Hastings Arts Forum 36 Marina, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0BU 14 July - 9th August 11am - 5pm Daily
South East England


Kathleen Fox, Sally Meakins, Jo Welsh, embark upon an exploration of myth and truth by the sea. Kathleen Fox underpins her engagement metaphorically and physically with the subconscious, via the ‘primal’ materials of river sediments. The making of Sally Meakins’ ‘Transitional Beings ‘ is inspired by the ‘Piltdown Man,’ vehicle of Charles Dawson’s great evolutionary hoax. Dawson lived in Hastings. He  was a respected amateur archeologist, and co-founder of  Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association. Jo Welsh ‘Follows Jack’ the Ripper in Hastings and London, hanging work based on known Ripper victims adjacent to pieces exploring Chapman’s poisonings.

Gallery View

George Chapman (previously Severin Klosowski, Polish immigrant,) was a Barber Surgeon with barber shops variously in the East End of London and in Hastings. Suspected by some of being responsible for the crimes of Jack the Ripper, it was in Hastings that he poisoned the first of his three ‘wives’, and where he purchased the Tartar-emetic means to his ends. He was hanged at Wandsworth prison on 7th April 1903 for the murder of the third, Maud Marsh. Pieces of clothing, wedding rings, poison powder pure in its whiteness, a crucifix are evident in Jo Welsh’s 3D Mixed Media, prints, their subdued colours and compositions suggestive of a dimming of the light in some quiet Victorian street. Objects referring to possessions found on Ripper victims are overlaid with stark, high-contrast film views of the London streets where they died.

‘Musical Shaves’ Jo Welsh

Wedding-ring /curtain-ring, opening up and closing down, a crucifix, white powder, polka -dots and stripes. Ambivalence and ambiguity reside in the works. The implicit finality of the hangman’s noose is in reality only a crossroad on the journey. A small glass fronted cabinet, quietly sinister, contains photographs of George, his wife, cut-throat razor, folding comb,train ticket, blue bottles of poison, printed musical score, (a reference to the ‘musical shaves’ enjoyed by Chapman’s customers as his ‘wife’ Mary Spink played the piano in the Hastings barber shop). Affixed to the cabinet, a small hand-cranked music barrel which plays ‘Pop Goes theWeasel’ on its metal comb. Crank the barrel at different speeds and subtle turns of feeling ensue. Tune and feeling touch the contents of the cabinet, die suddenly, are reborn, suffer a slow final note, final breath, defiant or tragic, crashing at the end or helplessly slipping away.From just across the gallery, the sound accompaniment to Kathleen Fox’s box installation, ‘Man and Bird Kaleidoscope’ can be heard. Cousin to the vibrations of the plucked metal comb, the sounds, generated by the stroking of quills on a bronze desktop porcupine in Freud’s Museum consulting room, create an ambient presence within which to tiptoe through the show. And in a nice twist, it was with a story concerning the problems of physical closeness experienced by porcupines, that Freud illustrated ideas about intimacy and its dangers. Sound from the Porcupine reaches across the gallery to resonate with the perverse intimacy of Chapman’s cruelty as the Weasel Goes Pop!

Inside the box, a revolving, layered image evocative simultaneously of an Eye, a Universe, a Sun, tinted by small coloured Light Emitting Diodes repeats indefinitely in its turning, the fated experience of a chick anticipating the joys of life and realising its futility. A photographic portrait of a Victorian gentleman revolves aimlessly alongside.

‘Zoo des Refuses’ Kathleen Fox

One of the attractions on Hastings pier, until 1974, was a small ‘Zooquarium’. Kathleen fox creates images of imagined creatures in a ‘Zoo des Refuses’, (echoing the Salon), creatures rejected by the zoo selectors, happily, playfully, outside the confines of the zoo, in the sea, between the toes of the paddlers, under the stones , floating free, beneath the pier (from whose piles were taken casts for her Polyester resin piece ‘Memory’), in the seaweed and that liminal place between the tides all and spaces beyond.She takes sediment from a river which she then pours onto paper to take whatever form it will; small creatures innocently leave their marks in the manner of their prehistoric ancestors, as the liquid dries, textures emerge, crusts solidify, colour settles. The dried mud is fixed with wax. Collaged eyes, hands, legs, ears , animal skin, fur, confer identity onto these textured islands. Small craft drift. Hybrid images, images of hybrids, cross the paper or float before us – little is given to perspectival depth. Only in the varying degrees of uniform bluenesses, some muted, greyish, othersof a brighter disposition, of the backgrounds, is indeterminate space implied.Charles Dawson also unearthed a story, or rather, embedded it, earthed it in a shallow layer of apparent truth. Piltdown Man would be a link in the evolutionary chain and for Dawson a link to celebrity. Sally Meakins has an interest in narrative. Her ‘Transitional Beings’ have their genesis in Dawson’s hoax. The process begins with the making of a figure. Materials include wax formers over which a thin clay slab is laid, prodded, pushed, incised, to create head, face, torso. Papier mache, felt, tissue paper, and an accompanying mental narrative combine to create a figure that is photographed and the original form destroyed. The notion of transition then finds itself firstly in the image of the ‘being’ becoming and secondly in the notion that the nature of the photograph ceases to be representational. Although common sense tells us that something that we are looking at represents a form that is not physically present, the photograph is also no longer ‘of’ something, but has become something in itself, a sculptural object; to read it as an illustration of an existing three-dimensional object is now a misidentification. The status as photograph of the Transitional being becomes uncertain in that it reads both as a representation and as a sign of the transition from image to form. We see the physical photographic object through the image rather than seeing the image through the photograph, holding the process of transition in perpetual limbo. As with the Piltdown Man, what we are looking at both is and is not what we see. Sally’s other works address the more direct, unambiguous physicality of sticking, rolling, pinching, drawing- doing as thinking. ‘False Carapace’ is constructed from sticks and shells, seaweed and felt.’Transitional Being – figurine’, at present without arms, is made from air hardened clay and felt.

‘Small Mask and Carapace’ Sally Meakins

Somewhere within the sadness bound to the stories of George Chapman and his victims will have been smiles and times of hope, moments of release and freedom when Mary, Bessie, and Maud frolicked like the creatures of the Zoo des Refuses. But as with the Chick that flies only into disillusionment, whatever noble striving there was in their lives was doomed. Sadness too, in the Piltdown hoax, an illustration perhaps of individual fragility in which Charles Dawson tried to satisfy the need at the core of what might otherwise have been a good enough life, and contrived to end as less than he might have been. Apparent in the way that Sally Meakins works is a physicality in the pinching of clay to make ridges, that seems to echo from another place, subconscious emergings perhaps that insinuate their way viscerally around the conscious process?

David Minton

July 2015