“We live in worrying times”


Opening digitally on May 7, Hastings Contemporary is delighted to present a spectacular and prescient new exhibition by Sir Quentin Blake, one of the UK’s best loved living artists.

“We live In worrying times” captures Blake at the heights of his creativity, bringing together a thrilling collection of more than 170 new drawings, paintings and a large-scale mural described as Blake’s “Guernica” which, with its rawness and originality, is unlike anything the artist has produced in his illustrious career.

Earlier this year, Sir Quentin began energetically producing a new body of work around the theme of concern for the state of the world we currently live in. The resulting exhibition – “We live in worrying times”  was due to open at Hastings Contemporary during Easter, and was later postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – during which time the gallery has been able to launch its robot tours, which have now gained national and international recognition.

Many themes from this new show resonate with the current global crisis, highlighting Blake’s clear and resolute sense of feeling for others, particularly those experiencing hardship and distress. “We live in worrying times” features a multiple series of works, many exploring subject matter and techniques that feel both familiar and radically different, balancing somewhere between the dream-like and profoundly introspective.

“Displaced figures rove across empty landscapes”

The subject matter seems drawn from a world, much like our own, pushed to the cliff-edge of its own existence: displaced figures rove across empty landscapes blasted by war, or ecological crisis; sinister planes and drones haunt the skies above; and the implacable stares of dozens of anxious and havoc-struck faces are the focus of an array of portrait studies of assorted refugees, apprehensive women, orphans, ‘unfortunates’, and some grotesques Blake has called ‘eroded heads’.

At the centre of this new exhibition is “The Taxi Driver”, a 30-by-5 foot mural, completed by Blake in a single day at Hastings Contemporary, which takes inspiration from Picasso’s Guernica.

Blake was inspired to create the work after a fateful encounter with a taxi driver just over a year ago, who – lamenting that “we live in worrying times” – encouraged Blake to take up the mantle of artist-hero and produce a new “Guernica” for the world, an outcry against the encroaching global disasters of the near future.

The encounter with the taxi driver felt like a dream to the artist; he asked for the taxi driver’s name, so that he could let him know the outcome of his work, but the driver replied that wasn’t necessary as he “kept an eye on everything anyway”.

Launching a virtual gallery

On Thursday, May 7 , Liz Gilmore, director of Hastings Contemporary, will unveil the Guernica piece with Sir Quentin Blake present via the gallery’s popular telepresence robot. This will be followed by the launch of a ‘virtual gallery’, a CGI model based on the gallery’s Foreshore Gallery space that will provide realistic visualisations of shows that cannot exist physically, such as “We live in worrying times”.

We Live in Worrying Times, pen ink & watercolour on watercolour paper 2020

Sir Quentin Blake has said:  “When I proposed to Hastings Contemporary the idea of an exhibition called “We live in worrying times” I was hoping to salute those people, wherever in the world, experiencing suffering, disturbance and distress. I had no premonition that we should soon be visited by worrying times of our own. No doubt there are institutions which, in such a situation as this, can do nothing except close their doors. Hastings Contemporary is not like that, so that I was delighted, but not all together surprised, when the gallery quickly responded to the situation with an alternative digital offer for “We live in worrying times” and became even more contemporary in the process.”

Liz Gilmore comments: “In February this year we had the great privilege of witnessing the making of “The Taxi Driver” mural. Sir Quentin’s fluidity of line and thought, and his apparent lightness of touch, masterfully articulates many of the concerns of our day, his invention constantly upending our expectations.

“The result is profound and moving. I am thrilled to be able to share a new time-lapse film of Quentin making “The Taxi Driver”, capturing his unique process for everyone to enjoy, along with an additional recorded interview revealing his personal reflections on some of the other series of works in the exhibition.

“Navigating through testing times”

“At Hastings Contemporary we strive to energise artists and inspire audiences. We were very sad to temporarily close our doors in March. But while we navigate through these testing times and manage the loss of important revenue streams, we have relished the opportunity to refine and refocus our mission, to explore new and pioneering means of continued engagement with our visitors.

“Our recent trials with a telepresence robot (a collaboration between the gallery, the D4D project Accentuate, and Bristol Robotics Lab) have enabled art to form the basis of unprecedented social exchange– connecting people in isolation from across the globe – Australia, UAE, America, Canada, Switzerland – with our local community in Hastings.

“Never has the social potential of the gallery to galvanise and affirm, been so apparent or so needed. Over the next few weeks, press and public alike will have the opportunity for continued dynamic engagement, with Quentin’s incredible art buoying and connecting virtual visitors with our staff, trustees and volunteers.”

Capturing the essence of human feeling

With Sir Quentin’s inimitable approach, “We live in worrying times” captures the essence of human feeling, the exploration of modern life, and the creative mind in his distinctive and powerful style.

Sir Quentin Blake is the first artist patron of Hastings Contemporary, and regarded by many as one of the world’s greatest artists and illustrators. Blake has a long association with Hastings (his house is a short walk from the gallery) and he has been a high-profile supporter of Hastings Contemporary ever since it first opened to the public in 2012 as Jerwood Gallery and subsequently became an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.

As his very own seaside home-from-home, Hastings Contemporary has created dedicated space for showing Quentin Blake’s artwork that can be enjoyed all year round as part of the gallery’s diverse exhibitions programme, with several new, bespoke shows of his work opening each year.

Previous exhibitions have included “Moonlight Travellers”, “Dedicated Readers”, “Feet in Water”, “Airborne” and “The Only Way to Travel”, the artist’s biggest ever UK show, which brought 100 pieces to the gallery’s ground floor space.

For Sir Quentin, collaborating with Hastings Contemporary has opened up new possibilities in his work, prompting him to explore new approaches and themes – such as migration, mental health and other aspects of our lives – in the knowledge that the results will find themselves “sympathetically shown in this extraordinary gallery … They are truly pictures for Hastings Contemporary.”

Gallery video

Quentin Blake: We Live In Worrying Times – Gallery Film from Hastings Contemporary on Vimeo.

Image Credits: Quentin Blake .

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