at Hastings Arts Forum

By Benji Thomas

Hastings Arts Forum, nestled within Marine Court and facing out to the sea, is currently playing host to Lockdown, an exhibition of works made either during, or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by its members.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the gallery is the incredible variety of work on show. In a more normal context it might look thematically haphazard, but knowing that each piece is in some way tied to the pandemic makes the diversity not only positive, but also quite harrowing: it throws into sharp relief the incredibly wide-reaching consequences that COVID-19 has brought upon us all, artist or otherwise.

Painting by Dan Pearce

From a literal – and beautiful – depiction of microscopic coronavirus cells by Lynne Bingham, to an entirely abstract painting by Tam Giles that contemplates the subconscious effect of the pandemic on the very colours that he uses in his paintings, with each piece I was constantly surprised by how this tumultuous year has made its unique home in each artist’s head.

The prevalence of landscapes within the exhibition was another surprise, but also something that quickly made sense. Many artists have been shut off from their usual landscapes into “forced hermetic states”, and indeed forced into them, when the only activities available were walking, running or cycling in places with as few people as possible. 

Samantha Guertin has exhibited three small works, all landscapes in oil, and says that “like many during lockdown, I found that nature and the natural world became more important”. 

In a strange way the unnaturalness of isolation has brought us all closer to what is truly important: it seems to have become clear to many that even within a world as fast paced and pressurised as ours, it is still nature, family, friends, painting, singing, or maybe dancing to an old record in your pyjamas, that gives us the most meaningful sense of solace.

Towards Oblivion by Peter Clarke

While some of the work looks outward to sprawling lands or seascapes, several pieces draw focus inward to the person at the heart of the work. Dan Pearce’s work is apparently a “radical departure” from his typical style, now venturing into unsettling portraiture based on grotesque faces he makes in the bathroom mirror. Alexander Johnson’s work draws on classical paintings that he relates to the national crisis; other works are based on simple scenes of “people indoors passing the time”.

The largest piece in the show, by Lesley Barker, also touches on the idea of time passing. In her description she says: “endless time seemed attractive, but in the studio I felt un-centred and ungrounded. I couldn’t initiate a valid response to the situation.” Her contribution to the exhibition is a reaction to this uncomfortable state and is so unassuming that it becomes a really impactful statement on the psychological effects of isolation on the creative mind.

There is a lot of common ground to be discovered in this exhibition. It seems inconceivable that you could visit and not identify deeply with a great number of the works and the stories they tell, which in itself makes this a wonderfully unique exhibition. In the midst of a painful part of our history, this is a beautifully unifying collection of work.

Lockdown remains open until 22nd October, opening times are 11.00am-5.00pm Tuesday –Sunday. Please go to hastingsartsforum.co.uk/lockdown for more information.


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