Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

A monument to the fishing community

Hastings artist Laetitia Yhap has a national reputation for her paintings of the Hastings fishing beach and its community, combining humble details and workaday objects with an almost religious and heroic sense of awe that reminds of us of ancient depictions of saints and bible scenes at the time when artists started to show them as real people.

One of the highlights of this Autumn was the chance to see a substantial body of Laetitia Yhap’s paintings all together, accompanied by Mark French’s thoughtful film about her.

HOT asked GRAHAM WHITHAM, art history lecturer and writer, to assess their mystery and mastery. Pictured below, The Boat

The popularity of the BBC’s Coast series may be an indication of the fascination we have with the edges of our country. As an island people, the sea is in our blood, part of our collective unconscious as Jung would have it, and it draws us to paddle in it as children and to sit and contemplate it in old age. Some, like the artist Laetitia Yhap, immerse themselves in it, literally and metaphorically.

Mark French’s biographical film, which accompanied Yhap’s exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery, shows her swimming in the sea but, more significantly, it reveals an extraordinary and meaningful engagement. Over a twenty year period, finishing in 1995, she made a series of remarkable paintings of the fishing beach in Hastings and the men who work there.

In the film she speaks of finding the human theme in this most male of all places and discovering, amongst other things, a community that can trace its fishing ancestry back hundreds of years. That past is referenced in the monumentality of the figures, reminiscent of early Italian masters Masaccio or Piero della Francesca, whilst the mystery of the beach is hinted at by some that almost float, Chagall-like, transcending routine and toil.

Composed in shaped canvases, suggestive of the Cornish “naïve” painter Alfred Wallis (who was himself himself a fisherman), the distressed frames recall the stained and weathered patina of driftwood and ships’ hulls, and the tangibility of it all is captured in the dry, tempera-like paint surfaces that are textured, worked and vigorous.

Whilst photographs of Hastings’ fishermen might document their working life, Laetitia Yhap’s paintings actually tell us far more. Looking at them, we hear screeching gulls and the winding of winches, smell the sea, feel the cutting wind on a grey day. We are transported to the beach, we are among the fishermen and we know them, privileged to enter their private world of work. Only someone who herself is intimately familiar with this world and, most importantly, is able to convey it, can give us this.


Posted 12:42 Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 In: Visual Arts

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