Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Robin Holtom and Michael Wilson

Both artists in the current show at the Hastings Art Forum present an impressive mix of painting and sculpture. Robin Holtom’s seven sculptures of dancers and nude female figures are cast in bronze or ingeniously made from plaster reworked and painted to give the surface appearance of bronze. The exception is a white plaster head between two mostly white drawings, themselves exceptions to this show's rather beautifully coloured rule.

The almost exclusive use of darker toned blues, purples, oranges and greens creates an atmosphere of restfulness and stillness in this gallery that also emanates from the buildings and figures in each of the compositions. Skylines at sundown have an early evening hush while the natural and reflected abstracts of Venetian architecture are shaped into blocks and lines of colour. 

Groups of female figures and dancers are composed without physical detail which gives them a slightly ghostly but still sculptural quality. When there is an occasional hint of movement it is slow, gentle and considered. Using combinations of the same colours to depict hard surfaces like walls and steps in one piece, alongside the soft surfaces of the human body in another, is a lovely juxtaposition completed by the seamless transmutation of the human form into bronze.

Michael Wilson’s sculptures are very different in style, subject and substance. Made of light coloured stone, each depicts a biblical story or figure. Surfaces are smoothly worked and the solidity and suggestion of weight gives each piece a strong and captivating presence. The colour and work in the stone is enhanced by the bright airiness of the landscapes around it.

Michael Wilson lives locally and the majority of the paintings are recognisable Sussex landmarks, views or rural scenes. Many are perfectly executed with a scale and perspective of somebody moving through the scene depicted. This is particularly effective in the paintings of the Seven Sisters, the view from West Hill and some of the rural scenes.  Trees also feature strongly in many of the paintings and I particularly liked the almost electric blue of the trees in ‘Out of the Valley’.

However, there is a very strange anomaly in Michael Wilson’s exhibition. Displayed on the end wall is a five piece asymmetric panel depicting the story of Oedipus. Although foundational Greek myths are perhaps a natural historical companion to biblical scenes, the work itself lacks any harmony with the other paintings in the room. It is almost as if a less accomplished artist sneaked into the gallery and installed it when nobody was looking. Incongruity can be interesting but here it detracts attention from the rest of the work which is unfortunate.

The predominant focus of Michael Wilson's paintings also restricts the colour palette but the lighter, brighter and more expansive feel is a perfect complement to Robin Holtom’s minimal colour range next door. There is a link also in Michael Wilson’s pastel studies of nudes, one of which is a female figure reclining in similar pose to one of Robin Holtom’s sculptures. The differences and the similarities in these two shows communicate much about how art is both created and viewed. Each of the artists in this show are mostly painting or modelling a place, a person or a scene that they have observed or are observing. The experience of the audience is that the viewer remains the intimate observer in Robin Holtom’s work whereas it is possible to almost step inside the paintings of Michael Wilson. 

Such combinations of 3D and 2D work in one space are always very satisfying to view. They make the exhibition more interesting to navigate and the visual interaction between the two can create other unexpected observational delights.

Robin Holtom and Michael Wilson
Hastings Art Forum
August 23rd - September 4th 2016
Private View Friday 26th August 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

1066 Mono and Mark Glassman

1066 Mono Photographic Club (Gallery 1) 

In a contemporary environment of high definition, colour saturation and constantly moving visual stimuli, the black and white photograph increasingly seems like a radical  new art form. A moment of restful, monochrome reality in which there are no distractions and no demands other than a slow appreciation of subtle shadows and focused content. 

This group show includes all types of monochrome photography by the 1066 Mono Photographic Camera Club who practice traditional darkroom photography, digital capture and printing, as well as alternative photography like cyanotype and bromide print production. There are 14 photographers in this exhibition and there are some stunning photographs that beautifully showcase the range of interests and skills among this group. Obviously what people like differs greatly from viewer to viewer but there is most definitely something for everyone in this show.
I really liked some of the portraits and how the exhibition communicates a question about what actually constitutes a 'portrait'. This includes a sheep (David Mills), some musicians,(Terence Page and Bob Harvey), an attitude (Liz Scott) and a hand holding a pair of glasses (Rob White).

I also liked how some of the images were composed in a way that suggested photographic history particularly 'Abandoned Mine' (Chris Upton), 'Cliffe Bridge, Lewes' (Bob Harvey) and 'Fairfield Church' (Chris Shore).

'Colossus' (Jeremy O'Keefe) also had that quality about it as well as being a remarkably effective rendition of scale. These images also suggested old postcards as did Lesley Parkinson's remnants of structures on the West Pier, although these are particularly ghostly given the pier's story.   

The mix of perspective and subject in this show reminds the viewer of the achievements of photography and its always current possibilities. I really liked 'The Old Pig Sty, Barrington Court' (Ian Weston) and his image of 'Stormy Lyme Bay'.  David Hoad's series of images using brushes is quite surreal whereas Andy Thurgood's 'Locomotion' is a detail so beautifully shot that it captivates whether you are interested in trains or not. Michael Attrill's 'Accidental Art' provides gently abstracted and unusual views of nature and Robert Barfield's 'The Kiss' is a lovely observation of nature's resilience. However, if it's sheer exhilaration you want then Helen Taylor's dogs running along the shore is the one for you. 

It is of course impossible to photograph photographs behind glass in a very light room so I can't provide any close image details here. I also can't provide a website for the 1066 Mono Photographic Club because they don't seem to have one. This is a shame because it would be good to be able to see some of the works of this group on a permanent basis - both for pleasure and for reference.  

Mark Glassman (Gallery 2)

As often with the Forum, entering the other gallery is entering a different world. In this case it's the world of Mark Glassman, a painter who has spent a lot of time on the beach preparing for this show. Themed around shingle and coastal scenery it is clear that he is fascinated and inspired by the colours, shapes and textures that are found in the stones,  pebbles and beaches of the Sussex coastline.

His colour palette reflects this with browns, greys and yellows interspersed with the blues of sky and water - whether in the distance or retreating back through the shingle to the sea. In fact the meticulous and multiple tumble of ovals and rounds interspersed with light, makes the distinctive sound of stones pushed back and forth by the sea almost audible.

Abstracted body shapes that seem to have become part of the ground itself, sometimes emerge from the paintings and very effectively transmit the Sussex beach experience in which your body ends up contouring itself to the stones. Sand is for wimps in Sussex. 

The shingle paintings give a sense of looking down,  while others look out to the only feasible straight line in nature - that between the sea and the sky. There is a mix in this show of those two perspectives and in each case paint is applied and used differently. The horizons are generally smoother while the ground is more textured and occasionally features pieces of driftwood. A few of the pieces, however, are pure colourful abstractions. 

Once again the contrast between the shows gets you thinking about what each says about the other. Interestingly Mark Glassman's choice of subject often means that the colours are complementary without any overly saturated contrast. In that respect there is a nice juxtaposition with the monochromatic themes next door. The fixed location of the paintings, however, provides an effective contrast with the breadth of subject and place enabled by 14 different photographers. 

The discipline required by photography is certainly not immune to lucky accidents whether analog or digital but unexpected outcomes of a particular moment or mood are a wonderful part of both photography and painting. The frozen expression of a single moment that can be achieved by photography contrasts greatly with the absolute freedom that can be deployed to capture the essence of something in paint. However, both need research and practice while freedom will always benefit from a little discipline. 
1066 Mono and Mark Glassman
26 July – 7 August 2016 

Private view for both shows is on Friday 29 July from 6.30 - 8.30

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Eliza John and Wendy Smith

Going to the Hastings Art Forum is always a pleasure and always a surprise. I have seen a huge variety of work there just in the last two months and the new exhibition of paintings by Eliza John and Wendy Smith is different again.

Eliza John’s work touches on themes of family, friendship, place and occasion. She mostly uses oils but also works with combinations of acrylic, watercolour, gouache and charcoal. Most of her paintings are an interplay of abstraction and figuration from which shapes, figures and landscapes emerge.

Scenes and characters melt into the texture and colour of the paint giving impressions of the personalities depicted or reflecting the delicate intimacy of relationships. Sometimes the figures are sublime shadows standing ghost-like against beautiful combinations of background colour. Occasionally, there is an underlying emotional ambiguity in her scenes or characters which can make for uneasy viewing. This is balanced by work using lighter spectrums that allow moments of exquisite stillness and calm subtlety. 

The amount of work here combined with the variety of sizes, colours and frames sometimes makes it difficult to focus on any one piece. However, it is worth taking time to appreciate the fine line between the abstract and the figurative in this work and what it communicates about human perception. There is fascination in believing you see a scene from afar that then clouds over into abstract colour as you get closer.

The work of Wendy Smith also combines abstract and figurative but the contrast between the two artists gives the viewer a completely different experience. There are fewer pieces but they are larger and her palette is bright and colourful. Where figures are present they are from nature - leaves, trees or birds in flight.

The freedom of application sometimes makes it seem as if the paint had jumped there by itself and combined with the colour choices the effect is one of exhilaration and joy. In some cases the limited use of paint leaves white spaces within each work and this adds to the sense of light and airiness around it. Walking into the gallery from a grey and rainy day is like walking into summer. It's worth a visit for that reason alone. 

Although the spectrum and style of each of these artists is very different, both use their mediums freely and both work within the shifting boundaries of figurative and abstract expression. It is in the contrast, however, that the show is complete. The two rooms complement each other beautifully with a sense of lightness and space in one and darkness and intensity in the other. Dipping between the two enables the viewer to shift between two different experiences of art and of life. 

Eliza John and Wendy Smith
Hastings Art Forum
12 - 24 July 2016
Private View - 5.00 - 7.00 Saturday July 16th.  

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Four States, Four Minds: An American Journey - Hastings Art Forum

28 Jun – 10 Jul
Private View: Saturday 2nd July 2.00 - 6.00pm 

In September 2015, friends and artists Quentin Ball, Jean Davey Winter, Mary Pritchard and Tony Wallis went on a journey. Starting in Salt Lake City, Utah, they looped back through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The trip took them close to the Canadian border, through the northern parts of the Rocky Mountains and to several US national parks including Yellowstone and Glacier.  What each of them took creatively from their trip is now presented collectively at the Hastings Art Forum as: 'Four States, Four Minds: An American Journey'.

The exhibition of photography, mixed media and ceramic shows landscape as geology, chemistry, beauty, infinity and power. It also reveals a stillness and a perspective that tends to evaporate in the daily chaos of being human.

The work of the four artists is arranged across the two spaces at the Hastings Art Forum. This enables both a balance of mediums and an appreciation of the different aspects of their responses to the journey.  Mary Pritchard’s photography, for example, takes two very distinct forms. In the first gallery images are arranged in loosely sequential, multiple panels that convey movement through a landscape at speed. By contrast, her photographs in the second gallery space are largely monochromatic studies in which almost nothing moves at all. These hushed intersections of woods, water and cloud radiate the quietness and coolness of an autumn dusk.

Mary Pritchard also works with ceramics and artist books. I had to leave before these were fully unpacked so I only got a glimpse of one ceramic piece inspired by the contours of the mountains.  The shapes and wild splashes of colour in these pieces is quite extraordinary and suggests the cataclysmic natural cycles that formed these ranges in the first place. 

Formation is very evident in Jean Davey Winter’s work at the other end of the gallery. Her fantastic series of nine small paintings really do look as if they might have been cooling for a few million years. The textures and colours invoke the raw ingredients of mountainous terrain – granites, limestones, sandstones and melded heavy metals.

Such textural depth and tonal earthiness is complemented perfectly by her series of photographs in the other gallery space. These pieces also suggest extreme chemical processes at work but they emerge from the geo-thermal riot of colour that is Yellowstone National Park.  Once more arranging the primary piece in a block of nine, Jean Davey Winter has taken a constantly turbulent and often toxic process and frozen it into a moment of still and surreal beauty.

Stillness and beauty, and the literal and metaphorical journeys undertaken to find it, are a significant presence in this exhibition. The physical realities of the journey and how that journey is facilitated, however, is most encapsulated in the work of Quentin Ball, particularly in the ‘Across Roads’ project.

The Rocky Mountains cut through Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado forming a 3000 mile watershed which splits rainfall to the Pacific on the west, and to the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay on the east. Whenever westward migration occurred in the US, the ‘Great Divide’ had to be crossed.  Its significance in American history and culture is therefore huge.  

The ‘Across Roads’ project is Quentin Ball’s response to this. He photographed locations where highways intersect the invisible ‘Great Divide’ thus capturing physical facts that cannot possibly convey the enormity of what they represent. What is displayed here is a panorama of the fourteen intersections that lead across the ‘Great Divide’ just from the state of Montana. Implicit in this project is an acknowledgment of those who have beaten paths through impossible odds. Although no person is visible in these photographs, they are present in the evidence of journeys made, signs erected and routes laid.

The photographs of Tony Wallis cover a wide range of compositional style and subject including landscape, its abstracted features, expansive skies, singular buildings and one perfect soliloquy of reflective balance. However, it is only in his photographs that any real human presence is found .

His people inhabit their landscapes gently and naturally – both incidental and integral at the same time.  There’s a woman sitting by the lake. There’s a car in the distance. Someone built a house that looks like it just grew out of the earth but nobody seems to be home. The church in the middle of nowhere might be abandoned. A homestead is a speck in the fantastical dominance of the dramatic sky around it. You can’t always see the people in these photographs but you know that they are there. 

I love this show. I love the images of landscapes so vast that they become abstractions, alongside images of the same landscapes so detailed that they become equal abstractions. The delicate presence of humanity is a reminder that we all exist somewhere in the messy middle of these two polar abstractions and need each other to make paths. It is also a reminder of the catharsis that can come from just being present in something so huge, timeless and resilient.

In Memoriam
Two months ago Tony Wallis died of cancer. At the time of the trip nobody could have known. 'Four States, Four Minds' is therefore a very special, if sad memorial to Tony and to his work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

SoCo Showcase at the Hastings Art Forum

The SoCo Artists Showcase, which has just opened at the Hastings Art Forum is a wide ranging exhibition with works of drama, beauty, intrigue and fear. 

Curated by Jean Davey Winter, Jenny Painter and Roz Cran, the show has paint, print, etching, textile and installation works from 11 artists and features wax, perspex, compost, aluminium, wool and some materials I can't identify with any certainty. 

Standing on the right as you enter, Sarah Heenan's interlocking sculptural geometry is so huge it actually alters your perception of the whole gallery space. On the opposite side are Helen Scalway's models which may share a theme but are made of materials so different that each is its own little mystery.  Nicely juxtaposed on the wall behind, Sally Cole's fluid painting seems barely contained within its frame. 

Fluidity also distinguishes Stephanie Fawbert's five large portraits of children that gaze straight at you with a child's directness as you walk into the second gallery space. All of these atmospheric works have the appearance of being unfinished yet each is a very clearly defined and complete character. 

From a distance Heather Collins' sculptural pieces look like they have been picked up on the beach and carried into the gallery.  The hard and weathered look of rust, shells, barnacles and seaweed strands on ancient driftwood is so intense you can almost smell it. As you get closer it's hard to believe that these textures and effects all emerge from soft materials and incredibly detailed, complex and colourful stitch work. 

The use of colour and intricately laced pattern in Kathleen Mullaniff's work is subtle and beautiful and being positioned between the silvery and monochromatic themes of John Booth enhances the work of both. Booth's etchings, some on aluminium and others on paper, are precisely executed and reassuringly matter of fact in their communication of mortality and human darkness. 

This darkness turns to fear in the splashed blood red of Angie Braven's three pieces that leave no doubt at all about the visceral horror of female genital mutilation.

Much of the work in this show, however, is characterised by limited use of colour or muted abstractions of it and these subtleties flow gently in and out of each other as you wander around the gallery space. 

John Hacker's earthy tones in perspex cases suggest Babylonian tablets. The quartet of drawings beside them pulls you into a delicate harmony of greys.  Anny Evason's abstracted and minimal landscapes dance before your eyes and there is an ethereal quality to Maggie Henton's group of nine text and graphic prints on the theme of the shipping forecast and potential loss at sea.

This is my first SoCo Showcase and it's a fascinating and enjoyable introduction to the work of this group. However, there are actually more than 50 individual pieces of art in this show so it's impossible to convey the full scope of it here. It just has to be seen.

SoCo Showcase at the Hastings Art Forum is on now until June 26th. 

For interviews with the artists please see the SoCo blog

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Mohammed Joha at Rich Mix

I first saw Mohammed Joha's work as part of the group show 'Despite' at Richmix in December 2012. Thanks to the dedicated and passionate curatorial work of Aser El Saqqa at Arts Canteen, Mohammed Joha has just had his first solo show in London. I was very happy to be asked to write the text for this show so have reproduced it here along with some of the paintings and several details. 

The Journey
‘As long as I am in my own self, I can be anyplace’
Mohammed Joha

We live in a world in which breathless media presentation of geo-political and human tragedy is simplistic, repetitive and parochially self-serving.  The capacity for reflection, compassion and knowledge is slowly eroded by a constant and chaotic stream of distraction, diversion and platitude. In such a context, the act of putting coloured paint on a surface and hanging it on a wall is more welcome and more necessary than ever, particularly when that act produces the body of contemporary work presented here.  

‘The Journey’ operates on a number of levels. It is primarily a creative journey through the work of Mohammed Joha. However, it is also a journey of human experience in which determination, resilience and joy are affirmed.

The 10 paintings in this exhibition have been selected from three consecutive series of works. The first series is the impressionistic and melancholic ‘Sound Barrier’ which features four paintings, including ‘Freedom’, from 2009. The direct and gentle gaze emanating from the centre, and the figurative tension between stillness and the possibility of flight, provide both atmosphere and context for the whole exhibition.

The second series, ‘IN x OUT’, from 2013/14 was created as a response to Israel’s long established policy of house demolition. The physical loss of a building is visible but the impact on the complex relationship with home and place, and the trauma associated with its absence, is not. Of this series Mohammed Joha states:

‘IN x OUT shows the object and its reverse, the fact and its opposite, that is, the home as harbour for personal belongings and possessions, protecting and safeguarding these from public reach or indiscreet glances. Then, the loss of the house and its destruction, whereby the entire contents– with all the small, personal details of a private life – are brutally unveiled and made visible to every and anybody passing by.’

The relationship between person and place is intrinsic to Joha’s creative and philosophical enquiry into the nature of both global and individual realities and the intersection between them.  Thus the next stage of Joha’s creative journey has been hugely affected by his immersion and experience in the diverse transnational communities of Europe. First as an asylum seeker in Norway and more recently in Italy, where towns like Lampedusa are overwhelmed with the catastrophic human consequences of political ineptitude elsewhere.

What has emerged is a third series of ‘Identity Paintings’ in which the juxtaposition of vibrant and kinetic colour and form becomes a way of telling a complex geo-political and emotional story.  Boats are the primary motif of these paintings but in Joha’s view the boats contain individuals bringing different colours, cultures and experiences with them.  Each boat is a temporary home and each is the land beneath the feet of the traveller for as long as this stage of the journey lasts.

When Joha inverts the boats like hats they can be belongings carried on the head in transit or tombstones in the graveyard of the Mediterranean Sea. Crucially, however, each boat represents the dreams and the hopes of those who they carry. For those undertaking the journey they are boats of life even if they lead to death.

‘Thousands of immigrants have drowned on their way to Europe in the hope of reaching safer shores. In their original countries they are facing death so they are pushed forward by the same target. To realise their biggest dream of a better life, where they can sing with joy for being saved.’

Assaulted by the daily media voyeurism of human tragedy, it is easy to get lost in a pallete that mimics the dark realities of the present. Mohammed Joha’s insistence that the full spectrum of life must, and will, prevail is an essential provision for the future. The point is quite simple. It is to present hope and to honour the dreams of all those who undertake journeys that never reach their destinations as well as those who do. It is also a compassionate reminder that anyone who has made such a journey knows that the journey of others will always be a part of their own.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Jake and Dinos Chapman at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

I always liked Hastings. It was slightly down at heel, edgy and a little bit eccentric and bohemian. It also had people under the age of 65 and a live music venue in a church crypt. This all made it so much more interesting, less conservative and decidedly cooler than Eastbourne which was where I spent most of my time when growing up. Adding to the allure was the fact that my friend rented a massive top floor flat on the St. Leonard's seafront in the days when they were as cheap and plentiful as a seaside chip. 

Hastings, I am told, is not the town it used to be but walking along the seafront I find the same gently decaying shop frontage and the inherent sadness of the out-of-season seaside town. Sitting alongside the old, the peeling and the boarded-up are also several smart, new shops and restaurants. Although this may seem like a jarring and contemporary incongruity, to me it’s just the same as it ever was. There were always stark contrasts and examples of shifting fortunes to be found in Hastings and St. Leonard's. What is strange, however, is walking down to the Stade and seeing the shiny and solid black exterior of the Jerwood Gallery emerging from an impossible space between the road and the sea. It’s an impressive building and the contrast with the architecture and function of the bingo halls and amusement arcades passed a few minutes earlier is particularly dramatic but entirely consistent at the same time.

The exhibition at the Jerwood entitled, 'In the Realm of the Unmentionable', is the latest show by Jake and Dinos Chapman who grew up in Hastings.  They have divided opinion from the very beginning. Many years ago a friend of mine studied with Jake who drew her portrait.  Another student outraged by what he saw as a highly offensive caricature of my friend, tore the portrait in two.  Like the other YBA branded artists, the Chapman brothers have been around for long enough to be part of the British art furniture. So being able to see their work again now distanced by time from the froth and fury of its initial impact is an interesting experience.
Entering the large Foreshore gallery takes you straight into the magnificently over the top visual spectacle of ‘Sum of all evil’. It’s like Jake and Dinos got a job lot of the Airfix war, murder and mayhem modelling kit with 10 Ronald MacDonald bonus packs and a few other bits and pieces thrown in for free.  The naked dead, the uniforms, the skeletons, skulls, crucified Ronalds and several Adolf Hitlers all tumbling over themselves in a landscape with trees. The only moment of stillness is in a quiet corner where the ‘normal’ Mr. Fuhrer is placed in a tableau that could be called ‘Interior with dog and greenhouse’.  It is a particularly 20th century view of the utter awfulness of humanity and seems oddly and rather quaintly nostalgic in an age of live video beheadings.  The Ronald MacDonalds have moved on too, resurrected by adding a little more lettuce and some rebranding as soldiers in the battle against obesity.

The series ‘Living with Dead Art’ is like an alternative form of illustrated art history making some of the images fascinating to unpick. The interiors created within each frame are also very atmospheric so it was good to spend time in them. The 'Los Caprichos etchings commission', however, still strikes me now exactly as it struck me at the time. I just can’t take it seriously. It does put me in mind of Joe Orton defacing library books but mostly I think it’s what might have happened had Beavis and Butthead been locked in a museum overnight. I feel pretty much the same way about the old oil portraits that have been similarly rectified.  
The same thing only better’ is a recreation of Tracey Emin’s work, ‘Everyone I ever slept with', a stitched tent which was burned in the Momart warehouse fire in 2004. That fire also destroyed ‘Hell’ a definitive Chapman work that was the forerunner of ‘The sum of all evil’. The presence of the tent is a reminder of just how polarised and visceral, attitudes had become to the works of those artists at that time. The glee at their destruction expressed at various levels across the media was a bizarre kind of testament to the work's impact beyond the usual suspects.

'Archive Cloud' fills a corner of the gallery and is arguably just a modern name for a range of works on paper executed over a long time frame. The earliest date seemed to be 1983 but some of the work looks as if it may have been done in 1973. This arrangement was fascinating as a marker of a successful artist’s career trajectory. At this stage of the game the Chapmans can stick any old thing on the wall, call it an archive and everyone will think it’s somehow profound or important. I am not averse to chronological displays in which one can see how an artist develops but this selection is not particularly good. There are one or two that stand out and an occasional glimpse of another direction that may have been taken but overall the selection suggests why sculptural works took prominence.  

The newest series of works in the show, ‘Human Rainbow’ has something for everyone.  Like ‘Living with dead art’ there are echoes of departed artists and of other Chapmanesque preoccupations. However, in the context of this show it seems as if they finally discovered some colours (other than red) in their middle years. The image chosen for the publicity poster was an image from this series. This is obviously due in part to its newness but it is also an image that is inoffensive and the most painterly. Ironic really given their reputation but at least it’s red. 

The exhibition continues into two other smaller gallery spaces. In the first room are the defaced oil portraits mentioned above. In the second, however, things are more interesting. The gallery has been given a false ceiling and this intervention completely changes the whole nature of the space. In fact it’s the first time you actually think about the space. As you look through the door from the first room, one small work is visible. You can only enter this vertically truncated room by stooping and as you move towards the painting a still life emerges. You reach it and find it is signed ‘A.Hitler’.  That was the only laugh out loud moment in the whole show for me, so thanks for that.

The works on the final wall are join-the-dots images that you suspect are not what they seem but what you really want from them is a few stapled together photocopies that you can take with you and do on the train home.

Given that this was my first visit to the Jerwood I also went upstairs to check out the permanent collection. I didn’t hang around because I was interrupting a bunch of school kids on an art trip. They had been making comments about the works on post-it notes and sticking them on the floor under the relevant work. Catching glances of some of their comments was pretty funny.   

There were some very pleasant surprises from the Jerwood Collection particularly Mark Gertler but also Stanley Spencer and some Jacob Epstein and ElizabethFrink sculptures and drawings. Seeing a Frank Brangwyn here was nice too even if it did make me briefly nostalgic for my former home of Walthamstow and the William Morris Gallery. Funnily enough I have often referred to Hastings as Walthamstow-on-Sea and there are similarities although the E17 Art Trail does seem more rooted in the community and able to appeal to a broader demographic than Coastal Currents. Then again there are a lot more people in E17. Talking of Coastal Currents, however, I found it very interesting that the Chapman brothers exhibition actually prompted an article that looked seriously at Hastings and the art scene here in general. It seems a bit sad that coverage can only be promoted by celebs but that’s life. The view of the real coastal currents from the top floor of the Jerwood is sublime.

When I was about to leave I was approached by a very pleasant member of the Jerwood staff who asked me if I would mind answering some questions about my visit which I did. The nature of these questionnaires and their primarily algorithmic values, however, means that there is little scope for real feedback and I have one complaint.  I believed the hype that said: “The Chapmans will scour the antique emporiums and junk shops of Hastings for old artworks that will then be ‘fixed’ by the brothers in their signature anarchic style.”

It was not clear if this had actually happened. If it did, it presumably would have been the portraits but I have definitely seen at least some of those before. It would have been nice to know. In fact, a little more information in general would have been useful even it was just a list of titles and dates and an image from each part of the show.  

Apart from that one small gripe, however, I really enjoyed my first ever visit to the Jerwood although I am not sure ‘enjoyed’ is the right word to apply to a Jake and Dinos Chapman show. Whichever way one finds it necessary to view their collective oeuvre, it is ultimately a bleak and depressing interpretation of our hapless species particularly if you take it at face value. The trauma of being human is something we all share. How one deals with that and what one needs from ones art to assist dealing with it varies. Horror is increasingly unavoidable in reality so it no longer feels like fun to have it slapped on with a trowel in art. The fact that anyone can now have private digital access, at least, to whatever horror they like for less than the price of a Jake and Dinos Chapman work both affirms their view and explains why the Internet is also full of kittens.

The tension running through their work so often characterised by a hostile rejection of both art and human history sometimes seems like a desperate attempt to distance themselves from being part of either. However, the universal conundrum of reconciling childhood with adulthood is also a permanent and rather comforting presence. It could all have been so different. I wonder what would have happened if their Dad had been a maths teacher…..