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20th Century Art in Hastings

This article, adapted from a piece in a former Hastings anthology, Visions of Hastings, explains how the Hastings Modern Art Beach Book came to be…

text © 2010 K Green, pictures © 2010 K Reekie

They threatened to build an art gallery on The Stade in Hastings and, despite a furious tide of resistance, they did. It was to house the famous Jerwood Collection, the existence of which most people in Hastings were blissfully unaware. Well, the Jerwood Collection came and went, and Hastings is still as full of art … and as contrary … as ever. One of the many things that came out of our brush with Jerwood though was a project I set about with poet and art critic Joe Fearn and artist Katherine Reekie.

Katherine, Joe and Kay present the book,
poems and paintings in a local bookshop

First, find out what ‘modern art’ is…

I was the guinea pig. Like a lot of people in Hastings, I knew very little about modern art and was very suspicious of the whole ‘scene’. I first got involved when I went to see Katherine’s collection at Hastings Arts Forum. I got talking to Joe, already an experienced arts commentator, about how difficult it is for ‘outsiders’ to see what’s going on in the art world. Next thing I knew, I was wandering around art galleries in Edinburgh and London, trying to educate myself on the subject, and reporting back experiences which ranged from baffling through infuriating to utterly amazing.

Featuring Reekie’s
Art on the Beach collection

The three of us presented our conclusions, along with a range of opinions on Hastings and art by local commentators such as creative community moderator Erica Smith, social policy researcher Peter Saunders, and art promoter Lesley Samms. There is also a range of Hastings and/or beach-themed work and commentary by writers and artists such as beach artist Laetitia Yhap, illustrators Ian Ellery and Cathy Simpson and poet Sandra Burdett. Hastings is a wonderful and terrible place. It’s bung full of music, poetry, art and street-drama, and it’s been at war with itself since long before 1066. There’s no helping this. Just like good friends who are constantly fighting, if you try to help, they turn on you. Perhaps they’re enjoying the battle too much to give it up.

Perhaps it’s because of The Stade. There is one set of laws to cover the ownership and access to land, and a different set to cover the same issues in the case of beaches. Where onshore drift causes a build-up of shingle which becomes sufficiently embedded to deserve the name ‘land’, what you have is what lawyers would probably call an on-going earning opportunity and what everyone else would call outright war.

By the time we’d finished working on the book, the art gallery was pretty much built, and the remaining argument was mostly about the ownership of a scrap of land on which the electricity generator for the gallery stood. I had spent a lot of time learning about art galleries, Joe had spent a lot of time looking at boats and talking to people who work on the beach, and Katherine had painted a lot more pictures. All the time, all of us continued to be amazed, outraged, delighted and baffled by the relationship between Hastings, Modern Art, the beach, art galleries and the words and the pictures of all involved, many of which we collected as part of the journey, and became part of this oh, so very Hastings book.

Buy The Hastings Modern Art Beach Book from Foyles

Buy Visions of Hastings from Foyles

The Hastings Modern Art Beach Book is £12.99, including postage, to the UK but if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me and you can have one delivered to your door for a tenner.

Or (again, if you are local) and you’d like both the Hastings Modern Art Beach Book and Visions of Hastings, delivered to your door, for £15, just give me a shout.

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