Taking a look at what it means to be British

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‘Inselaffe’ is a German expression to describe the British. Derogatory but light-hearted, it means ‘Island Monkeys.’

Marcus Harvey’s timely new exhibition Inselaffe soon to open at Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery 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.

The sculptures are unapologetic, political yet ambiguous, reflecting Harvey’s concern with subjects such as national identity and masculinity.

Harvey said: “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 feature brand new sculptures and oil paintings created especially by Harvey for the show.

The paintings and collages illustrate the artist’s continuing immersion in a battle between the romance of painting and the surety of photography.

These highly worked figurative paintings also seek out iconic forms of Britishness that have an antagonistic relationship to the contemporary British psyche, be they portraits of politicians, criminals, war heroes or landscapes. The brutish expressionism of his painting works hard against the counterpoint of photography. The newer works incorporate collaged cast jesmonite and found items, bringing sculptural developments into the wall based works and fusing the hybrid further than ever before.

One work that illustrates the gutsiness of the new paintings is The English Cemetery; rising vertically like a pile of humanity, an architectural landmass steadfast but battered by time, its population and the elements. Similarly Albus uses the White Cliffs of Dover as a metaphor for Britain’s place in a changing world. The paint sits proud of an underlying photographic sea. Britain’s cliffs look strong and full of history, proud in adversity, but bad weather seems imminent, and a storm is brewing.

Jerwood Gallery director Liz Gilmore commented: “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 follow @jerwoodgallery on Twitter and visit www.jerwoodgallery.org