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Laetitia Yhap: The Skeleton

© Laetitia Yhap: The Skeleton, drawing

From one end of Sussex to the other…

Hastings-based artist Laetitia Yhap currently has an exhibition of her drawings and paintings of the Stade fishing community on show. But you will have to traverse Sussex all the way to Chichester’s Pallant House to see them. HOT’s Erica Smith went along for the ride and enjoyed viewing Yhap’s artworks from this new perspective.

© Laetitia Yhap: From One Boat To Another

© Laetitia Yhap: From One Boat To Another

Laetitia Yhap is one of Hastings’ most established artists and a well known figure throughout the town. You will often see her on her bicycle, with seagull feathers woven into the basket, and her silver curls tipped with pink crazy colour. She also sings with several of the choirs that bless our town.

When she retired, she ‘gave up painting’, and took up Chinese calligraphy (her father was Chinese). She is currently learning to play the guitar. I don’t think it is fair to say that Yhap has ever ‘given up art’ – whatever project she turns her hand to, whether it is making marmalade or building a little pond – she addresses the task in hand with the same creative intention and unique vision that she would once have used to paint.

© Laetitia Yhap: From One Boat To Another (painting)

© Laetitia Yhap: From One Boat To Another (painting)

I have been lucky enough to have known Laetitia for ten years, but I’ve never really talked to her about her artwork before. I decided it was time to ask some questions!

When did you move to Hastings?
I moved to Hastings 46 years ago (1967), two years after I ceased being a student at the Slade. I knew no one here, was not aware of the fishing fleet and on a brief prospecting visit with my then partner Jeffery Camp, did not even get out of the car!


What drew you to the Old Town – and to the fishing community?

The run down nature of the place and its mixed architecture and geography was interesting  even though only viewed from the promenade. It was by the sea and near enough to London. We had left East Anglia behind and had enough money to buy the house I still live in, for £5,000.

For about a decade I continued to work on a series of large watercolour paintings, which had evolved out of the time I spent in East Anglia. The human element was entirely absent from these works, but eventually I felt a desperate need to return to the task of depicting the human figure in some way.

© Laetitia Yhap: Afternoon Heatwave

© Laetitia Yhap: Afternoon Heatwave

By then, I had of course discovered the Stade and the fishing boats, but it had never occurred to me to take it as subject matter (I had never drawn a boat) and I did not even own a camera! One day I took a walk down there and experienced the kind of moment you get in your life sometimes, if you are lucky, when you suddenly seem to know what you should be doing.

© Laetitia Yhap: Michael Gutting Soles

© Laetitia Yhap: Michael Gutting Soles

I knew that drawing would have to be the way I conducted my exploration into this entirely new subject matter. To get to understand it, I spent 18 months out there in all weathers; in winter I used to have a hot water bottle on my lap as I sat there drawing and from time to time, when invited, went off to sea with the fishermen on trips where I often felt seasick!


What time period does the work in the exhibition cover?

The drawings and two or three paintings on view at Pallant House span a period from 1974–1982, but the series of paintings that evolved from these drawings went on for over twenty years, until I became allergic to oil paint, turned to different media and allowed other ideas in.

© Laetitia Yhap: The Propellor

© Laetitia Yhap: The Propellor

You drew on the beach in all weathers – but did you also paint on the beach?
After that initial period devoted to drawing (I did no painting at all during that time), I very gradually evolved my own carpentering systems to provide the shaped surfaces which my new vision seemed to demand. I needed to reinvent my experience, so that the indoor activity of painting felt as vital as if I was on the spot. The drawings had been done as things in themselves – I could not know at that stage what a painting by me would look like.

Do you see the fishing community artworks as the most important period/subject matter of your artistic career?
In retrospect, I see that this work, apart from the aesthetic, has become a social document and in that sense I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon this extraordinary community when I did.

How has Hastings changed since you moved here?
Apart from the natural beauty of its setting, Hastings itself has changed beyond recognition since the time I arrived here. As a Londoner used to the vibrant street markets, I was shocked then by the absence of any shops selling fresh vegetables and fruit and other comestibles. I used to have to bring cheese and coffee from London!

An art scene began to develop in the early eighties, when postgraduate art students started to discover it was an inexpensive place to live and created the first community gallery in St Mary in the Castle. It was called the Riviera Gallery and for a few years it provided the only place for young artists to exhibit. Hastings Museum itself was as yet without the new extension, so could not house touring exhibitions.

You can hear Laetitia Yhap talk about her work this Thursday 7 March at 6pm at Pallant House Gallery. Details of the talk are here. Her exhibition is in the De Longhi Room at Pallant House. Entry is free and the exhibition runs until 7 April. More information is shown here.

You will need to pay £9 to visit the other exhibitions that run concurrently  at Pallant House. Their stunning permanent collection is currently sharing space with a beautiful collection of Barbara Hepworth drawings made in operating theatres – and a retrospective of paintings by Kitaj.

Posted 08:38 Friday, Mar 1, 2013 In: Arts News

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