OAXACA to HASTINGS via NICE
By Harriet Macaree
What am I doing showing paintings in Hastings?
I’m not a Hastings woman, but moved here 5 years ago, not just a dreaded DFL (down from London) by birth, but also a recent DFF (France) and former DFM (Mexico).
I’ve been an itinerant painter, a grasshopper crossing the Atlantic, the Channel and the Med, living, painting, showing and selling in the UK, Mexico and France, life sometimes forcing me to move on.
So here I am, marvelling at the fact that in 5 minutes I can reach the beach and walk the sands or swim in the sea, when not teaching art in London.
With issues of migration and race at combustion point, why should I settle here when a boatload of desperate people landing at Rock-a-Nore is spirited away to an immigration centre? We all come in peace, unlike that earlier contingent of 1066, but are not all able to survive here or anywhere else on earth, even in pandemic-free times. Do I have a right to breathe in this freshest of sea airs, walk the beaches, relish apple green valleys and violet hills? It is definitely a privilege which I don’t feel I have earned.
Yet I feel at home because I’m fascinated by the remarkable characters pacing the pavements, and seem to be tolerated in a town whose people are eccentric and proudly independent, open and friendly, edgy and original – a magnet for artists for several generations.
“Hastings…either you get it or you don’t”, a local chimney specialist told me dryly as he connected my old Victorian range to a flue. This was clearly a challenge to an outsider – see if you can tune in to a precious local vibe that can’t be put into words, a rare quality of down-to-earth insouciance and unpretentiousness, a mischievous love of anarchy and rebellion, an unshockable acceptance of most things life chucks Hastings’ way.
I may love the romance of strobe-lit lanes winding through the woods, twitterns, fabulous old houses, charity shops, antiques, Robert’s rummage, delicious food, the rare and whacky creativity throughout the town, but is that a valid passport?
I live through colour everywhere, from neon to richly saturated, subtle and nuanced, trying to recreate these vibrations and the emotive landscapes they evoke on canvas. But is that reason enough to set up studio here? Time will tell I suppose.
Hastings is home to an unusually large number of artists, many of them with impressive CVs, many far more talented than their metropolitan peers, or the bigger names imported ‘to bring Londoners down’. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and exhibit with some of these artists, and am about to show some recent paintings at Hastings Arts Forum on the seafront at St Leonards.
Despite the gallery sadly losing half its exhibition space during lockdown, I will be showing a roomful of work that looks sideways into the Sussex countryside, neon rapeseed fields and delicate spring greens, and backwards into my decade in Mexico, images that are a fusion of past places and feelings, like vivid painted snapshots of memories. These paintings are hung, but deliberately unstretched and unframed, like large photographs on canvas.
There will also be work from the 7 years I lived and painted in Nice, France, with its rose-gold light, heady scents and magenta shadows. The common denominator uniting these images is a strong use of colour and expressive line as I continue to search for a painterly language that is universally recognisable but still conveys very personal impressions of the world around me. It’s a search for a synthesis that will probably see me out.
• See the exhibition at Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards, TN38 0BU. Tuesday 11th – Sunday 23rd August 2020.
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