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DIRECTOR'S BLOG

In our lastest interview, Director of Jerwood Gallery Liz Gilmore, reveals the story behind our current exhibition, John Bratby: Everything but the Kitchen Sink, including the Kitchen Sink.

Why John Bratby?

John Bratby lived in Hastings from the late seventies until his death in 1992. He owned a house at the edge of Old Town, just up the road from where the gallery sits today. He was a major British artist, extremely famous in his day and was a well-known character in the town. However, a major retrospective of his work has not been held since his death.

Where did the idea for the exhibition come from?

The idea for the show was sparked by the many local people who had been offering us works by John Bratby since the gallery opened in March 2012.

The exhibition has received a lot of attention. Why is that?

It has been incredible and really shows the public's passion for John Bratby. We have been delighted and astonished by the way that the idea has captured the imagination of the public and the press. It was featured three times on Radio 4's 6 o'clock news! This exhibition is trail-blazing because it's crowd-sourced. We've borrowed many works, sometimes whole shows, from private sources before but usually in the context of known collectors. This time, we have borrowed exclusively from individuals who have come forward to offer works, many that have not been seen in public before.

People have commented that the idea for this exhibition was high risk. In some ways, yes, as a team we had to hold our nerve. We estimated that Bratby created around 3,000 works. And with little more than 120 paintings in public collections, a public appeal seemed to be the best way to draw out a lot of his unseen work. But would people respond to the Bring us your Bratby day? Would they actually bring in the works we needed? The whole concept relied on people's generosity and support, and we have been overwhelmed by the response.

Is this the new kind of ‘People's Show’?

There is a temptation to describe it as a 'People's Show' and certainly, local offers to lend Bratby works catalysed the idea. But the main impetus for the exhibition stemmed from our ongoing quest to hold locally relevant, nationally significant exhibitions at the start of each year. This one had the added benefit of offering a wider context for the Bratby works in the Jerwood Collection.

How many submissions were made?

300 of them before the deadline, and still, even though the exhibition has already opened, the calls and emails with offers of works are still coming. We didn't and practically couldn't include them all. The gallery simply isn't big enough. Also, Bratby's output was too inconsistent. A means of shortlisting and quality control via a selection panel was necessary. We put together an expert group to make the selection. The panel consisted of Julian Hartnoll (Bratby's Gallerist), Charlie Reeves (Bratby's Studio Assistant), Mark Ellin (Managing Partner at Burstow & Huwett Auctioneers and Valuers), Tom Hammick (Artist) and Victoria Howarth (Jerwood Gallery's Exhibitions Curator). They had a formidable task, but have done a brilliant job. Victoria then liaised with the 60 individuals who are lending items for the show.

Does the exhibition reveal anything new about John Bratby?

Bratby was a rather crude painter, a 'dauber' but had moments of genius. We haven't sanitised or censored his output, but we are recognising the moments of genius. Perhaps, if Bratby himself had exercised that control, he would have been portrayed differently in history.

Some new works came to the fore during the process. The wonderful Untitled (Kelloggs), 1953, the earliest work in the exhibition, was made while Bratby was still a student at the Royal College of Art and is a stunning example of his early 'Kitchen Sink' paintings.

The exhibition affirms that Bratby was at times ground-breaking particularly with his 'Kitchen Sink' works. It has also revealed some works that had been forgotten or were unknown. Crucially, it reveals people's ongoing interest in the man who was, ironically, a rather dark and difficult character, who described himself as a misanthrope!

John Bratby: Everything but the Kitchen Sink, including the Kitchen Sink runs until 17 April 2016.

Image © Pete Jones