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For some years now my friend Simon and myself have taken the occasional ‘boys cultural trip’.  We get about the UK on a regular basis visiting venues within the day’s drive time but just once in a while we’ve taken off for a couple days to get further afield.  This week we did our most ambitious yet…the South Coast and over the Channel to mainland Europe in the form of Brugge and Oostende.  We had intended to wheel down to Lens to visit the new Louvre extension but hadn’t bargained for the French closing their premier NE cultural attraction on a Bank Holiday!

No matter – a combination of nifty footwork and luck (we accidentally chose the best weather days of the year to date) saw us spend day two in Belgium (Bank Holiday but the Museum’s all open!) rather than France.  Either side of that we took in Turner Contemporary at Margate on Day One and the De La Warr Pavilion (see above) and the Jerwood Collection in Hastings on Day Three.  Taken together with the Mu Zee in Oostende these venues provide an excellent ‘compare and contrast’ as regards the cultural offer at the seaside.

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By far and away the smartest of these four is the newest and the shiniest – the Jerwood.  It also happens to be the one private institution in the group.  This confers special privileges on it in that the ‘vision’ is undiluted by outside interference and, one imagines, by budgetary restrictions rubbing up against external expectations.  That’s not to say that, as I’m sure will be the case, that those running the Jerwood couldn’t use more cash but simply that the parameters are understood and shaped more effectively.  And like another venue that we are rather fond of, Compton Verney, there’s a sureness of purpose running right through the place…the staff are  helpful and informed and the cafe is a delight.  Looking out over the fishing centre, it served up a superb seafood platter (and less one think that shouldn’t be too difficult given its location, my pal’s sausage and mash was pretty fine too…).

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What of the art though?  Well any gallery whose collection display opens up with a William Gear painting gets my vote.  Bill Gear is one of the forgotten heroes of the modern movement in the UK…though latterly (and sadly, as so often, after his death) he’s enjoyed a bit of a revival. Here there are two pictures, both to my mind particularly interesting as they fall outside his ‘classic’ style of zig zagging lines, usually in black, contrasted against vivid patches of intense colour. The first, on paper, is a cascading parade of black flecks and marks set against more ‘trademark’ blue and yellow patches in a tachiste manner.  It is boisterous and lively and full of movement.  The other, shows a side of William Gear that I was personally unaware of – a form of expressive minimalism that for all the world reminded me of a Goya!  If you reversed it, straightened out the line and lost the head…then you’ve an idea of the Gear…oh and introduced a red line along the diagonal… OK so maybe not then but that’s what I saw.  The collection majors on figuration and abstraction of the 40’s and 50’s…other highlights include Keith Vaughan, Barns-Graham and a lovely little Craigie Aitchison.  You can see the lot here.  In the beautifully constructed ground floor galleries a mini retrospective of the work of William Scott was a real treat.  It’s Scott’s centenary this year and there’s a large show touring that I hope to see at the Hepworth in a few weeks time so more of that in a future post I suspect.  Suffice to say these two late paintings were amongst some real treats at the Jerwood.

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