Hastings Contemporary
Until 22nd March 2020
Proceeds from the sale of work go to the Drawing Life charity. 

By Julia Mortimer 

The Drawing Life project has grown, almost beyond recognition. Long-term readers will remember the days when we looked at the drawings and said: “Wow, that’s amazing for someone living with dementia.” Looking at this latest exhibition displayed on the walls of Hastings Contemporary’s gorgeous new Boatyard Café, we now simply say: “Wow, these are really interesting pictures.”

Based on the premise that people living with dementia have as much right to add to cultural life as anyone else, Drawing Life takes a professional model and a practising artist to care homes in the Hastings and St Leonards area. As well as taking the team to the care homes, Drawing Life has also set up in the studios at Hastings Contemporary and The De La Warr Pavilion.

The Drawing Life show comprises 15 drawings made by people with different types and degrees of dementia. At the private view a fortnight ago today, the exhibition images were attracting a lot of attention. It was particularly uplifting to see the works being treated with equal care and attention to those in the Contemporary’s galleries downstairs and across the landing. The works produced in the Drawing Life project show a strength and intensity that calls for closer consideration. Two spectators I spoke to were intrigued by the muscularity of Edith’s work in particular. Sadly, Edith has recently died, but there is an eloquence in the ferocity of her drawing that articulates her frustration and exasperation. The result is a vivid, vibrant shout of colour that leaps out of the exhibition space, making the viewer stop and reflect.

Similarly forceful are the works of Judith, Vera and Graham which again command our attention and invite us to ask questions. Compositionally, Vera and Judith are similar, with an intense concentration of colour and shape in one corner relieved by a significant amount of white space. It’s tempting to perceive this as an allegory for the part of the brain that is still functioning in a sea of unfathomable whiteness, but it’s equally tempting to see two fine portraits that have depth and meaning and communicate powerfully with their audience.

I have seen the production of some of these pieces during Judy Parkinson’s Drawing Life classes and observed participants overcoming their initial uncertainty to find unexpected pleasure and focus in rediscovering the joys of drawing. Without exception, there is always an incredible mood of concentration and calm during the classes, which is a key benefit of the Drawing Life concept. For some people making art has been a lifelong interest, but others haven’t drawn since primary school. 

Hastings Contemporary has played a blinder in exhibiting these drawings alongside recognised artists – they remind us all that art is for everybody and that it fulfils us in many and varied ways, whether as viewer or artist, professional practitioner or talented amateur – we all have something vital to say, but some of us are more eloquent with a crayon than words.

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