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For those of us who appreciate recent and contemporary art, but who are slightly baffled by conceptual art, the opening of the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, East Sussex will be very welcome news. The Gallery will house the Jerwood Foundation collection of 20th- and 21st- century art, which will be on public show for the first time. The collection comprises over 150 works by British artists, including Sir Stanley Spencer RA, Lawrence Stephen Lowry RA, and Augustus John OM RA as well as contemporary artists such as Craigie Aitchison RA, Maggie Hambling OBE and Prunella Clough. The subjects are mainly figurative and abstract and include prints as well as works on paper and canvas.
In keeping with the seafront location of the gallery there is a local/coastal theme that runs through much the collection. Many works by St Ives-based artists feature and one of the Jerwood Foundation’s recent purchases is Lino-Cut of Brighton Pier by Edward Bawden RA. The inaugural exhibition, ‘Big Boys Sit in the Front’, is by the Kent-based artist Rose Wyle, whose international reputation is growing as large as her six-foot plus canvases.
The town of Hastings has a long tradition of attracting artists, initially drawn to the area by a combination of picturesque scenery and clear sea air. J.M.W. Turner visited the town and later painted Hastings from the Sea in 1818. A walk along High Street in Hastings’ old town takes in a blue plaque for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who lived in the town for several years, as well as artists’ studios and small private galleries that perpetuate an appealing creative community.
The Jerwood Gallery is the largest in the town but, as Rowan Moore pointed out in a personal account of the Gallery in The Observer, it is just the right size for the area and for the collection it will house. This is perhaps because the construction of the Gallery was entirely funded by the Jerwood Foundation. Situated between the shingle beach still used by the local fishing fleet and the steep cliffs of Hastings’ west hill, its most striking feature is the iridescent black tiles that clad the outside of the building. These were hand-glazed a few miles away by the local firm Robus Ceramics in Kent. The Gallery has a temporary exhibition space, The Foreshore Gallery, of 180 square metres, and seven other rooms of varying size spread over two floors. The building is wheelchair friendly and easily accessible for less able visitors.
The Gallery joins several other contemporary art galleries along the south coast. The Turner Contemporary at Margate, the Folkestone Triennial arts festival, the beautifully refurbished De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill and the Towner Contemporary Art Gallery at Eastbourne are beginning to form a cultural string of pearls re-invigorating this corner of the country.
John Michael Jerwood MC was born in 1918, the same year that his father was tragically killed in action during the First World War. He joined the family business, run by his uncle, which specialized in importing pearls and diamonds. Jerwood saw action himself in the Second World War and, like his father, was awarded the Military Cross. On his demobilization in 1947 he re-joined the pearl business and moved to Tokyo. The firm became the largest dealer of cultured pearls in the world.
The Jerwood Foundation was established in 1977, initially making grants and benefactions in the fields of education and music. The collection began with the acquisition of Out of my Window at Ditchling by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA, purchased to fill a space on the wall at the Foundation’s original premises at Fitzroy Square.
The Jerwood Gallery joins the Jerwood Space, a centre for dance and perfuming arts in South London, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, which supports emerging artists and art producers, and other associated arts prizes, awards and commissions. These include the Royal Academy Schools’ Jerwood Prize, the Sussex Coast College Art Prize and Jerwood Encounters, to form a family of charitable interests overseen by the Jerwood Foundation. The Gallery both fulfils the needs of the Foundation, to publicly show its collection and serves the town, as a focus for its artistic communities.
Media credit: Courtesy the Jerwood Collection