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Director, Liz Gilmore, tells us more about our current exhibition Chantal Joffe: Beside the Seaside, and reveals what's coming up in 2015 at the gallery. 

Chantal Joffe is a hugely exciting artist, for me, one of the greatest living painters, and it’s fabulous to have her here in Hastings.

2015 is very much Chantal’s year, and it’s brilliant that she was so committed to this exhibition and reflecting the relationship she has with Hastings. This exhibition spans fifteen years and in that time Chantal has visited Hastings regularly - her family are based here, and you can feel that familiarity in the work when you look at it.

The scale of the show is wonderful and dramatic because we have works that are much larger than life, and others that are very small. There is something impactful about upsizing or downsizing the scale of something familiar. There are a number of very large scale images of women, particularly of her niece Moll and daughter Esme. Her sister Emily looks majestic against the windy backdrop of Hastings and St Leonards, and Chantal’s partner Dan is larger than life itself, naked on a canvas. The exhibition has wonderful moments that punch you and yet it has intimacy and captures the snapshot of tiny works. There is a wall peppered with much smaller works and they’re just like little photo snapshots, thumbnails of life, like a camera flashing. They’re painted in a soft, painterly way, which Chantal is so accomplished at.

The exhibition has a real sense of integrity, in part because Chantal spends so much time in the town. You can feel it in her work, the sense of standing on the fishing beach. You know what it’s like to walk along the prom, to feel the change in weather around you and that’s what Chantal’s work captures so well. Her work tells us what it is to be human – when you look at the paintings you see yourself reflected back at you.

Victoria (Assistant Curator) and I were very keen to work with artist, Rose Wylie, on this exhibition. Rose was the artist that we exhibited at the launch of the gallery and she has gone on to great things and has an incredible international reputation now. We realised that there was a very strong link in the sensibility of the work between Chantal and Rose. In fact, in conversation with the artists we found that there was a complete admiration for each other’s work, but they didn’t really know each other so we asked both of them about working together on this exhibition, with Rose co-curating.

We then talked about how there might be a dialogue between the two artists and had the idea that they would create portraits of each other. They both work quite privately in their own studios, usually without anyone else present. We wanted to exhibit their work side by side, so Victoria sent photographs that they both liked of each other to their studios, and what came back was something amazing which showed the influence of each other. Rose often uses text in her work - something that Chantal doesn’t usually do. For example, when Rose wrote ‘Drawing of an Artist’ on her drawing, Chantal echoed that by writing ‘Painter’ on her portrait of Rose. Another thing that Rose influenced was the hang of the paintings – Rose likes to hang her works very low, so we have hung Chantal’s paintings lower than usual. Rose has made some very bold decisions about the way that the exhibition is laid out, and I think people will quite enjoy that - there are some surprises.

We wanted to capture the dynamic of the artists right now, to bring that immediacy to the gallery setting. We asked the artists to select some works from their studios, and hung a selection of brand new pieces by both artists in room 1. Kim (Operations Manager) and Victoria nailed the brand new works by Rose Wylie to the wall in quite a masterly way to re-create Rose’s studio setting, and alongside that we have more work representative of Chantal’s newest studio paintings. It’s a dialogue room - we don’t have traditional text panels but instead have printed interpretive text that people can read. We want our visitors to feel that experience of dialogue between the artworks, more like the experience of visiting an artist’s studio.

The show is interesting because it very much captures Chantal at this moment, largely focusing on those closest to her, her friends, family, herself and her daughter and her daughter’s friends. Earlier on in her career she made work that was inspired by international figures, people that she admired or was interested in. Included in this exhibition is a painting of Anne Sexton, the poet – it’s a stunning painting and we really wanted to include it in the exhibition. It shows Chantal at her height and hints at the influence of poetry on Chantal’s artistic practice.

Looking forward to the rest of the year, we have some exciting things coming up. We have the Festival of the Sea and, in the summer, are very excited to announce that we will have a special two-room exhibition of new work by Sir Quentin Blake. Another exhibition that will feature in the Festival of the Sea will be a selection of paintings by contemporary artist, Rachel Howard. She will be responding to the idea of being at sea, and will look to works in the Jerwood Collection for inspiration. Rachel started her career supporting Damien Hirst, and has made a new body of abstract work for our exhibition.

In the final quarter of the year, we will have a large display of works on loan from the collection at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. This will be the first time these works will have been off site since Jim Ede collected them. It’s an amazing opportunity for Hastings to be able to see these works and we’ll be the first venue to curate and receive this collection on tour. There will be a variety of works on display from furniture to sculpture as well as painting, and the display will consume the whole of the top floor gallery spaces.

Thank you to all our supporters and members for their continued support and we hope to welcome you all back to Jerwood Gallery this year for what promises to be a very exciting time for the gallery as it approaches its third birthday.

Images (top to bottom): Chantal Joffe, Emily, 2011; Chantal Joffe, Megan in Spotted Silk Blouse, 2014; Esme in a Checked Skirt, 2014. All images © the artist. Courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London