Opening tomorrow at the Jerwood Gallery is Marcus Harvey’s new exhibition entitled Inselaffe.
It could hardly be more timely given our current introspection and is a series of tough, but humorous, ceramic sculptures and paintings that forge motifs and emblems relating to notions of Britishness and embroiled history such as militaria and joke shop knick-knacks into collaged portraits of historical figures; from Nelson to Margaret Thatcher, Napoleon to Tony Blair.
Harvey was born in Leeds in 1963 and currently lives and works in London. He makes highly worked figurative paintings and sculptures, seeking out imagery that is emblematic of a brutish, but proud, Britishness.
Often his imagery is problematic or controversial, his most infamous work perhaps being Myra which was exhibited as part of the groundbreaking exhibition Sensation in 1997.
Harvey works extensively with ceramics, which informs both his sculptures and paintings. Multi-dimensional, historical portraits gleaned from British Iconography, of heroes and villains, good and evil, are brought together as collaged sculptures.
He works the imagery, handling the clay in a battle to find its form despite multiple firings and emerging knowledge on behalf of the artist with regards to glazing and firing technique. Mention the term ‘inselaffe’ to a German visitor and you will almost certainly make them blush. Translated into English, it means ‘Island Monkeys’ and was originally created as a derogatory, but light-hearted, term to describe the British.
After all, when seen through the prism of our own reality TV shows, documentaries or travelling football fans it is not hard to understand why our cultured continental cousins might see Britain as a place where evolution has stalled.
The resulting sculptures by Harvey are unapologetic and powerful, political yet ambiguous, reflecting his concerns with subjects such as national identity and masculinity.
Harvey comments: “It is partly to wrest something from the all-pervading guilt over colonial misdemeanours and in part to ironize an overly romantic valuation of the past. The sentiment seems to be in equal measure irony and affection.”
As part of the Hastings’ Root 1066 Contemporary Arts Festival, the Jerwood exhibition will exclusively feature brand new sculptures and oil paintings. Jerwood Gallery director Liz Gilmore said: “It’s an enormous privilege to be working with Marcus Harvey in this important year for Hastings - the 950 anniversary of 1066. The exhibition will combine some monumental new works alongside key historical pieces, showing Harvey’s significant contribution to British art.” For more information visit www.jerwoodgallery.org.