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Expansive retrospective of works by Royal Academician Gus Cummins on view at Jerwood Gallery
Installation view. Photo: © Peter Jones.

HASTINGS.- Royal Academician, Gus Cummins, could be one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists you’ve never heard of.

However, an expansive retrospective seeks to change that and reposition this hugely gifted painter in the wider public conscience.

Born in London in 1943, Cummins studied art for six years (Sutton School of Art and Wimbledon School of Art) before arriving at the Royal College of Art in 1964. He stayed for three years and then embarked on a long teaching career, including three decades at the Royal Academy Schools.

Although he was elected RA in 1992, Cummins’ standing in the wider public perception has remained somewhat low key. Though creatively prolific, it is remarkable that his first ever solo exhibition was held as late as 1991, at the Gardener Arts Centre, Brighton. He now exhibits annually at the Royal Academy and his work has been shown widely throughout the UK, in public and private galleries and museums, including the Mall Galleries, the National Portrait Gallery, the Festival Hall, plus Camden and Battersea Arts Centres. And although he is a member of the UK’s longest-running and most prestigious artists’ collective, The London Group, Cummins has lived and worked in Hastings for the past 40 years.

Therefore it is appropriate that Jerwood Gallery is seeking redress the balance and establish this fine painter in the wider public conscience. Gus Cummins: Off the Wall gives the chance to explore work spanning the entire length of his career, including some very recent pieces.

The exhibition opened (27th January 2018) - appropriately - during the weekend of Gus’ 75th birthday and visitors can expect to see some of the artist’s finest work on display at Jerwood Gallery.

Jerwood Gallery’s show traces Cummins’ early work, much of which is remarkably small, to his latest pieces, monumental in size and theme. They reveal Cummins’ fascination with a technique that both he and Marcus Harvey refer to as ‘two and a half D’ – works that stand out from the canvas.

“We’re aiming to reflect the different stages of his career and reveal how his work has shifted, not just in terms of scale but also the themes and techniques he has employed over the years. Off the Wall will also feature a selection of paintings that have not been seen by the public before, so it is a very exciting show all round,” said Jerwood Gallery’s Exhibition’s Curator, Victoria Howarth.

The eponymous Off the Wall (wood, ply mixed media) is a curious mélange of cogs, gears and abstract shapes that stand out from the wall (pictured above). Made in 2005, it won the Jack Goldhill Sculpture award at the Royal Academy that year.

Speaking about the arrangement of elements in his recent two and a half D work Annex, Cummins says, “I quite like the idea that some are just illusionistic, some are shadows, some are painted shadows, you can paint out what should be a shadow, you can paint it white and play around with the space, and I found it much more exciting than working on an actual full three-dimensional piece where it is what it is. I like the idea of playing with perspective and manipulating events - interventions with reality if you like.”

He added: “This is what I describe as two and a half dimensional, because it works dynamically from quite a wide angle. You get these illusionistic things that can be viewed from a certain point, but when you move it loses power, With these I try to consider how they’re going to look from a wide angle – you can do that and it can still have its own credible reality, its own sort of reality. I like that idea. I suppose I like things that have got their own inner dynamism, and something that’s unexpected, shaking up the way you see things.”

While Grand Emporium teases the viewer with a guessing game of what the seemingly exploding objects originally belonged to, Attendant Facts also evokes a sense of rummaging through an older relatives garage, shed or barn and finding all manner of artefacts and curios among a jumble of colours and materials. Time Will Have It’s Fancy, Tomorrow or Today, inspired by WH Auden’s poem As I Walked Out One Evening, is a painting typical of Cummins’ style, with its suggestions of space, figures and objects open to a myriad of interpretations.

Cummins once commented: “I suppose with a lot of the work you’re trying to create a parallel reality of sorts, things that will resonate in all sorts of ways without being too literal, but total abstraction has always seemed to me an almost impossible goal because everything will have connotations and resonances of all sorts of things even if they’re just vague dreams and memories.

Howarth believes this absorbing and fascinating retrospective will establish Cummins’ reputation as one of the nation’s leading artists: “This is Cummins’ first major solo public gallery exhibition in the UK, and it is time to recognise this great talent. I hope it will bring Gus to the attention of a new audience, and highlight the wealth of talent here in Hastings.”

Legendary Hastings based artist Sir Quentin Blake is also a fan -“Gus Cummins’s paintings are remarkable. What strikes me is both the impressive organisation of abstract design and at the same time the solid reality of what is depicted. To see these things brought together with authority is in my view a specially rewarding experience.”

Jerwood Gallery Director, Liz Gilmore said: “People like to group Hastings with other coastal towns, when they talk about ‘faded seaside glamour’. However, Hastings has an incredibly rich and vibrant arts scene, and this aspect of the cultural life of Hastings is evidenced by Cummins being one of the longest-standing creative residents. Gus’ interest in sharing his artistic gift with students through many teaching roles has created a legacy that has lasted decades and continues to this day. In return, I’m proud of the reputation Jerwood Gallery has forged, since its launch show with Rose Wylie, to nurture and promote genuine talent whatever the age of the artist. It is time to recognise Gus Cummins’ importance and exceptional talent.”

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