Hurvin Anderson’s guide to Cambridge
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It’s strange how we ended up here. My wife and I were looking to move our family out of London, and wanted somewhere that was halfway between my studio there and my family in Birmingham, where I grew up. We saw this great house, a ’30s early modernist property, 20 minutes north of Cambridge, and the two ideas met. The house was pretty run-down, but we were able to work on it and I’ve built a studio in the garden on the site of an old farm building.
When I moved here the first thing that struck me was the light. In the mornings and the evenings you get this interesting light that skirts across the landscape. Being here is slowly starting to have an impact on my work. I’ve been talking about incorporating the Caribbean more; when I’m thinking about specific plants, I’ll go to the Botanic Gardens to research. I like walking around there, as I’m interested in this idea of manufactured perfection.
I’ve lived in Cambridgeshire for seven years but, in a way, I’m still trying to work out the boundaries of the place. I’ll take the scenic cycle route to St Ives, which loops around the countryside, or walk around Hemingford Meadows and Houghton Mill, in the beautiful Ouse Valley. Further afield, we’ll take our three kids to Anglesey Abbey, the Capability Brown gardens at Wimpole Hall or Wandlebury Country Park, when we’ll stop off at The Gog Farm shop on the way home.
In the early days, we’d go into the centre of Cambridge a lot and walk along “the Backs” – where some of the University colleges back onto the banks of the River Cam. It’s still novel seeing cattle ambling around in the middle of town. I remember first visiting King’s College Chapel and, to me, it’s another way of understanding how Britain works. The whole city feels consumed by these all-powerful colleges. When friends come to visit we take them to the top of the tower at Great St Mary’s Church, which is the best place to take in the view. Trips into town usually end with a visit to Jack’s Gelato; they have a very inventive, rotating menu of ice cream flavours like crushed sugar cookie or jasmine.
On Sunday mornings I take my six-year-old son skateboarding on Jesus Green, an open space to the north of the city centre right by the lock, which is dotted with canal boats. Going there helped me understand that although the city centre feels small, Cambridge is bigger than it seems. Like London, it’s made up of little villages.
Every so often we’ll go to Mill Road, to the south-east of the city. We used to live in Peckham and it’s the closest you’ll come in Cambridge to that mix of shops with an independent spirit. There are some great secondhand shops, and we like Hot Numbers for coffee, Arjuna health food store and Meadows deli for treats.
Before we moved here we went to a talk at Kettle’s Yard, the house and art gallery belonging to curator Jim Ede. I loved the architectural philosophy, and we’ve been back a few times since. We’ll also go to the Fitzwilliam Museum. It has this extraordinary atrium, and the building dominates Trumpington Street. The last show I visited, though, was at Fen Ditton Gallery, in a converted school building on the outskirts of town. It’s run by a mother and daughter, and has a lovely home-y feel.
I’m possibly the only person who still buys CDs. I have this crazy notion that my kids might pull a CD off the shelf rather than searching online. So when I’m in town, I stock up at Fopp. There’s also a great Oxfam Music and Bookshop in Huntingdon where I’ve found discs by everyone from The Brand New Heavies to Delroy Wilson. For art supplies, I go to Tindalls. Closer to home, at the weekend, we’ll head to Lorenzo’s Artisan Bakery in St Neots for croissants; they’re amazing. Or The Old Bridge Wine Shop in Huntingdon, where you can buy Japanese whisky and unusual wines. For presents, we like VK Gallery. There’s a lot of snobbery in the arts, but it’s a nice little spot for painting and ceramics.
My routine is that once I step into the studio, I’m head down. For the last while, I’ve been preparing for my solo show at the Hepworth. But the more I slowly piece the place together, the more Cambridgeshire is opening up for me.
Hurvin Anderson: Salon Paintings is at The Hepworth Wakefield until 5 November