Japanese Golfer by Roland Jarvis
Japanese Golfer by Roland Jarvis

The late Anglo–French artist Roland Jarvis considered art ‘play’ not work. ‘Play gives you a tremendous amount of freedom,’ he said. An artist, printmaker, filmmaker, horologist and engineer, Jarvis was a man of many talents. He died in 2016, leaving a large body of work behind, some of which has never been seen before by the public. Sophie Mason, Jarvis’s daughter, seeks to rectify that. As part of Coastal Currents, she has opened up her father’s studio in a converted chapel in Hastings Old Town and is showcasing some of his best work, including drawings, large paintings and typosculptures.

Although he originally studied engineering, Jarvis changed paths, studying instead under Henry Moore and Ceri Richards at Chelsea School of Art. In the 1950s, he lived in Paris, where he became influenced by cubism, surrealism and constructivism. He later said that cubism was a natural fit for a former engineer: it was sympathetic to the way he felt about 2D painting and drawing.

Jarvis’s great sense of humour and appreciation of fun shines through much of his work and often influenced his choice of his subject matter. Circuses were a particular source of inspiration. He believed that they were places in which ‘extraordinary human beings create extraordinary situations’. Multicoloured Circus and a series of smaller paintings (c. 18in x 24in) – including one of Sophie’s personal favourites, Performance in Blue – feature in the Coastal Currents exhibition. Other popular themes found in Jarvis’s work include buskers, bikers, snooker players, swimmers and the fall of Icarus.

‘He often started off with a strong idea or theme but part of the process of working might lead him to explore other visual or metaphorical ideas … He was highly imaginative in that respect, one shape suggesting something else,’ Sophie comments. ‘He re-worked paintings regularly and sometimes painted over old paintings [while] leaving parts of the previous one to come through. A lot of his paintings have ambiguous elements … [they] could be one thing or another.’

Before moving to Hastings, where his parents had retired, Jarvis taught printmaking at Camberwell School of Art. He bought Tackleway Hall in 1982.

‘It was an ideal space for him,’ Sophie explains. ‘He developed a seasonally based use of the space, working in his studio in the summer months and then when it was too cold, retiring to his workshops below to build astronomical clocks, sculptures and, in more recent years, to make animation films (26 in total, I think … They are very imaginative, inventive).’

Sophie says that this exhibition has given her a greater understanding of her father’s work. ‘I’ve been getting very familiar with it and also enjoying aspects of it that I’d never seen before. It’s been fascinating to spend time with it and I’m immensely proud of him …

‘He was an unusually focused, intelligent and multi-talented individual.’

Roland Jarvis: Exhibition of Work, 14–17 September 2017, 10am–5pm, Tackleway Hall, 39a Tackleway, Hastings, TN34 3BU, www.rolandjarvis.com

For more information on The Literary Shed, go to www.theliteraryshed.co.uk