Dressing up in Margate

These two silverpoint drawings are of people posing in fancy dress somewhere in Margate. One drawing is of people in the 1930s and the other is of people in the 2010s.

Both are currently on display at the Young Gallery in Salisbury in a small solo exhibition running alongside an exhibition of British 20th century paintings chosen from the Arts Council collection by the curator Peter Riley. I’m showing eleven silverpoint works and sixteen sketchbooks.

The Lido Cliftonville, Margate Creatives 2010s smaller
‘Margate Creatives, 2010s’ (silverpoint on gesso)

‘Margate Creatives, 2010s’ is based on a Facebook post from a Margate-themed party, held a few years ago at The Lido, Cliftonville, Margate. It shows two women in fancy dress. One is dressed as an estate agents’ sign and the other is dressed as a local businessman. Margate is currently experiencing the mixed blessings of ‘cultural regeneration’.

‘Margate Imperialists, 1930s’ (silverpoint on gesso).

‘Margate Imperialists, 1930s’ is a group portrait based on a small postcard photograph found at an antique fair. The people in this drawing might be dressed for an Empire Day event or something similar. Here we see cliched depictions of working class, ethnic and foreign ‘types’ surrounding a young woman dressed as Britannia. Any similarities between anyone in this drawing and anyone currently living in Margate or Cliftonville are coincidental.

The choices of costume in both of these images are interesting and they both express something about the social attitudes of their times and places.

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Drawing in progress

Roy Eastland Margate Art studio

I don’t want to show you what I’m working on right this moment because it’s top secret, hush, hush.

So instead, here’s a picture of an ongoing metalpoint drawing which I continue to work on from time to time and which is part of a larger project about people seen in old photographs found in a Margate second hand shop.

There is a Margate connection with all of these drawings: some are definitely drawings of people who were in Margate at some point in time but others may never have been here and only their images ever found their way to The Isle of Thanet. For some reason or other their images were eventually placed in a junk shop in Cliftonville from where they came into my hands. Now I’m drawing them and wondering what connections there might be between me and them.

The photograph which this particular silverpoint drawing is based upon is an old photograph which was probably taken in Germany in the 1930s or 1940s. At some point in time it had been torn in half but then so carefully glued back together again that it wasn’t obvious at first that it had been torn in two. I want to find a way to get the fact of its partial destruction and its careful fixing into the stuff of the drawing itself – it’s an interesting artistic problem.

Margate Imperialists, 1930s

This silverpoint drawing is presently on show in St Ives, Cornwall, as part of Anima-Mundi’s ‘Mixed Winter 17’ exhibition. It’s a drawing about people and about a moment in time in Margate (a seaside town in the south east of England).

Margate Imperialists, 1930s Roy Eastland metalpoint drawing

The drawing is about the size of an A1 sheet of paper but it’s drawn with silver on thick layers of gesso on board (silverpoint). The work is based on a small postcard image found at an antique fair. Here we see a group of mostly young adults, and a few children, dressed in a variety of fancy dress costumes depicting a mix of social and ethnic ‘types’. There is ‘A Margate Landlady’, a ‘Red Indian’, men dressed as women, people ‘blacked up’, various ‘foreigners’ and even someone dressed-up as a member of the Klu Klux Klan (make of those details what you will). The presence of ‘Britannia’, in the centre of the group, makes me think they are at an Empire Day event.

Margate Imperialists, 1930s Roy Eastland silverpoint

This is a drawing about people and about a place and a moment in time. It might bring to mind thoughts around identity, self-expression, ‘otherness’ and about taste. These people look thrilled to be in costume and playing with identities. A few years later came The War. Their choices of costume bring into focus thoughts about British Imperialism and about attitudes to class and to foreigners and so forth. This drawing is also about a group of people expressing themselves and about people looking happy in each other’s company and they looking towards us.

The act of drawing someone’s image is a kind of meditation of their presence beyond their appearance. More accurately it’s a meditation on what I imagine is their personality as given to me via a small photographic image. It’s a drawing and I’m glad it’s being seen in St Ives right now.

New drawing

Margate Creatives 2010s, silverpoint drawing, Roy Eastland

Margate Creatives, 2010s (silverpoint on gesso on board, 20.7cm x 14.2cm) is one of an ongoing series of small silverpoint drawings of people in costume, or in uniform, with a connection to the English seaside town of Margate.

How people choose to dress, or what they are required to wear for their jobs, can say a lot about a particular place at a particular time.

For example, small photograph of a smiling man, dressed in Battledress and walking down Cliftonville’s Northdown Road on a sunny day in 1940, says something about Margate during a time of war; and yet it is also just a picture of a smiling man seen on a sunny day (this image may become the basis of a future drawing) .

In my drawing, Margate Imperialists, 1930s (see earlier posts), we see men dressed as women, someone dressed as a working class ‘Margate Landlady’, a black-faced minstrel and a member of the Klu Klux Klan.  All of these people are assembled around a young woman dressed as Britannia.  Perhaps it was Empire Day.

In 2010s Margate we see two women at a Margate-themed party: one dressed as a local businessman and the other dressed as an estate agent’s ‘SOLD’ sign.  Margate is presently experiencing the mixed blessings of ‘cultural regeneration’.

‘Margate Imperialists 1930s’

margate imperiasts 1930s

Margate Imperialists 1930s, 2017, silver on gesso on board, 21cm x 30cm.

Work on this drawing has come to an end.  I could carry on working on it but I shan’t.

The drawing is based on a small photographic image on a postcard taken somewhere in Margate in the 1930s.  My guess is that the people here were dressed for an Empire Day event.  This is one of a number of drawings based on the same image.  It is one of a series of drawings based on images of people dressed in costumes of some sort and with a Margate connection.

 

Work-in-progress

Empire Day, Cliftonville, Margate, people in a postcard, work-in-progress

I haven’t posted a blog here for a while and that’s partly because I’ve been so unsure about the work I’ve been busy working away at lately; sometimes I think I’m on to something and sometimes that faith evaporates.  So be it.  Here is one of the things I’ve been working on.

This drawing is part of ongoing work.  A lot of my work develops very gradually over long periods of time and this particular project  began a few years ago when I bought an old post card at an antique fair near Nottingham.  My friend Jill found it and saw that ‘Margate’ was written on the back of it (it’s also printed very subtly on the front as well) and passed it to me.  Mt first impression was that it looked like a photograph from an ‘Empire Day’ event, and I imagined that the most likely venue for the photograph would have been in one of the large old hotels in Cliftonville (what used to be the ‘posh’ part of Margate and is now becoming ‘regenerated/gentrified’).  The costumes the people are wearing don’t look cheap.  I wonder who they are and why on Earth anyone, even back in the 1930s, would think it was funny to dress up as someone from the Klu Klux Klan!

I’ve been wanting to make artwork about this image for a long time.  I think it’s such an interesting image – so telling.  People are dressed as ‘types’ of people: exotic and funny foreigners and parodies of working class people (for example, there’s a man dressed as a ‘Margate Landlady’ and a woman ‘blacked up’ as a minstrel).  This particular project has been off-and-on for a few years and I’ve probably spent far too long on this one drawing alone (I’m embarrassed to say how long but I started it in June last year!).  It’s been repeated redrawn, abandoned, restarted, almost obliterated and redrawn.  The original image is just the size of a small postcard but my drawing of it is about 21cm x 14.5cm and it is drawn in silver on gesso on hardboard.  I would like to draw each of the people in the picture separately but this might never happen because of the cost of framing.  Most of my artwork doesn’t reach the point of becoming finished works of art hung on gallery walls but we’ll see what happens with this – we’ll see.

The drawing is just one of many works which continue to come out of my ongoing interest in making art about people connected to Margate (and also Thanet and East Kent) but which also bring into play issues and ideas to do with the wider world.  In this image people are dressed in costumes which express attitudes about identity and culture which are of their time.  People dressing in fancy dress nowadays are just as likely to express something about the prevailing attitudes of this moment in time .

The work is on going

Margate postcard drawing

margate postcard drawing, Roy Eastland, 2011

“…will be seeing you soon”. 2011. graphite, acrylic gesso, varnish on board (8.5cm x 13.5cm)

This is a drawing from 2011. It’s one of a number of drawings based on one particular postcard sent from Margate about a year after the end of The Second World War. It’s party a sort of portrait of a wave but it’s also a portrait of a postcard.

The image on the original postcard shows waves colliding at the foot of the cliffs near Walpole Bay, in Cliftonville, Margate. The hand-written message on the card is letting someone know that that the weather was bad and that “the air here soon makes you feel a lot better”; the postmark says: “DON’T WASTE BREAD, OTHERS NEED IT”; and ‘Rita’ and ‘Eileen’ send their love.

Small, unimportant, things have the habit of hinting at the presence of bigger things. The postmark, for example, reminds us of the continued effects of the recently ended war on everyday life; the hand-written message gives us a glimpse of someone’s lived moments and lets us know that they were here; the image (a photograph taken in the 1920s) records a little moment of time when two waves collided and merged with each other against the foot of the chalk cliff.

This drawing (as is the case with most of my work) came into being through processes of repeated revision and redrawing. My hand-written transcriptions of the hand-written message and the words and lettering of the postmark were repeatedly scratched into the surface and then repeated drawn over. The piece evolved in its own, unpredictable, way as the drawing’s emphasis shifted between drawing the waves and cliff and drawing lines of words.

Nothing stays the same. The Jetty, seen in the distance, has long since been lost to the elements; the seemingly permanent chalk cliff-face is slowly being taken by the sea and the people whose names appear on the postcard are most likely dead by now. The one thing that remains the same is the habit that waves have of repeatedly doing what waves do.

This drawing is partly a portrait of a wave and partly a kind of meditation on the presence and the passing of time, of people, loss and change. But then again it’s just a drawing – a carefully made little thing that might, perhaps, create the effect of bringing to mind the presence of more important things.

I’ve worked on a lot of versions of this drawing but very few of them have reached a point where I’m happy to show them as works of art.  This one was shown at The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery as part of ‘Telling Stories: Hastings’ (2012). The exhibition was organised by the writer Cathryn Kemp with the purpose of bringing together artists from Margate and Hastings (both southern English seaside towns experiencing ‘cultural regeneration/gentrification’ – change).