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The Rural Ambassador: courtesy Stephen Chambers

Colourful exhibitions at Hastings Contemporary

Hastings Contemporary is open after the latest Lockdown with three stimulating exhibitions. Just because you haven’t heard of an artist doesn’t mean that they aren’t good or that they aren’t well respected somewhere else. Quentin Blake is extremely well known but HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths has to admit she didn’t know the work of artists Lakwena Maciver or Stephen Chambers before. She does now.

At the back of the  ground floor are large canvases by Lakwena Maciver; colourful, uplifting paintings with messages of love and hope. Lakwena creates painted prayers and meditations, which respond to and re-appropriate elements of popular culture. Central to her practice are words, used as both images and anchors of meaning. Her vibrant, happy colours help to drag us out of the gloom with positive messages – Your love keeps lifting me higher – that wrap around you like a hug that, at present, we cannot have. Just what you want in these grey, somewhat depressing days.

Lakwena has created installations at Tate Britain, Somerset House, Facebook and the Southbank Centre in London, as well as at a juvenile detention centre in Arkansas, a monastery in Vienna, and the Bowery Wall in New York City. Her most recent work focuses on the interplay between her as an artist and mother of two young sons. She evidently loves words and has been painting the walls of her home to create a space of affirmation, empowerment and resistance upon which will sit her panel paintings.

Lakwena You've got the love

Lakwena You’ve got the love

Her art is concerned with mythologies: “Things we hold to be true and I want to tell the truth to my kids. These are words that will encourage, warn and inspire.” She knows that she can’t control what happens out in the world “But I can ensure that in my home I am sending them clear messages about who they are, their value, their worth, what to do in times of need, where to go to for help, what to set their hearts on, what is important.”

Stephen Chambers

First shown at The Venice Biennale in 2017, Stephen Chambers’ The Court of Redonda depicts a cast of 101 imaginary courtiers inspired by a literary legend that developed around the tiny uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda. This fantasy legend took shape in the mind of Matthew Dowdy Sheill, a merchant trader who claimed the island in 1865 and gave himself the title of King.

The title passed down to his son, who decided that it should be given to poets and novelists as a form of literary honour. Inspired by this fantasy, Chambers created his own imaginary court of Redondans: not just poets, philosophers, artists and writers, but also patients, pharmacists, harlots and “bums”.

The paintings come from his imagination – they are not portraits from life, nor depictions of real people; a motley crew of ne’er-do-wells and others emanating from the thought that “the ordinary is more extraordinary than the extraordinary.” The figures are spare, the detail is in their clothes, as opposed to expression. Chambers  explores histories, both real and imagined, allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps and construct their own stories. The paintings are reminiscent of Indian or Persian portraits, the clues are in the dress, or the landscape, but the faces are, in the main, expressionless.

Installation by Stephen Chambers.

Even so there is a playfulness within his subjects with imaginative and descriptive titles like Patisiere of the soft bun, Prospect of the bird nestsDevil of the best tunes.

The pictures deserve close scrutiny. In the Casanova series, the background can be a bit of a surprise when you look closely and see touches of erotica, reflecting Casanova’s colourful life.

And in Trouble Meets Trouble twenty characters are depicted that Chambers has brought together from books, mythology or real life. There are well-known names, some historical, some present-day, others fictitious –  Sir Winston Churchill,  Ned Kelly, Jeannette Winterson, Marie Antoinette, Jean Paul Sartre, Doctor Foster (of the nursery rhyme, Doctor Foster went to Gloucester). The series is playful; look carefully and you can figure out odd references to their idiosyncratic lives.

Chambers has exhibited widely around the globe, with more than 40 solo presentations including the Royal Academy of Arts in 2012 and the Pera Museum, Istanbul, in 2014. His contemporary dance collaborations at The Royal Ballet, London, with Ashley Page and Orlando Gough include Sleeping with Audrey (1996), Room of Cooks (1997, 1999), and This House will Burn (2001).


All are story tellers. Quentin Blake inhabits the large Foreshore gallery. His sad but empathetic drawings of migrants have been in the Gallery before. (see HOT);  Lakwena’s communication with her children and the world and Chambers’ wry look at history and the present day. There is something for everyone in the  three exhibitions; very different and all worth seeing.

Hastings Contemporary, Rock-a-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3DW. Exhibitions open until 28 February 2021. Thursday-Sunday, 11am-4 pm. Check website for opening times over Christmas and New Year.


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Posted 21:06 Wednesday, Dec 16, 2020 In: Visual Arts

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