We Live in Worrying Times

The Artist returns to Hastings Contemporary with an exhibition of drawings, paintings and a 30ft long mural described as ‘his Guernica’. Opening 7th May 2020.

Opening digitally on 7th May, Hastings Contemporary is delighted to present a spectacular and prescient new exhibition by Sir Quentin Blake, one of the UK’s best-loved living artists.

We Live in Worrying Times captures Blake at the heights of his creativity, bringing together a thrilling collection of more than 170 new drawings, paintings and a large-scale mural described as Blake’s Guernica, which with its rawness and originality is unlike anything the artist has produced in his illustrious career.

Earlier this year, Sir Quentin began energetically producing a new body of work around the theme of concern for the state of the world we currently live in. The resulting exhibition – We Live in Worrying Times – was due to open at Hastings Contemporary during Easter and instead postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Many themes from this new show resonate with the current global crisis, highlighting Blake’s clear and resolute sense of feeling for others, particularly those experiencing hardship and distress. We Live in Worrying Times features multiple series of works, many exploring subject matter and techniques that feel both familiar and radically different, balancing somewhere between the dream-like and profoundly introspective. The subject matter seems drawn from a world, much like our own, pushed to the cliff-edge of its own existence: displaced figures rove across empty landscapes blasted by war or ecological crisis; sinister planes and drones haunt the skies above; and the implacable stares of dozens of anxious and havoc-struck faces are the focus of an array of portrait studies of assorted refugees, apprehensive women, orphans, ‘unfortunates’ and some grotesques Blake has called ‘eroded heads’.

At the centre of this new exhibition is The Taxi Driver, a 30x5ft mural, completed by Blake in a single day at Hastings Contemporary, which takes inspiration from Picasso’s Guernica. Blake was inspired to create the work after a fateful encounter with a taxi driver just over a year ago, who – lamenting that “we live in worrying times” – encouraged Blake to take up the mantle of artist-hero and produce a new Guernica for the world, an outcry against the encroaching global disasters of the near future. The encounter with the taxi driver felt like a dream to the artist; he asked for the taxi driver’s name so that he could let him know the outcome of his work, but the driver replied that wasn’t necessary as he “kept an eye on everything anyway”.

On Thursday 7th May 2020, Liz Gilmore, Director of Hastings Contemporary will unveil The Taxi Driver piece with Sir Quentin Blake present via the gallery’s telepresence robot. This will be followed by the launch of a ‘virtual gallery’, a CGI model based on the gallery’s Foreshore Gallery space that will provide realistic visualisations of shows that cannot be accessed physically, such as We Live in Worrying Times. The Contemporary will also share a new time-lapse film of Quentin making The Taxi Driver, capturing his unique process for everyone to enjoy, along with an additional recorded interview revealing his personal reflections on some of the other series of works in the exhibition.

I was hoping to salute those people, wherever in the world,
experiencing suffering, disturbance and distress

Sir Quentin Blake has said “When I proposed to Hastings Contemporary the idea of an exhibition called We Live in Worrying Times I was hoping to salute those people, wherever in the world, experiencing suffering, disturbance and distress. I had no premonition that we should soon be visited by worrying times of our own. No doubt there are institutions which, in such a situation as this, can do nothing except close their doors. Hastings Contemporary is not like that, so I was delighted but not altogether surprised when the gallery quickly responded to the situation with an alternative digital offer for We Live in Worrying Times and became even more contemporary in the process.”

Reviewing the seafront gallery’s place in this ongoing crisis, Liz Gilmore comments: “At Hastings Contemporary we strive to energise artists and inspire audiences. We were very sad to temporarily close our doors in March. But while we navigate through these testing times and manage the loss of important revenue streams, we have relished the opportunity to refine and refocus our mission, to explore new and pioneering means of continued engagement with our visitors. Our recent trials with a telepresence robot (a collaboration between the gallery, the D4D project, Accentuate and Bristol Robotics Lab) have enabled art to form the basis of unprecedented social exchange – connecting people in isolation from across the globe – with our local community in Hastings. Never has the social potential of the gallery to galvanise and affirm been so apparent or so needed. Over the next few weeks, press and public alike will have the opportunity for continued dynamic engagement, with Quentin’s incredible art buoying and connecting virtual visitors with our staff, trustees and volunteers.”

With Sir Quentin’s inimitable approach, We Live in Worrying Times captures the essence of human feeling, the exploration of modern life and the creative mind in his distinctive and powerful style.

Sir Quentin Blake is the first Artist Patron of Hastings Contemporary, and regarded by many as one of the world’s greatest artists and illustrators. Blake has a long association with Hastings (his house is a short walk from the gallery) and he has been a high-profile supporter of Hastings Contemporary ever since it first opened to the public in 2012 as Jerwood Gallery and subsequently became an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. As his very own seaside home-from-home, Hastings Contemporary has created dedicated space for showing Quentin Blake’s artwork that can be enjoyed all year round as part of the gallery’s diverse exhibitions programme, with several new, bespoke shows of his work opening each year.

Previous exhibitions have included: Moonlight Travellers; Dedicated Readers; Feet in Water; Airborne; and The Only Way to Travel. The last of these was the artist’s biggest ever UK show, which brought 100 pieces to the gallery’s ground floor space. For Sir Quentin, collaborating with Hastings Contemporary has opened up new possibilities in his work, prompting him to explore new approaches and themes – such as migration, mental health and other aspects of our lives – in the knowledge that the results will find themselves “sympathetically shown in this extraordinary gallery… They are truly pictures for Hastings Contemporary.”

Watch a short film about Sir Quentin’s new exhibition: vimeo.com/412770863


HIP Co-Arts Editor Mia.L, speaks to the iconic artist Sir Quentin Blake, about his illustrious career and new exhibition We Live in Worrying Times, running from May to September of this year, at The Hastings Contemporary Gallery

Listen here


Original Artworks by Sir Quentin Blake

Original portrait drawings by Blake, befitting the themes of We Live in Worrying Times, will be available for sale exclusively via Hastings Contemporary’s online shop. Poignant markers of our unprecedented times, the drawings depict a range of emotions, from doubt and distress to expectation and simple contemplation, all made by Blake in lockdown and executed in a variety of oil pastel colours. All of the proceeds will support Hastings Contemporary during the current public health crisis, providing much needed income to help the charity sustain its pioneering work. Prices range from £150 to £750.

Visit Hastings Contemporary’s website at hastingscontemporary.org or
at Instagram



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