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© Jacqueline Utley

© Jacqueline Utley

The power of six

The Fleet Gallery on Norman Road is always a surprise. You never know who or what you will see there: Maggi Hambling, Terry Frost, Mary Fedden, Ben Nicholson or – either their work or in person – locals like Roland Jarvis, Laetitia Yhap and Amanda Nicol. Patrick Robbins is a great supporter of local artists and so HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to see his latest show of ‘6’ (mainly) resident painters.

Curator Mary Hooper invited six artists to create work for the exhibition because of a shared intuitive sensibility toward their subject matter and use of medium that goes beyond mere representation. “This is the common thread between them, as well as the fact that they are skilled painters with distinctive styles and are expert in their use of paint and colour. All have developed their practice despite interruptions of work and family, which requires dedication and passion.”

It seems as if this exhibition has given some of the artists permission for a change of style, theme or approach. Art, as with everything, is confidence. And as artists extend their range or change tack, confidence can lag slightly behind as they hit their stride and take time to experiment, develop and grow.

© Charlotte Snook The Dog Headed Men

© Charlotte Snook: The Dog Headed Men.

There is no real common theme, although imagination and memory play a large part. Charlotte Snook’s concerns often lean towards human vulnerability in literary, mythical, biblical and visual references with a nod to masters like Goya and Velasquez. The pictures are always intriguing, small in scale, designed to be looked into and studied: the paintwork, colours, and stories. Some images are quiet and tender, others  tense with a rumbustious melee of activity.

Charlotte’s exhibition notes explain: “The work takes us to the edge and asks us to question what we see. As a viewer, one looks for a safe place to rest – places to identify and name. Charlotte gives us a platform to jump from…but the excitement of these works is that there is no place to truly land or settle.”

Two images have a different feel. One, The Dog Headed Men, is a desert-looking landscape rather than a constrained interior and another, a sea view: Sea View from Bulverhythe is a “a little gem” of a sketch Mary spotted in Charlotte’s studio. However, Charlotte evidently hadn’t rated it and was thinking of throwing it away. Thank goodness for curators who can see the essence of the art.

There are beautiful, sensitive flower paintings and interior rooms by Jacqueline Utley. One of the still life flower paintings – painted from found or abandoned flowers ­and objects – looks like fluttering birds, while the slightly mysterious interiors, Nancy’s Rooms, with their yellowish cast and spare atmosphere are reminiscent of Chinese paintings.

The title Nancy’s Rooms comes from a photograph of Nancy Spero’s studio. Jacqueline had been influenced by Spero after visiting a retrospective of her work at the ICA in the mid 1980s. Finding the studio photograph on the internet became a catalyst for a new series of small-scale paintings. “These paintings are the beginnings of new research, exploring non-linear narrative. Working with a multiple of references, including art historical, personal and the everyday.”

Lesley Cornish

Lesley Cornish

Lesley Cornish is a well-known artist in Hastings and St Leonards. She was a founder member of SoCo and known for curating innovative, contemporary exhibitions at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery. No longer painting after a serious illness she has, however, overcome her difficulties to produce one wonderful new image for the show.

Her work is definitely distinctive. Her colours conjure up memories of sun and European cities; one exterior reminds me of France – and French adverts. Another, a room of chairs, looks despondent, stripped of life, waiting for bottoms to rest upon them. It is no surprise that she is “fascinated by spaces that are overlooked, decayed and abandoned – with the lingering remnants of human activity”.

Nicola Urling Clark seems to be moving towards abstraction. “Subject matter is less important to me than the abstract qualities of the painting itself. Colour, mark, space and the relationship of these. The paintings always begin with a series of quick drawings, but in the end it is memory, imagination and the emotional response to the paint that is important.”

Jane Bruce has some wonderful still lives of objects familiar to her and her family. One painting gives rise to a discussion about whether it is a Chinese dog, dragon or lion. It transpires it is a dog, fangs exposed, sitting alongside a Chinese bowl.

Pat McNamara has painted some architectural landscapes of the De La Warr Pavilion. “I go out with my painting equipment and wherever I sit, I paint. The challenge of the constant changing light is endless and inspiring”. However, you can see her real love and passion are the lifelike studies of the sheep, cows and pigs grazing in the field.

‘6’ is a lesson in painting and painting techniques.

‘6’ is on from 7-28 November at Fleet Gallery, 53 Norman Road, St Leonards, TN38 0EG. Open Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm.

Posted 17:50 Friday, Nov 6, 2015 In: Visual Arts

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