North Tawton Art Gallery named one of Devon’s best

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It may not be the biggest or best-known of Devon’s art galleries, but the Ruth Smith Gallery in North Tawton was voted one of the best art spaces in the county this year.

As one of the final five galleries competing for the Muddy Stilettos title of ‘Best Art Space in Devon’, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the gallery, run by the artist of North Tawton Ruth Smith, has something for everyone with a wide range of artists with a wide range of styles to display their work.

Currently, the serigraphs of West Devon Borough Councilor Barry Ratcliffe are on display after a special exhibition of photographs of the town during the Queen’s 70-year reign, in honor of her Platinum Jubilee.

In fact, no style is forbidden. The gallery also exhibited works inspired by nature, collages and abstract works from the past.

But Ruth, who last year received the “Emerging Artist Grant for Devon Open Studios”, also wants her gallery to be a place where artists can meet, learn from each other and try new styles.

As an artist herself, Ruth understands the importance for artists to have a creative space to brainstorm ideas.

“Being an artist is a really lonely job. You’re on your own, nobody tells you what to do, you don’t have colleagues but you need them to get your ideas rolling,” she says.

To provide the opportunity to work alongside other artists, Ruth organizes residencies and art classes, which she finds particularly rewarding.

“I help and encourage artists and their art encourages them,” she added.

“Teaching is just lovely because you see people really open up, when people get something done, and when someone paints a really exciting picture.”

Ruth actually has a background in art history which she studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, specializing in art history and conservation.

She said: “I always wanted to be a painter. When I was researching how to get there – you can go the art school route, but I felt like I was being taught at arm’s length and wanted to know what artists had done in the past.

“Art is about ideas and that’s why I followed the path of art history.”

After studying art history, Ruth undertook a degree in figurative painting at the Heatherley School of Fine Art, before trying her hand at painting the construction work in progress at Battersea Power Station.

But Ruth is not a static artist and a move to rural Devon and a pandemic have changed her focus and subject matter.

She said: “My husband and I used to live in London but couldn’t wait to be back in the country. For a while, I painted construction sites, mounted cranes. I think I was doing this because I missed the earth.

“When we moved, a construction site took on a whole new meaning. Now my reaction is, “No, don’t tear up the campaign!”

“I love painting outside. I love how it makes me feel alive and I love that it’s so immersive.

Ruth’s most recent work has truly reflected the tumultuous start to the 2020s, as she focused on painting still lifes during lockdown, a world away from a busy construction site in London.

“Lockdown arrived and I started painting still lifes. The paintings became quite calm and quiet,” she added.

His paintings at this time focused on fruits and vegetables in boxes or alcoves with little else in the background.

She said: ‘During the first lockdown of 2020 I was inspired by how local suppliers of vegetables, eggs, dairy, beer, bread and meat kept everyone supplied and how it bonded people despite their loneliness.

“It was a springboard to think about the importance of ‘localism’ and caring for the world and each other.”

But as the lockdown was lifted, she widened the view in the background as the world began to come to life and the gallery once again filled with visitors and artists.

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