Friday, 16 July 2021

Seaside Modern Lecture

Eric Ravilious, Mackerel Sky, 1938, watercolour



Whether you've been to Seaside Modern at Hastings Contemporary, are planning to go or wish you could go but can't, you might enjoy my online lecture on 22 July. It includes many of the artworks in the show along with works that were either unavailable or couldn't be squeezed in, and there are more archive photos and that kind of thing.

When I was putting the exhibition together I realised that there were two stories to be told, neither of which I'd considered before; two interwoven stories. The first is about people in Britain and their relationship with the beach, which changed from being predominantly a working environment in the early 19th century to being a place to relax. The numbers of people who were able to enjoy a day or more at the beach every year went up and up and up until the 1970s, when we started jetting to the Med instead. Women were liberated from the bathing machine...

Artists too joined the rush to the coast, not only the more conventional painters of views but some of the most adventurous modern artists of the day. Paul Nash enjoyed two periods of intense creativity by the sea. Ravilious made his name with some stunning work on the coast. Moore and Hepworth were inspired by the erosion of stones. 

Henry and Irina Moore, Ben Nicholson, Mary Jenkins,
Happisburgh 1931

I put together this lecture in part because it allows me to explore these themes in different ways, and to show works and archive material that were unavailable or just didn't fit. I hope you'll join me!

 Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach - online lecture, 7.30pm, 22 July (recording available for ticket holders), tickets:

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Seaside Modern: Walkies

Pat Faulkener, Heather Odd, Michele Morize, Barbara Hunt and Wendy Spenceley, Ramsgate, 1959.
© SEAS Photography / Wendy Arnhiem.

Life on the beach has been documented by photographers for over a century. Early on, only the wealthiest beach-goers could afford to take pictures (or shoot cine film) themselves, or to have them taken, but by the late 1930s beach photographers had become a feature of seaside life.
At Margate, Kent, the Sunbeam Photographic Agency documented seaside life on a huge scale, its photographers taking casual snaps - known as Walkies - of holidaymakers, who then had the opportunity to buy the pictures for a small fee. 

Wendy Hollet (nee Marsh) on a Sunbeam donkey
SEAS Photography / Vincent Marsh

Often photographers used props, particularly models of animals, on the backs of which children would perch. The resulting pictures are as strange as anything dreamt up by a Surrealist, and also warm-hearted, as these beach photographs generally are. There is nothing exploitative nor overtly staged about them. They are simply pictures of ordinary people enjoying their day on the beach: leisure that was theirs to enjoy by right. 


Promenade Group, © SEAS Photography / Paul Godfrey.

The beaches of Britain were the setting and inspiration for remarkable developments in modern art, and architectural gems dot the coast, from the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea to the Midland Hotel, Morecambe. Yet in a way what made the 20th century British seaside truly modern were the social and political advances that enabled so many to enjoy a day at the beach.

This is an edited excerpt from my catalogue essay for Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach, which runs until October at Hastings Contemporary. I am grateful to the South East Archive of Seaside Photography for lending us a selection of wonderful Walkies!