The Hastings Contemporary 

Review by Mia L

Sir Quentin Blake’s new exhibition We Live in Worrying Times, currently on show at the Hastings Contemporary, is a marked departure from his usual body of work. It’s a visceral and mesmerising portrayal of the plight of humanity, one which feels eerily prophetic given the ongoing global health crisis.

Sir Quentin Blake with The Taxi Driver
PICTURE: Tom Thistlethwaite 

The Hastings Contemporary has, like so many art galleries, had to close its doors to visitors for the foreseeable future. They have thus responded by holding a series of ongoing virtual tours, which are conducted via telepresence robot – a collaboration between the gallery, the D4D Project, Accentuate and Bristol Robotics Lab.

Online tours are still a relatively new concept for me and whilst I don’t think they can replace the experience of viewing exhibitions in person, they certainly provide an interesting alternative, with the potential to open up the art world to a whole new audience.

Gallery Communication Manager, Will Barrett expertly guided me through my very own online tour of Quentin Blake’s We Live in Worrying Times, the focal point of which is a thirty-by-five foot wall mural called The Taxi Driver.

Selection from the Stone Head series

The story which forms the basis of Quentin Blake’s new show is wholly surreal and was inspired by a chance conversation with an anonymous taxi driver, who urged Blake to create his own version of Picasso’s Guernica, one which sought to highlight the struggles of the most vulnerable within society.

The Taxi Driver was completed in a single day on one continuous roll of paper and is an empathetic, yet disturbing depiction of human suffering.

The wall mural conveys a series of lone figures wandering across a barren landscape, as airplanes and drones fly overhead. Skeletal shells of burnt-out houses serve as a stark reminder of all those past and present, who have fallen victim to the horrors of war and conflict.

Selection from the On The Move Again series

Select characters are brought to the foreground of the painting and seem to bore a residual hole in one’s morality, their gaze somehow unavoidable. The speed and precedence Blake has placed on creating this work lends a welcome sense of urgency to its complex themes. His hurried brush strokes are impressionistic in tone and belie the confidence and sheer skill only an artist as esteemed as Blake could possess.

Almost concealed in the background of the mural, perched precariously on a cliff, is a solitary taxi – perhaps a purposeful nod to Blake’s initial fateful meeting.

The striking imagery continues as various entities progress ever onwards – almost pilgrim like – in search of somewhere, anywhere but the apocalyptic reality they have found themselves in.

Select characters are bought to the foreground of the painting and seem to bore a residual hole in one’s morality, their gaze somehow unavoidable

The silhouette of a child flying a kite offers the possibility of hope, but is duly overshadowed by a cluster of figures, huddled together in refuge below. Such contrasts exist somewhere between the imagined and the impossibly cruel reality of the human condition, with all its fragility and many flaws.

The Taxi Driver concludes with a corpse-like body protruding from undergrowth, as yet more ghost-like beings continue to journey on into the distance.

In addition to the mural, Sir Quentin has also created 178 drawings and paintings, all of which can be viewed via the Hastings Contemporary website. They include many more unnamed men, women and children, some of whom are continuing their perilous retreats across darkened landscapes, whilst others are captured portrait style, seemingly held captive in a series of sketches and sombre characterisations.

Sir Quentin Blake in action
PICTURE: Tom Thistlethwaite 

Perhaps my favourite part of We Live in Worrying Times is Blake’s selection of Stone Head images, featuring numerous decapitated skull like creatures, violently emblazoned against the foothills of some foreign land.

Sir Quentin Blake’s latest exhibition is a bold departure from his usual style and gives a voice to the overlooked and unheard. The universal motifs of family, love and loss are all evident here and show an artist, who at the considerable age of 87 is more relevant and influential than ever before.

Quentin Blake: We Live in Worrying Times is running from the 7th May-27th September 2020. Please refer to the Hastings Contemporary website for further information on how to book a virtual tour for We Live in Worrying Times. You can view more of Sir Quentin Blake’s work via his official website, www.quentinblake.com

Listen in to the HIP podcast with Sir Quentin here


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