Artists revive Cullercoats village tradition

Cullercoats art studios stage first major exhibition after forming a new version of the famous artists' colony in the village

Artist Melissa Tivnen at her studio
Artist Melissa Tivnen at her studio

A group which is reviving a village’s artists’ colony past is to stage its first major exhibition this week.

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Cullercoats was the base for a succession of leading artists, and North Tyneside Council has provided an art heritage trail for visitors.

Now a floor above the village’s Co-op store is being used as studios for eight artists, who have just created a gallery space.

This will be launched on Friday with the opening of the exhibition, Dirty Pretty Things, featuring the work of 10 female artists looking at issues facing women in society today.

“Cullercoats is famous for its long history as an artists’ colony and we are continuing that heritage,” said Cullercoats Studios director Rob Lawson.

Both he and exhibition curator Jill Gibson have also been invited to contribute work to a Heritage and Tradition exhibition at Kensington Olympia in London in November.

Glasgow School of Arts graduate Jill, who lives in Durham, is one of the eight artists working at the Cullercoats studios.

She said that the event at the studios, which runs from Friday to Sunday, September 21, is a response to the limited exhibiting opportunities currently available to female contemporary artists. 


She said: “Women make up the largest number of students in art schools across the UK, far outweighing their male counterparts. However, currently 83% of artists in the Tate Modern are male, 70% of artists in the Saatchi Gallery are male and 70% of those artists nominated for the Turner Prize are male. 

“Women artists are still not receiving the same kind of consideration, opportunities or accolades that are offered to men. This exhibition aims to go a little way to help redress the balance.”

One of the issues which interests Jill is why women use make-up and the multi-million pound industry behind it.

It is a debate which has rumbled on since Hamlet told Ophelia: “God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.”

Jill, who uses make up materials in her work, said: “It is partly to do with women decorating themselves to make themselves look younger because society almost demands it of them.

“As women grow older they become less visible and more marginalised, and companies push women into using their anti-ageing products.

“”A lot of women use make up because they like to and because it makes them feel better, and I am not saying it is right or wrong.

“But the issue does raise questions about why women do it, how women see themselves and how men see women.”

The exhibition will also touch on women’s domestic roles, the spread of porn via the internet, how women are portrayed in the media and advertising, and the sexualisation of girls.

The upper storey of the building, which still has the layout of a theatre once used by the Co-op, has seen better days.

But Jill, who has work in the exhibition, said: “The walls have a faded beauty and this ambiguity is echoed in the work of all of the artists. There is a consideration of the transient nature of beauty; of the temporary and the fleeting.”

Artist Jill Gibson with her artwork
Artist Jill Gibson with her artwork

 The artists in the exhibition are:

*Virginia Bodman, a senior lecturer in fine art at Sunderland University and Tracey Tofield, from Whitley Bay, an associate lecturer at Newcastle University

*Newcastle photographer Janina Sabaliauskaite in her first exhibition after graduating from Sunderland University this year

*Kimberley Emeny, a Sunderland performance artist. Rebecca Brown, also from Sunderland, will explore the relationship between lust and love

*Holly Scott and Melissa Tivnen, artists working at Cullercoats Studios

*Juli Watson, a performance artist and poet

*Lee Maelzer, who trained at St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art in London, and has exhibited both nationally and internationally

For details on all artists visit:   and for further information about Dirty Pretty Things or Cullercoats Studios, contact Jill Gibson via


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