Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach

Coming to Hastings Contemporary spring/summer 2021

Curated by James Russell

From the early 20th century people flocked to the seaside in ever-increasing numbers, among them a diverse band of artists…

Uniquely combining a wide-ranging survey Modern British art with an extraordinary period of social history, this exuberant anthology show brings together a half century of artistic experimentation on the seaside – from Paul Nash to LS Lowry, and from Barbara Hepworth to Eric Ravilious – alongside archive photos and advertising posters, making a lasting case for the beach and lido as unsung sites of the modernist movement, as integral to the development of modern British art as the cafes and arcades of London and Paris.

Over a backdrop of an era when people presented and saw themselves in a radically new way; where coastal towns transformed into holiday destinations for the working classes escaping the dinginess of rapidly industrialising cities; and attitudes to the body went through a complete reversal, from Victorian prudery to modern exhibitionism – Seaside Modern considers how the coast and seaside resorts have been explored in different ways by many British artists throughout the early modern period. Some artists focused on the changing population who frequented the shore – from fishermen to glamorous young holidaymakers. Others explored the inherent strangeness and existential emptiness of the beach landscape. And while the seaside was associated with health, fitness and beauty, it also retained its historic lawlessness; this translated into transgressive forms of licence, from strip shows to surrealist avant-gardism.              

The curator of Seaside Modern, James Russell, is an art historian and curator who enjoys finding new ways of looking at 20th century British art and design. Best-known for the blockbuster ‘Ravilious’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery, he particularly relishes assembling large-scale exhibitions exploring themes in modern British art. The Mail on Sunday described ‘Century’ (Jerwood Gallery 2016) as ‘sprightly, uplifting and as bracing as a dip in the English Channel. According to The Observer his most recent exhibition, ‘Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change’ (Ferens Art Gallery 2019) was ‘startling and unmissable’. James studied History at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and has written a dozen books, of which one was a 2016 Sunday Times Book of the Year. He lectures for The Arts Society and independently, around Britain and beyond.


Cover image: Paul Nash, Landscape from a Dream, 1936-8, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate. Top left: John Piper, Beach with Starfish, c.1933-4, goache, ink on paper, and printed paper. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate. Top centre: Nigel Henderson, Childhood Visit to the Seaside, 1976, collage. Courtesy of The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art © JP Bland 2016. Top right: Joseph Bard, photograph of Eileen Agar lying on a beach with a plastic swan and a rubber shark. Taken in Knokke, Belgium, September 1938. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate

Hastings Contemporary membership starts at £27

Join us today and become part of one of the fastest-growing arts communities in the South East.

Join us today