It may not be the biggest or the best-known art gallery in Devon but the Ruth Smith Gallery in North Tawton has been considered as one of the best art spaces in the county this year.

Coming in as one of the final five galleries competing for the Muddy Stilettos title of ‘Best Art Space in Devon,’ it might not be exaggerating to say that the gallery, run by North Tawton artist Ruth Smith, has something for everyone with a wide range of artists with a wide range of styles to exhibit their work.

Currently, West Devon Borough Councillor Barry Ratcliffe’s silk screen prints are on show which follows a special photograph exhibition of the town during the Queen’s 70-year reign, in honour of her Platinum Jubilee.

In fact, no style is off limits. The gallery has also exhibited artwork inspired by nature, collages and abstract work in the past.

But Ruth, who was awarded the ‘Emerging Artist Bursary for Devon Open Studios’ last year, also wants her gallery to be a place where artists can meet, learn from one another and try out new styles.

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

‘Being an artist is a really lonely job. You are on your own, no one is telling you what to do, you don’t have colleagues but you need them to bounce ideas off.’ she said.

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

‘I’m helping and encouraging artists and their art gives encouragement back,’ she added.

‘The teaching is just lovely because you see people really open up, when people get something and when someone paints a really exciting painting.’

Ruth’s background is actually in art history which she studied at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, which specialises in history of art and conservation.

She said: ‘I was always wanting to be a painter. When I was looking how to get there - you can go down the art school route but it felt like being taught at arm’s length and I wanted to learn what artists had done in the past.

‘Art is all about ideas and that’s why I went through the art history route.’

Following her studies in the history of art, Ruth undertook a diploma in figurative painting at The Heatherley School of Fine Art, before trying her hand at painting the ongoing construction work at the Battersea Power Station.

But, Ruth is not a static artist and a move to the Devon countryside and a pandemic has changed her focus and subject matter.

She said: ‘My husband and I lived in London but we were pining for being back in the country. For a time I was painting construction sites, going up the cranes. I think I was doing that because I missed the land.

‘When we moved, a construction site took on a whole different meaning. Now my reaction is: “No, don’t rip up the countryside!”

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

Ruth’s most recent work has really reflected the tumultuous beginning to the 2020s, as she turned her focus to still life painting during lockdown, a world away from a busy London construction site.

‘Lockdown happened and I started painting still life. The paintings became quite still and quiet,’ she added.

Her paintings during this time focused on fruit and vegetables in boxes or alcoves with little else in the background.

She said: ‘In the first 2020 lockdown I was inspired at how local suppliers of vegetables, eggs, dairy, beer, bread and meat kept everyone stocked up, and how it created connections between people despite their solitude.

‘This was a springboard into thinking about the importance of ‘localism’ and looking after the world and each other.’

But as lockdown was lifted, she expanded the view in the background as the world started to come back to life and the gallery filled up with visitors and artists again.