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Ice Lollies, Quentin Blake 2015

Ice Lollies, Quentin Blake 2015

Quentin Blake – celebrating Hastings

Mention the two words ‘Quentin Blake’ and a smile of recognition appears on the faces of both adults and children. Happy memories of childhood books. It is always a pleasure spending time in the company of Quentin Blake’s imagination, so HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was delighted to go and see his exhibition, Life Under Water – A Hastings Celebration. 

And it is a celebration. So often Hastings is characterised by its buildings – the Old Town, the Fishing Huts, the fishing beach – but Blake has concentrated on the idiosyncrasies of Hastings: its events, festivals and ‘types’ and taken them out of the Old Town for a swim under the waves.

And in Hastings there is a fund of characters to illustrate.

Quentin Blake has lived in Hastings for over 35 years, so he has had many years to observe the goings-on locally, watching it evolve and change.

I ask him if the people in the pictures are of anyone in particular. If they are, he’s not admitting it. “They are a generic sort of person – typical Hastings – by separating them from their surroundings, I can focus on what they look like. It is not based on real people, but sometimes real people get into the characters. I pull them out of my head, but realise later ‘it’s a bit like so and so’.

Quentin Blake, Life Under Water - A Hastings Celebration, 2015

Quentin Blake, Life Under Water – A Hastings Celebration, 2015

And there they all are in 24 new paintings specifically for this exhibition. All Hastings types and characters, swimming, diving, luxuriating under the sea, doing what they do: book readers deep in books, treading water; father and child licking ice lollies; green figures at Jack in the Green; dogs swimming after sticks; wine tasters – a large nose stuck into a wine glass; bikers, booted and bearded clutching helmets; plump ladies in antique shops and sun lovers in itsy bitsy pants.

“I don’t start out to do something funny, it’s about observation, not jokes. Humour comes out of the essence of the people; observing reactions of people between each other. I don’t take photographs and I don’t use a sketch book. I draw stuff up from the back of my mind. I used to do life drawing and drawing from life. Now I make it up as I go along.”

One of my favourite images is of a couple of nudists oblivious of another swimmer, averting their eyes from the sight of nudity.

Quentin Blake © Pete Jones pete@

Quentin Blake © Pete Jones pete@

I mention that there doesn’t seem to be much nudity on the beaches in Hastings. Quentin Blake smiles; this was a pure gift from the Jerwood. Some years ago, the Gallery were putting in a bid for the photographer, Spencer Tunick, photographer of crowds of naked people, to do a photo shoot during The Nights of the Museum. To support the campaign, brave souls disrobed on the Stade in January. Quentin Blake admits “I couldn’t let that pass.” Indeed not.

So does Sir Quentin swim in the sea in Hastings? He nods happily. “I do. I’m not a great swimmer, so I don’t go in very deep.”

Quentin Blake: Life Under Water – A Hastings Celebration is on at the Jerwood Gallery until 6 September, 2015. Jerwood Gallery, Rock a Nore, Hastings Old Town, TN34 3DW
 Open Tuesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, 11am – 5pm

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Posted 15:17 Wednesday, Jul 15, 2015 In: Visual Arts

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