A visit to a gallery or exhibition is about so much more than the art on the wall or the artefacts on show. Our partnership, Art and About, developed in association with the Art Fund, sees four creatives head off to a diverse number of cultural institutions and share with us the moments of inspiration they encountered along the way. We armed each with a National Art Pass (use code FIVEOFF for a £5 discount) and documented their day.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been sharing these creatives’ insights, itinerary and reactions to what they saw and where they went. This time, we caught up with designer Morag Myerscough, who headed down to the John Bratby exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings.
My sister, who is an artist, and her friends had been talking about Hastings a lot recently. My cousin lives there and I thought I needed to go and see what they are talking about – I am curious to learn why Hastings, Margate and the like are so interesting at the moment. I had heard a lot about exhibitions at the Jerwood Hastings and wanted to visit somewhere outside of London.
I don’t make these trips often enough – but when I do it’s usually for work and I’m busy. It didn’t take too long to get there and I felt a bit silly for not having done it before. It’s just an hour and a half away and such an incredible change from the city.
09:00 Charing Cross to Hastings
I was spending a day out of London and in my mind, quite romantically, I thought: “it’s the seaside, it will be sunny.” Of course, this is early March, but I didn’t quite expect it to snow and hail. Seeing the sea within two seconds of getting off the train instantly changes your perspective on things. The weather made it more dramatic and it was sheeting down. It was quite amazing actually. We went for a quick coffee and set off into town.
11:00 Amusement Arcade
When I was a little girl we used to go to Felixstowe on holiday each year and one of the highlights was to go to the amusement arcade. When we saw the arcade I headed straight in and played on the penny pusher. I think it was fixed and only won six pence. We nearly won a stuffed animal, but it got stuck in the chute. I liked the whole experience, the sounds and lights. It was an indulgence.
12:00 The Crown, TN34
My cousin recommended this place to me, I like using local knowledge. We went in and had some cake and coffee and just chatted about our day so far. The sun came out and we explored the net drying buildings along the Stade, which were brilliant. I spent some time wandering among the historic structures and went to the exhibition because the heavens opened.
13:00 Jerwood Gallery, TN34
The architect has fitted the building into the landscape really, really well. The views through the picture windows out to the sea and the fishing boats really struck me. I hadn’t realised that it was so quaint and a working beach. It’s very traditional.
I had two experiences in the Bratby exhibition. I wasn’t necessarily drawn to the style of his work, but the story behind it. He was a local artist and they had called out to the community to bring the pieces of his work they owned to form the exhibition. I thought it was a really interesting approach – it was crowdsourced in a way. More than 300 people offered a work and they had to edit it down to 66. I thought that was a really great concept for an exhibition and making a gallery engage with the local population.
Bratby was obviously a superstar when he left college, he exhibited at the Venice Biennale and for a short period of time he was supremely successful. Then things moved fast and in a few years he fell out of favour. The rest of his life revolved around that it seemed. It was quite sad. I liked his kitchen sink stuff, but then he started to paint celebrity portraits and that’s when I got a bit lost and didn’t really get it.
In another room was a lot of autobiographical information, in particular a diary of his sexual activity – I couldn’t read it. There were pictures he took of his wife in fetish gear and other paraphernalia about his life. The more I learned, the more I had mixed feelings about him. He drank a lot and was frustrated and it seemed like he took it out on the people around him. Knowing these stories really alters how you perceive someone’s work.
Upstairs we went to see the John Piper exhibition, it only opened on that day. When he was at the Royal College he designed sets and that’s what I did too. I have always really liked his work and, interestingly, Piper is of the same period as Bratby. I prefer the aesthetic of Piper, it’s more abstract. I like Bratby’s social comment, but Piper was more design-led in a way – more in the vein of someone like Barbara Hepworth. For me Piper’s work has stood the test of time better than Bratby’s.
I was very impressed by the whole gallery set up and could not recommend it more. Everyone was so friendly and the attendants were thoughtful and informative.
14:30 Hastings Beach and The Lifeboat chip shop
In the gallery, when you look out of the picture window the town is framed beautifully. Internally you are looking at the work but are continually reminded of, and drawn to, the outside. I walked right down to the sea and wandered around the boats sat on the beach.
I asked the staff at the Jerwood gallery where to get the best chips. On their recommendation I went to The Lifeboat. The guys who run it are real characters and the chips were really delicious. Everybody seemed to be eating chips, there were about ten chip shops dotted around the town. I wonder how they all stay in business. There’s also a miniature railway, crazy golf, crazy private golf and another golf. For a fun day out, Hastings has a lot.
17:00 – Hastings to Charing Cross
We walked back past my cousin’s house through the most beautiful squares and streets. We got back on the train to arrive back in London at 18:30. I was enthused and talked with the photographer about everything we had seen. I thought about the art and Hastings and reflected on how surprised I was that it had left such an impression on me. I wished I could do this every Wednesday.
I was absolutely inspired by the day, the National Art Pass is a ticket to go to places I hadn’t really thought of visiting. Sometimes when you are working all the time you don’t have the luxury of choosing where and when to go. I want to get back out there – you need to have the stimulus of seeing things that you don’t expect to like. The exhibition at the Jerwood wasn’t necessarily the kind of art I would go and see. I was pleased I did though. It made me think I need to do that more.
A National Art Pass offers 50% off major exhibitions, plus free entry to hundreds of charging museums, galleries and historic places across the UK. The really good bit? Funds raised through the pass allow the Art Fund to help museums and galleries buy important works of art for everyone to enjoy. Learn more about the National Art Pass here and use the offer code FIVEOFF to receive £5 off the total price.
Or get in touch to find out how it’s available to you and your colleagues in the creative industries through the Art Fund’s corporate scheme.