Merlin Betts reviews a show of portraits at See Spray Gallery, Queens Road. 

We’ve talked about Queens Road in HIP before. Like Kings Road in St Leonards it’s a unique take on the traditional High Street. A mix of thriving pubs, cafes, and galleries, often doubling as performance venues, with a selection of shops selling a range of handicrafts, antiques or other quality goods. The formula works better than many might expect. And you’ll certainly feel more fulfilled shopping and drinking along Queens Road rather than moping through Priory Meadow. Queens Road is also newer than you might realise. Two years ago I was viewing a shop that seemed to be on the edge of town, with nothing much to recommend it. I think it had been selling bathrooms, and out the back was a mini wasteland. Now that shop is the enthralling See Spray Gallery, and the space behind has been developed into flats. I’d imagined a nice garden, but you can’t have everything. 

Michael Caine by James Hague, commissioned as part of the First Prize for the 1996 BP Portrait Award

Last Saturday See Spray launched its latest exhibition, Face Facts, which is hosting a particularly illustrious array of artists. The most unusual of these, perhaps, is 14-year old Aleisha Taylor, whose portrait drawings approach and often surpass photorealism. The details on the faces she chooses are perfectly rendered, but the overall product does something more than just replicate a picture. Aleisha subtly manipulates the scale and shape of certain features so that more personality, more character can shine through. Definitely one to keep an eye on, See Spray discovered her through one of their junior shows in 2018. She has since been accepted by the Royal Academy, and her work has brought viewers to tears (in a good way of course!).  

By Aleisha Taylor

However, that’s just the start of what See Spray has to offer in their powerful end-of-year send off. Their ‘headliner’ is James Hague, a National Portrait Gallery artist who won the BP Portrait Award, among many others. See Spray calls his work “brutally honest, very distinctive and extremely collectable”. Alongside James are ‘debutantes’ Tamzin Malleson and Mr B. Tamzin has graced the screen in Bodies, Midsomer Murders, and Teachers, and paints a history of ‘blonde bombshells’, from movie stereotypes to the drag stars inspired by them. Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer takes a short break from his packed timetable of Chap Hop performances (he’s been at Glastonbury, has albums out and tours clubs around the world) to present a selection of prints inspired by his heroes. Both are capable new entries to the art world.

Self-portrait showing the scar from her breast cancer operation by Sue Tilley

For the rest of the show, you have high-powered locals Tom Bartlett (who runs the Gallery) and Georgie Wheeler, with their brilliantly contemporary, colourful and often searing creations. There’s even work by Sue Tilley – artist and one-time muse and model to Lucien Freud. You’ve got to get down that the end of Queens Road for a look. As See Spray say “Even the big gallery on the seafront in the Old Town couldn’t get a line up like this….and we are but a small, private gallery. It’s going to be completely unmissable for any art lover, autograph hunter or collector and a real treat for Hastings.”

Face Facts runs from 7th – 31st December. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11-4, and otherwise by appointment. And while you’re down there, there’s the Imperial and 1200 Postcards just across the road. Have a pint before you go in, have a pint after. Have a pint before and after, and probably catch a few bands while you’re at it. 

Full gallery details at

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