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© Laetitia Yhap

© Laetitia Yhap

Local artist Laetitia Yhap celebrates  80th birthday with exhibition at Hastings Museum & Art Gallery

Laetitia Yhap is a familiar site cycling around Hastings, usually stylishly dressed with colourful hair to match. It is no surprise to learn that she is a well known British artist. What is incredible is that she is 80 years old and Hastings Museum & Art Gallery is celebrating the event with an exhibition. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was delighted to look at it, distanced, online.

Yhap has been a Hastings resident for over 50 years. Prior to moving to Hastings in 1967 she has lived a full and rewarding life: she had studied art at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts, won A Leverhulme Research Scholarship that took her to Italy for a year looking at Renaissance art and architecture, a period of art that she still loves,  then returned to the Slade School of Fine Art UCL to do a postgraduate from 1963–65. She has exhibited the Stade beach, boats, fishermen in exhibitions at Cork Street, Mayfair as well as the Serpentine Gallery.

Keeping Company, 1982-84 © Laetitia Yhap

Keeping Company, 1982-84 © Laetitia Yhap

She had been living in Hastings for a while before she found her subject which consumed her for two decades. Artists have, unsurprisingly, found the fishing beach to be a great source for inspiration – the boats, the sea, the activity, the drama of it all. They find their own ways to paint or photograph the particular aspect that captures their imagination.

For Yhap it was the theatre of it all, the activity, the theatre, the organisation, the way each fisherman knows what he has to do and over years choreograph their work. It might even look chaotic – as I have certainly heard people say ­– but it is organised chaos; each bit of equipment, as much as the men, has its role. They are also great recyclers so, if at all possible, nothing gets thrown away, it waits for its time to be rediscovered and reused. However, old boats look like beached whales and bull-dozers languish like old dinosaurs slowly dying.

Over the years that Yhap painted she saw changing technologies; wooden boats gave way to modern materials; manually pulling in the catch gave way to mechanised net hoists. Yet essentially the job has not changed. They get into their waterproofs, launch the boats, go to sea, catch the fish, land it, pile them into crates to take to the fish market or sell at the kiosks on the beach. Not wanting to feel that she was a voyeur, Yhap has really lived the life. She has felt it and smelled it. She has travelled with the men  on the boats, felt the vibrations, the noise, the hard work, the danger – it is still a dangerous job and fishermen sometimes do not return, the weather can change from placid to threatening. So when she was drawing or painting the crews she knew exactly what toll the job took on their lives.

And Yhap has documented all of that over the years in paint.

Bodle & Omo aboard RX45 picking out fish, 1985 © Laetitia Yhap

Bodle & Omo aboard RX45 picking out fish, 1985 © Laetitia Yhap

Then she found the very thing she loved was making her ill; she became allergic to paint and she simply had to stop. However, as the exhibition shows she has certainly documented a pivotal, vibrant time of the Stade’s fishing community and history.

She continues to lead a rewarding life she cycles, she swims pretty much all year round (and still is in spite of having a tussle with a rip tide near the harbour arm, which is frightening in anyone’s book, she practices tai chi and, while she couldn’t paint, she learned Chinese calligraphy. A talented and active lady.

As Cllr Colin Fitzgerald, lead councillor for Regeneration, Culture and Tourism, commented, “This is an excellent exhibition that really captures the spirit and uniqueness of Hastings’ fishing community.”

The Museum is currently closed because of Covid-19. It is hoped that it will open to the public later this spring, so you will be able to see the paintings for real. In the meantime, you can watch film-maker Mark French’s new biography of Laetitia, A Girl Ashore – Laetitia Yhap at 80. Keep an eye on the museum website and social media to read essays by Laetitia and see photos of the exhibition.

My Vital Life – Laetitia Yhap at 80 will be at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, John’s Place, Bohemia Road, Hastings  TN34 1ET until the 9 May 2021. Alongside Yhap’s paintings are displayed a number of 18th and 19th Century prints and watercolours from the Museum’s collection, all with inspiration from life at the Stade. 

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Posted 15:45 Wednesday, Jan 27, 2021 In: Arts News

1 Comment

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  1. Penny

    This just goes to show that the Museum was right to buy one of Laetitia’s paintings back in 1980. She was the first living artist to achieve this well-deserved recognition.

    Comment by Penny — Sunday, Jan 31, 2021 @ 23:18

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