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We Live in Worrying Times (1) Pen ink & watercolour on watercolour paper 2020 copyright The Artist

Quentin Blake living in worrying times

Sir Quentin Blake, greatly respected artist, renowned illustrator of children’s books and much loved Hastings resident, is living, like all of us, in these Covid-19 suspended animation times. Understandably, as many artists are – and will in the future – he has been exploring the effect of these times,  which has resulted in  an exhibition We Live In Worrying Times. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was intrigued to see some of the images which differ markedly from his previous work.

Even before this pandemic landed, Sir Quentin was thinking about, and energetically producing, a new body of work portraying his thoughts and feelings on the state of our world. That took a different turn as the coronavirus took hold around the world  and has resulted in this exhibition, We Live In Worrying Times, a collection of over 170 drawings and paintings.

Taxi Driver

At the centre of this new exhibition is The Taxi Driver, a thirty-by-five foot mural, completed by Blake in a single day at Hastings Contemporary, which takes inspiration from Picasso’s Guernica. Blake was inspired to create the work after a fateful encounter with a taxi driver just over a year ago.

He had ordered a taxi, got in and then to his surprise the taxi driver also got in, sat opposite him and proclaimed, “We live in worrying times”. Then proceeded to tell him how he had seen Picasso’s Guernica several times in Madrid and, to Sir Quentin’s surprise, urged him to take up the mantle of artist-hero and produce a new Guernica for the world, an outcry against the encroaching global disasters of the near future.

The encounter with the taxi driver felt like a dream but set him thinking. He asked for the taxi driver’s name, so that he could let him know the outcome of his work, but the driver replied that that wasn’t necessary as he “kept an eye on everything anyway”.

As Artist Patron and great supporter of Hastings Contemporary, Blake has a close collaboration with the gallery. This relationship has opened up new possibilities in his work, prompting him to explore new approaches and themes – such as migration, mental health and other aspects of our lives. Many themes from this new show resonate with the current global crisis, highlighting his clear and resolute sense of feeling for others, particularly those experiencing hardship and distress.

Familiar yet radically different

We Live in Worrying Times (2) Pen ink & watercolour on watercolour paper 2020 copyright The Artist

We Live in Worrying Times (2) Pen ink & watercolour on watercolour paper 2020 copyright The Artist

The exhibition explores subject matter and techniques that feel both familiar and radically different, balancing somewhere between the dream-like and profoundly introspective. The subject matter seems drawn from a world, much like our own, pushed to the cliff-edge of its own existence: displaced figures rove across empty landscapes blasted by war, or ecological crisis; sinister planes and drones haunt the skies above; and the implacable stares of dozens of anxious and havoc-struck faces are the focus of an array of portrait studies of assorted refugees, apprehensive women, orphans, ‘unfortunates’, and some grotesques Blake has called ‘eroded heads’

We Live In Worrying Times was due to open at Hastings Contemporary over Easter and was later postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, on Thursday 7 May, Liz Gilmore, director of Hastings Contemporary, will unveil the Guernica piece with Sir Quentin Blake present via the gallery’s popular telepresence robot. (A HOT article about the robot can be read here.)

She comments: “In February this year we had the great privilege of witnessing the making of The Taxi Driver mural. Sir Quentin’s fluidity of line and thought, and his apparent lightness of touch, masterfully articulate many of the concerns of our day, his invention constantly upending our expectations. The result is profound and moving.”  There is a time-lapse film of Quentin making The Taxi Driver along with a recorded interview (available on Facebook on Thursday) revealing his personal reflections on some of the other series of works in the exhibition. 

This will be followed by the launch of a ‘virtual gallery’, a CGI model based on the gallery’s Foreshore Gallery space that will provide realistic visualisations of shows that cannot exist physically.

Original artworks by Sir Quentin Blake

Original portrait drawings by Blake will be available for sale exclusively via Hasting Contemporary’s online shop. 100% of the proceeds will support Hastings Contemporary during the current public health crisis to help the charity sustain its pioneering work. Prices range from £150 to £750.

To visit the gallery and experience this exciting exhibition via this new technology, please email Also, to offer donations of £3 at this difficult time, visit the gallery’s JustGiving page or text ARTONSEA to 70085.


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Posted 18:52 Tuesday, May 5, 2020 In: Visual Arts

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