By Helen Murphy and Nick Pelling

If you have ever stood at the shore’s edge and stared at the waves and the endless grey sea, you might appreciate Seamus Heaney’s thought that nature, in her wild style, can leave you feeling, as the poet said, ‘neither here nor there.’ The line is from Heaney’s poem Postscript. It was this poem that was the inspiration for four local artists, whose show at the Electro Studios, in West St Leonards, borrowed another Heaney line – Known and Strange Things – as their title. We set out, in suitably Heaney-esque rain, to see if they had made some sort of sense of what the poet had to say. 

The Electro Gallery, with its austere whiteness, is the perfect blank page for artists. And the four female artists undoubtedly inscribed themselves on it in distinctively different – but weirdly complementary – ways. 

Left: Agnieszka Dabrowska CREDIT: Agata Read; Right: Adrienne Hunter

Agnieszka Dabrowska’s work picks up its energy from swirling natural forms. She has a particular fascination with motion, both human and rhizomatic. Plant roots can suddenly morph into human forms and resolve back. Her line is constantly moving, almost searching. The female form often seems to suggest itself – almost like Georgia O’Keefe – but, inevitably, words and references don’t really do justice to the shifting messiness of her imaginings. We spoke to Agnieszka and her passion for her subject was evident and she also pointed out that she was very happy that the art works were later being auctioned to raise money for a Polish charity helping Ukrainian refugees. Agnieszka is originally from Poland and the plight of the Ukrainian refugees has touched her deeply.

A different world revealed itself in the work of Oska Lappin. In truth, it is a slightly baffling and even sinister world. The figures could be in some sort of inexplicable Goyaesque circus, or they could be a post-apocalyptic band of dancing mutants. On the other hand, maybe Oska is creating a unique iconography for a cult community that exists only in the dark recesses of her imagination. Oddly, for all the Blair-witchiness, her drawing of human bodies, in motion, is graceful and often elegant. Her film, Red Clay Road, was extremely powerful but it was her small sculptures that intrigued the most. To us, they had the look of scorched pagan corn dollies. But heaven knows what strange fertility they signified. 

Victoria Kiff

Adrienne Hunter, by contrast, seems less concerned with figures and more inspired by shoreline and other colliding elements of the landscape. She generally gives herself large pieces of rough paper in order to allow her drawing to become a way of tracing her responses to the earth’s rooted energies. Some of her work uses the roughness of cardboard and even collage, which gives the drawings texture and a certain rawness. She combines charcoal, ink and gesso – and anything else that comes to hand – to give us spikes, crags and whirls and much else from nature’s strange knapsack. Although she often restricts her palette to earthy colours, the exhibition also showed a sensitive touch with more vibrant pinks and electric blues. 

The elemental power of raw line is also evident in the work of Victoria Kiff. But here we are back with figures again, only this time the inks and oils bring us the human form in its shifting ability to convey psychological atmospheres. It reminded us of Munch or even Kokoschka, particularly in the way expressionistic hands can carry a sort of yearning. Perhaps catching something of Heaney’s notion of life’s mutability: her work shifts quickly between supple drawings and heavy glutinous figures in unspecified scenarios. 

Oska Lappin CREDIT: Agata Read

The artists also displayed several large collaborative works. The outcomes are busy and, unsurprisingly, wonderfully manic and bizarre. These pieces did nevertheless reveal that the show, for all its particularity, had a certain overall mad cohesiveness. It would be impossible to say precisely what it was all ultimately about. But that was surely the point. In the inexplicable and the weird, may lie something important to not quite know. 

The auction raised over £1000 pounds for the charity, Siepomaga, which will use it to help the Ukrainian refugees. 

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