“Over there!” calls Theo Crutchley-Mack as he scans the horizon.
I wonder what has caught the young artist’s eye as I follow him over the bow of a jet boat, jumping the last few feet and sinking into the soft white sand of Samson.
Laden with easel, chair, canvas, paint, brushes and provisions for a day’s drawing, Theo sets off apace through the rushes at the top of the beach, striding over the bouncing heather and russet bracken into the heart of the island. I follow, still wondering what has caught his attention. Perhaps a stunning vista or white sand beach?
"Beautiful vistas are lovely, but not really for me"
Not Theo. We arrive at one of Samson’s ruined cottages, abandoned along with the rest of the island in the 19th century when the islanders were driven from the shores of Samson by hunger. Theo’s face lights up at the sight of the decaying ruin. It’s as far from a classic romantic seascape and dreamy views as you can get. They’re not really his thing.
“Just look at this cottage,” he enthuses. “The textures are incredible with the crumbling stonework. It’s beautiful. The other day I was down at Carn Near painting the quay jutting out into the sea, surrounded by giant boulders thrown there by wind and waves. I even found the old road concrete mixers the other day. They’re all rusting now so they’re really striking. I’d rather paint those than a pretty landscape any day. Beautiful vistas are lovely, but they’re not really for me.”
There’s no artistic license here. Theo paints things as they are: rust, decay and all. His work is totally unique, which is why it caught the eye of Robert and Lucy Dorrien-Smith.
"An extraordinary presence"
Lucy explains: “I first saw Theo’s work when he visited Tresco as a student on Falmouth University’s Drawing course. At the end of the week drawing on Tresco the students showed me their sketchbooks. His work had an extraordinary presence about it. I knew he was going to go far as an artist.
“Three years later, Theo’s work was exhibited at the Falmouth Graduation show. There are so many talented artists emerging from Falmouth University in all disciplines it’s difficult to choose one whose work stands out from the rest, but Theo’s undoubtedly does. That’s why we made him the first winner of the Tresco Prize for Drawing.”
As well as travel and accommodation for a month as Artist in Residence on Tresco, Theo’s work will be included in a mixed exhibition at Gallery Tresco, opening on Saturday 16th July. He has also received introductions to prestigious London galleries that Tresco has forged friendships with over the years.
The prize itself has been designed by another of Tresco’s drawing protégés, artist Hugo Dalton, and will be presented to Theo at the opening of his exhibition at Gallery Tresco in July.
It’s not the first time Theo’s talent has been recognised either. At the age of 16 his work was featured on a commemorative coin for the 2012 Olympic Games. Next time you have a 50p piece in your hand, take a look. If it features a picture of a cyclist in a velodrome, it was designed by this rising star.
Back on Samson, I ask aloud: What was the history of this cottage, who might have lived here?
“I don’t really think about the history of the places I paint,” says Theo. “For me, it’s all about the texture and the material – that’s what gets me excited – but hey, that’s the great thing about art: everybody gets something different out of it.”
It strikes me the same is true of Tresco, and of Scilly: everyone who visits these islands takes away something different. Like grains of sand on a beach, memories of Scilly may all seem the same at first glance, but look a little closer and these islands mean something different to all who come here. For an artist, that must be pretty inspiring...