, with a picture in relief using black sprayed things ranging from a well-used purse to an ornamental seahorse. Meanwhile Katie Goff, with a tiny nod to Damien Hirst, has created 9 photographs of objects in glasses in the outdoors called 'Forgotten Beauty'.

As if to show the adaptability of the space in the Fish Factory, a new exhibition called FishTank has been added alongside Maelstrom, which also incorporates visual and installation art.

With line representations of a Cornish harbour, and paintings of symbolic icons of the sea such as shells, a crab and a lobster, Caroline Cleave gives us a rendition of Cornish seaside life. Martiens Bekker uses materials and objects to tell a story with reformed objects – such as the Trojan Goat – and creates a tree from painted paper that stands at the partition between the two exhibitions. A household brush provides a simple but effective horse’s mane, and other stand-alone and wall hanging creatures have been created by Martiens from wooden and metal objects in a similar simple and effective fashion.

The costs of producing, promoting and exhibiting artwork at the Fish Factory are low, giving the artist the unique chance to experiment, sell or get a response from the viewing public. A guest book for comments sits near the entrance and visitors can join the mailing list and connect via various social media platforms. The visual identity of the Fish Factory reflects its grassroots approach to art, which originated from a retro printer used to produce the visually recognisable newsletter.

There is workshop space and in-house expertise for workshops to further reduce production and exhibition costs, such as making canvases, and mounting and framing work.

The reputation of the Fish Factory now reaches across the Atlantic, as the space was chosen to screen a touring independent film from Chile called El Mar Mi Alma on Sunday 19 August as part of the film’s European tour. This film was shot on 16mm film and won ‘Best Cinematography’ at this year’s Yallingup Surf Film Festival and was given ‘Official Selection’ status at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2012.

El Mar Mi Alma was directed by Stephen Jones and filmed by Dave Homcy. Entry is £6 a head and starts at 7.30pm.

Information is available via the Fish Factory page on Facebook and updates can be received by ‘liking’ the page. Every Tuesday there is a chance to chat to other artists, show and discuss your work and brainstorm group projects from 5-7pm called Fish Club. This takes place in a grouping of comfy chairs and Jammy Dodgers, Jaffa Cakes or Oreos are likely to be there for bridging lunch to supper!