Paula Rego at the Jerwood Gallery - Battleaxe reviews

It is ages since I 'reviewed' an exhibition at the Jerwood. On Sunday Philosopher and I went - his first visit to the gallery since his hip operation - he won't go back to his duties there until after the New Year.  He told me that we had contributed some money to bring the exhibition, Paula Rego, The Boy Who Loved the Sea and Other Stories, to Hastings - first I'd heard of it, so was interested to see what we had helped to put on. 

     I say 'review' because Battleaxe is scarcely a serious art critic. Some of the offerings at the Jerwood I find a mixture of confusing and irritating, and have slagged off accordingly. Also, the day I start writing in 'art-speak' is the day I give up this blog for ever.
     To start with, look at this review from the Independent.  I love this description of Hastings:

'It is good to see works, paintings and prints by Paula Rego beside the sea in Hastings, with its ear-jangling brawl of drunkenly wind-buffeted gulls, powerful fish stench – there's an impressive gaggle of fishing boats just beyond the windows of the Jerwood Gallery's café on the upper floor – and quick-uprearing headland. The place feels as tough as a weathered hide.'

      Here's another similar review. What is it with these people?

      'The Jerwood Gallery almost sits on the beach. The sea is only a few metres away, eternally teasing the shingle. Pressed up against its back are a tangle of shacks and boats with tattered flags and, at the gallery’s flank, Hastings’ imposing fishing net huts stand tall, windowless and black, looming up like the monoliths of a forgotten people. Opposite, on the other side of Rock-a-Nore Road, on the roof of the Dolphin Inn, a mannequin dressed as a fisherman in yellow waterproofs, sporting a black beard drawn in pen, looks down at the comings and goings. And behind the inn, the pockmarked sandstone cliffs, once a haven for smugglers, now stand off limits.
     It is hard to imagine a more fitting location for an exhibition of Paula Rego’s work. The Portuguese artist (b1935, Lisbon) grew up near the sea, and some of her images could have been lifted from this town. Rowing From Ericeira (2014) shows Prince Manuel fleeing Portugal with his mother in a tiny dinghy following the assassination of his father and brother. The elderly woman is dressed in furs and scarves and still clutches her handbag. The pained look on her face is so perfectly and simply described – Rego does much of her storytelling through expressions. The sandy cliffs that loom up behind them could easily belong to Hastings. Jerwood Gallery director Liz Gilmore recognised that artist and town should be united and raised the money to bring Rego’s work to this fishy corner of the south coast through crowd funding. Hastings is not a wealthy place, but many donations came from local people.'

    Eeeeh, but it's grim and rough down 'ere in 'astings..... us knuckle-dragging non-wealthy fish-wife monoliths from a forgotten age, tough as weathered hides.... Oh purleeese.
    In fact, it was a lovely, bright, gentle late autumn day, sun shining on calm sea etc. We parked at Rockanore and Philosopher pootled along on his crutches - he only uses them for longer walks now, which is excellent. The Herring Festival was on at the Stade Open space.

I suppose the cliffs are a bit Rego-like....


     Paula Rego's art is described as 'subversively, viscerally feminist.'  I don't know what that is actuallly supposed to mean - but some of it is certainly spooky. It reminded me of some of the scarier illustrations that used to haunt me from children's books - Strewelpeter (have I spelt that right?), and editions of Grimms Fairy Tales and Norse Myths I used to pore over - can't remember who illustrated them but the pictures are printed on my mind.. Here are a few of  Rego's nursery rhymes:
Little MIss Muffet

Hey Diddle Diddle

Ba Baa Black Sheep
      Rego, now in her eighties, tells stories through pictures - interesting that the exhibiton coincided with the Hastings Story TellingFestival.  Having been in Jungian analysis for many years, her work incorporates Jungian archetypes - another reason maybe that it is unsettling and a bit scary. Here is another of her etchings - this time from Peter Pan. I like the way the mermaid is portrayed as a muscular older woman - a veritable Merbattleaxe.
      One understands that this approach to portraying women is what has made her a feminist icon, but many images in the Jerwood seemed to be about vulnerability. There was a disturbing seriesof self-portraits of Rego herself when she had suffered a bad fall, and oanother series called 'Depression' - here is an example:


      So, is the exhibition worth visiting? Yes. There is a lot of it to look at, and much deserves close inspection. Does it make great statements about women?  I dunno.
      Finally, here are another couple of pretty photos taken from the Jerwood cafe.


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