Fleet Gallery is fast becoming a gallery to watch in St Leonards. Set up by Patrick Robbins, it is gaining a reputation for finding and exhibiting local, contemporary, talented artists; some who have somehow eluded the limelight or not exhibited at all for many years. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to see Fleet’s latest exhibition of octogenarian Roland Jarvis.
On entering the gallery my surprise was two-fold. First, that although Roland Jarvis has been living in Hastings for 18 years, he is French and has lost nothing of his charming accent. And second the exuberance of the work. It’s not the colour that hits you between the eyes – it is not a discordant or clashing palette but muted, blues, pinks, purples, greens and yellows. It takes a while to adjust to the shapes and marks around the room. They are lively, contemporary abstract and cubist styles; a nod to famous artists – all painted in Jarvis’ own way. Jarvism.
The pictures invite the viewer to look into them and engage with the subject. Subject which range from rodeos to circus, monuments and sculpture studios. He starts a picture by thinking about what it is to be – a circus, a rodeo – he makes marks and gradually the figures emerge. His work is suggestive, impressionistic, rather than wholly figurative.
However, he might feel he has released himself from his early figurative work. Yet his work teeters on figurative, even his cliffs have hints of figures in them; The Forest is a crowd of people, while a blue painting of upright marks on closer examination morphs into a synod of bishops – Blue Synod.
“I’ve been very lucky to be able to do what I want to do,” Jarvis explains. “If I get an idea, I can do it. I don’t think in terms of style, I like a variety of styles. I use whatever media that best expresses what I want to paint.” He adds. “I just play.”
And looking at the paintings they really communicate a sense of play, a freedom of expression.
He points out shadows of people, of clowns in a few of his paintings. He evidently likes shadows, reflections of people, but when I tentatively talk about shadows and ghosts, he laughs, “I don’t analyse, I just paint.”
In his eighties he is a prolific painter. He has a studio as part of his house in the Old Town. However, it’s very cold in winter so then he has four months out of the studio in a warmer space in the house where he makes videos and some of his assemblages.
It goes to show that nothing in life’s experience is ever lost. Jarvis trained and worked as an engineer and then discovered art. “I have been very lucky to have had an education in engineering and painting. The combination of the two makes something interesting.”
He can say that again.
He has created some interesting constructions and wonderful, picaresque chess pieces out of ‘things’; the white pieces created out of plastic found objects; the black out of domestic, mundane, stainless steel objects like a bottle opener, corkscrew, garlic press, tea strainer. (One looks like an Aztec figure.) I’ve always loved Picasso’s animals created out of found objects and Jarvis’s certainly make me smile too.
He taught life drawing in Brighton for 18 years, taking the opportunity to draw the life model alongside his pupils. The heads have a sculptural, 3-D quality, as if you are moving around the model with the artist.
Jarvis’ last one-man show was 30 years ago. So he is clearly delighted to show and see much of his work together now. He is a prolific artist, so hopefully we will not have to wait as long to see more of the product of his imagination, his vibrant paintings, inventive assemblages and evocative life drawings.
Roland Jarvis At Fleet Gallery, 53 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EG until 7 March. Open Wednesday–Saturday, 10am-5.30pm.
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