Dave Young meets Matthew Burrows – curator of the forthcoming Hastings Art Forum anniversary exhibition

“A contemporary painting show, to demonstrate the work of significant artists living or connected to the area,” is how curator Matthew Burrows introduces Festival 15, an exhibition of contemporary painting to celebrate Hastings Art Forum’s first 15 years.

Speaking in his large modern studio near Rye, Burrows, a full time artist who has curated previous exhibitions at the Hastings Observer building and Chichester University, explains that he was invited to bring an outside perspective to the curatorial process by Forum members Robin Holtom and Charlotte Snook.

Burrows’ own much-exhibited work features “uncompromising and sensually unnerving paintings” employing the techniques of layering paint and form images, and strong draughtsmanship.

 “There will be 22 artists in the show,” says Burrows, explaining some of the ideas behind the exhibition.

“The initial criteria for selection was that this is a painters’ show. Attempting to showcase very clear and particular individual perspectives, rather than trying to please everyone. Reflecting great work from the area, figurative and abstract, a fresh and contemporary look with a lot of vitality.

Burrows cautions against always associating such work with younger painters. “Most artists don’t mature until in their 40s, exciting and new is not just the provenance of the young.

“In every show I curate I want an intergenerational dialogue – you don’t get a sense of context without it, unless work talks to other generations it has no meaning. Stuff that looks like it’s been done by the youngest artist may have be done by the oldest.

“Putting a show togther is trying to create a conversation – putting the right people together. Artists are more likely to do work if they communicate with each other, and that’s why grassroots organisations (such as the Forum) are so important.”

It’s hoped this may become an annual event; any subsequent exhibitions may feature other mediums – such as sculpture or photography. Exhibitors at Festival 15 include Stephen Buckley, Alessandro Raho and Tom Hammick. All of those featured are well known the in art world, some with international profiles, others have exhibited at the Tate and Serpentine.

“The range of talent in and around Hastings and St Leonards is stronger than Brighton in visual arts,” says Burrows, “(and) too broad to be thematic – the unifying feature is geographical location.”

With Festival 15 he and his colleagues are attempting to raise the profile of the Forum and reflect the large influx of artists to the area over the last 10 years.

Hastings Arts Forum was founded in 2003 with the aim of supporting and raising the profile of local visual arts, and runs two adjoining gallery spaces on the sea front.

A registered charity, it is unique in Britain in being independent of any public funding and almost totally reliant on committed volunteers. The gallery space offers professional artists the opportunity to submit work for exhibition at reasonable prices and gives all artist members the opportunity to show their work at the annual members’ show.

The Forum recently launched an initiative giving new and emerging artists the chance to show their work in a professional gallery for the first time at no cost.

The Festival 15 exhibition, together with a series of events – including a panel discussion on why seaside locations attract artists, will open for two weeks on May 1st at the Arts Forum Gallery in Marine Parade, St Leonards.


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