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Jennifer Baird: The mysterious process of coming to town (detail)

Jennifer Baird: The mysterious process of coming to town (detail)

Hastings IS the ideal landscape

Hastings Arts Forum is currently showing two exhibitions: The Ideal Landscape (Nigel Oxley and Claudia de Grandi) and West Indies to West Hill (Jennifer Baird). The images in each are very different – but they are nevertheless linked by the common theme of ‘journey’. West Indies to West Hill charts Jennifer Baird’s spiritual and geographical transition from the wild rain forests of Tobago to the quirky eccentricity of Hastings; The Ideal Landscape provides a visual documentation of Nigel Oxley’s journey to Snowdonia following a family bereavement. Claudia de Grandi celebrates the journey from pure painter to intaglio printer.

All the artists will also be giving talks at the gallery on Saturday 31 May, and this is a wonderful opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of the personal stories behind these shows.

HOT reporter Cathy Simpson reflects on the exhibitions.

West Indies to West Hill features bright, vibrant, decorative pieces which are a treat for the senses. Ms Baird uses mixed media, including gold and silver leaf, and although there’s a range of approaches to the work, her own individual voice shines out very clearly. Some pieces are abstract, some more literal; some have that ambiguous dream-like quality which arises from subtly different styles within the same piece.

Jennifer Baird: Jungle Spirits and Humming Bird

Jennifer Baird: Jungle Spirits and Humming Bird.

Jungle Spirits and Humming Bird shows the world of the exotic rain forest very clearly, as a realistically depicted bird hovers against a flat, decorative background featuring tribal masks – a reminder that Amerindians were once as much a part of the natural environment as the vegetation. The spiritual aspects of art and the creative process are very important to her, and this is shown in a variety of ways throughout. The work produced after her return to the UK is more muted in colour, but the quality of sheer joy is just as strong. These are gorgeous, vibrant paintings.

There are also masks made from calabash gourds, The Calabash Guardians, which are thoughtfully displayed either side of the doorway between the two parts of the gallery.

The mood of The Ideal Landscape is totally different. Both Claudia de Grandi and Nigel Oxley show a variety of approaches which could almost be the work of different artists, and the process of intaglio printing reigns supreme. In 1990, Oxley began a large body of work, The Conversation, consisting of semi-autobiographical prints. The Snowdon Suite featured in the exhibition concludes The Conversation, and depicts the journey and consequent images in response to the death of his father. Evocative titles leave much to be interpreted by the viewer, and the images suggest maps, landscapes and places – but these really show the printmaking medium being true to itself.

Nigel Oxley: Transfer II

Nigel Oxley: Transfer II.

In an interesting departure, there are three works on the theme of Transfer  – where classical landscapes share the picture space with intriguing abstractions: Oxley’s remaining works are from the Promenade Suite, where exquisite draughtsmanship and judicious use of negative space combine to produce almost minimalist pieces. Piazza San Marco is an evocation of a mood, rather than a literal interpretation of a scene – yet conveys the impression of grand open spaces in cities all over the world!

Nigel Oxley: Piazza San Marco

Nigel Oxley: Piazza San Marco.

Claudia de Grandi collaborated with Nigel Oxley in the production of the prints displayed. She was entirely new to printmaking, and the project was an exploration of the process of transposing the visual language of her paintings – often reminiscent of the work of Mark Rothko – into graphic media. Her Channel Suite features studies of sea and sky at different times and in different moods, and her work has the same meditative quality as that of Rothko. Delicious textures and colours combine to create a depth which increases and becomes more fascinating the longer you look at it, and shows a painterly treatment of the printmaking process.

Claudia de Grandi: Channel Suite

Claudia de Grandi: Channel Suite.

She also includes her English Summer Suite, providing a total contrast to the panoramic views of the Channel Suite. These are small works, almost illustrative in approach, with a striking economy of line and content. Eastbourne Pier is represented by a solitary herring gull glaring balefully at us, while Birling Gap – Gliding Free is evoked by a bird of prey.

I was lucky enough to talk to both Jennifer Baird and Nigel Oxley when I visited the gallery; they will be giving their talks on Saturday 31 May. I can’t recommend these too highly!

Jennifer Baird, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Nigel Oxley and Claudia De Grandi, 1 – 3pm

The exhibitions will remain open until June 3 2014, 11am – 5pm daily.

Hastings Arts Forum
36 Marina
St. Leonards-on-Sea
East Sussex TN38 0BU

Phone 01424 201636

Posted 22:04 Thursday, May 29, 2014 In: Visual Arts

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