Nick Pelling looks forward to a special exhibition.

The current exhibition at the Electro Studios looks set to be quite something. It carries the title A Sense of Place, but it is emphatically not limited to conventional landscape. This is more about our ‘sense of place ‘ in the world: what forms and unforms our sense of who we are. This takes us into the territories of memory, nostalgia, and ultimately, identity. This also includes looking at how people have been displaced or forced from their home-place and how identity is rearranged, or even deranged.  

The curator of this exhibition is Jenny Pollitt. Talking to Jenny over a flat white, it is evident that she is a woman with a passionate commitment to her carefully chosen artists. Her journey in the world of the arts has been extraordinary. As a young woman she took an Italian literature degree, studying and then teaching in Rome. Although she fell in love with the city, it was her secretarial skills –acquired years before in rainy England – that would open the most exciting door. She took a temping job as an assistant in the Palace Productions company in 1983 and before long she found herself typing up the scripts for – and then pulling strings behind – some of Britain’s most classic late twentieth century films, such as Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa, Absolute Beginners and Scandal. Swiftly, she became a vital part of the success of Palace Productions. 

Above and below by Steph Fawbert

But, as her life circumstances changed, she chose to move away from London and away from film; and instead open what would become the highly successful Lane House Arts Gallery, in Bath’s artistic quarter, around Walcot Street. But, as ever, the fates had other plans. After struggling with a life-threatening throat cancer that required several
bouts of surgery and chemo and radiotherapy, she found herself, unsurprisingly, re-evaluating her life. From this new vantage point, life in safe ‘Middle England’ began to seem a bit stifling.

And so now, as a resident of Hastings, she brings her knowledge, zeal and zip to the local art scene. The exhibition is in some ways politically engaged – Jenny describes herself as “always political” but “maybe naive” in her younger years. In 1979, for example, she was an avid reader of Spare Rib and thus both intrigued and confused by the rise of Margaret Thatcher. But Jenny has always placed herself firmly on the moral left; though she is more aware now aware of what might be called the awkward complexities of reality.

The un-simple nature of things comes through in the work of the artist Steve Burden. He has always worked in and around what might be seen as political themes. His work is partly concerned with what it means to be white working class. He was brought up on the Pepys Estate in Deptford and his work in this exhibition reflects on that experience.

Allan Martin is a highly successful artist from the Glasgow School of Art, but his work defies easy categorisation. He was a brilliant graphic designer who created seminal cover work for his friend Annie Lennox, and the Psychedelic Furs. But he is now a professional painter whose paintings have won acclaim from all quarters. Indeed, he was runner up in Sky Landscape Artist of the Year in 2018. It is surely pretty rare for an artist to move so fluently and so impressively between such different styles of work and retain such a potent charge in all formats. 

These Dark Woods by Allan Martin

Steph Fawbert is a local artist who has exhibited with the SOCO arts group. Her work is figurative, but the landscape the figures inhabit is often vast and daunting, leaving the human characters somehow vulnerable. There is often a curious sense that maybe this image might be a caught memory rather than a representation of recent reality. Her work is always delicate and beautiful but occasionally bleak. 

There are many, many other artists that might be flagged up, but it is best to let the works speak for themselves. What was clear to this writer is that Jenny has a powerful sense of what distinguishes good art from the run of the mill or the merely pleasant. In many ways her experience in film has given her an acute awareness of what works visually: she has, after all, discussed scenes with Angela Carter, Julian Temple and even David Bowie. This exhibition will absolutely not be the luke-warm bath of niceness that sometimes passes for art. It runs from Friday 26 November for the next few weeks and my hunch is that this is very definitely one not to miss. 

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