Art exhibition review – Victor Willing: Visions at Hastings Contemporary

Yesterday I took a train from Waterloo East and whizzed off to Hastings to attend an exclusive preview of Victor Willing: Visions, a major retrospective of the mid-century British painter, at Hastings Contemporary which is now open until 5th January 2020. 

This is the first retrospective of work by British artist Victor Willing (1928-1988), representing each period of his career. 

I had the pleasure to have a wonderful lunch at the gallery with all the curators and Nick Willing, son of Victor, who told me amazing anecdotes behind his masterpieces.  

The display includes work from all aspects of Willing’s artistic practice, including painting, drawing and sculpture and charts his tumultuous life and career from his time as a star pupil at the Slade where he met with critical acclaim, his work created in Portugal where he shared a studio with his wife and fellow artist Paula Rego (b.1935); to the dynamic, monumental Vision works that he created on his return to London as he began to retreat into an interior world of hallucinatory revelations, as induced by medication he was taking for his MS, until his untimely death in 1988. 

I had the pleasure to have a wonderful lunch at the gallery with all the curators and Nick Willing, son of Victor, who told me amazing anecdotes behind his masterpieces.  

I was honoured to meet Portuguese artist Paula Rego, who was Victor Willing’s wife.

I also met Portuguese feminist artist Paula Rego, Vic’s life partner and revolutionary painter who told me that she still paints relentlessly every day, which is remarkable at the age of 84.

During the exhibition, visitors can also view an informative film by Nick Willing including interviews with Paula Rego, Victor, family and friends who witnessed the brilliant artwork come to life. 

The family of Victor Willing standing in front of his painting named The Judge. Victor Willing, Callot: Judge, 1983, oil on canvas  © The Artist’s Estate

The exhibition premieres a new short film of Victor Willing’s life and career by his son and celebrated filmmaker, Nick Willing following on from his BBC TWO documentary ‘Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories’ alongside unseen material from the family archives. 

Victor Willing painted these faces during the last phases of his life when he suffered from MS and needed help to paint.

This groundbreaking show overtakes almost the entire Hastings Contemporary gallery space to put Victor Willing back into the public spotlight. Willing continues to inspire lots of artists and has been dubbed the ‘spokesman for his generation’. 

In this picture, I am posing in front of a standing nude painting which I love for its poetic vibe and vibrant colours. Victor Willing, Standing Nude, 1955, Courtesy Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London; © The Artist’s Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

I echo Sir Nicholas Serota’s words about Willing’s work: ‘In a bright generation Victor Willing burned brighter than most’ and his paintings ‘continue to demonstrate that this was no shooting star but rather a fiery comet which would eventually guide us all’. Victor Willing’s paintings are extraordinarily expressive and its surrealism is vivid and so appealing to these days.

Among my favourite paintings there’s a powerful series of nudes from the late ’50s era of his wife and muse, including Blue Nude (Diptych) dated 1958. They were made during the time the family moved to Ericeira, Portugal to be with Paula Rego where they remained until the Carnation Revolution in 1974. During these years, ast their family grew, Willing’s work underwent a profound change and the exhibition features key works produced in this period between 1957 and 1974. 

Exhibited alongside work by a number of his contemporaries, including fellow Slade students Michael Andrews (1928-1995) and Paula Rego, and featuring significant loans from Tate, Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, and The Arts Council Collection, this exhibition will offer visitors a chance to encounter this ground-breaking but overlooked artist due to his untimely death from MS in 1988, when he was just 60 years old.  

Victor Willing, Self-Portrait, 1957, oil on canvas © The Artist’s Estate.

I was handed a beautiful new publication on Victor Willing to accompany the exhibition featuring an introduction by Sir Nicholas Serota, an essay by John McEwen and texts by Victor Willing. 

Best party food in Britain by Webbe’s Restaurants in Hastings.

Last but not least, the catering of the evening reception deserves a shout out for serving the best party canapes in Britain. They were prepared and served by the lovely Rebecca Webbe who owns the Webbe’s Restaurants.  


Hastings Contemporary opening hours:

Tuesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am – 5pm (last admission at 4.30pm)

Admission Prices:
Hastings Contemporary Members: FREE

Adult: £9.00* / £8.00

Children (16 and under): FREE

Up to four children free with an adult ticket.

Senior (60 and over): £8.00* / £7.00

Further Education Students, Disabled, Unemployed: £6.00 (Proof required. Free entry to Carers

supporting disabled visitors.)

Hastings Borough Council Residents: £4.00 (Please bring proof of address.)

Groups (of 10 or more): £6.00 per person

First Free Tuesday: FREE from 4pm – 8pm

On the first Tuesday of every month the gallery is free to all between the hours of 4pm – 8pm. The cafe is also open during this time.

*Price includes a voluntary donation which enables the gallery to claim Gift Aid on the whole ticket price.

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