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Student blog: Art Deco by the Sea at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

We’re extremely proud that Norwich is bursting with galleries, museums and pop-up spaces with so much creativity to fuel inspiration.  The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts offers free admission to NUA students, and BA (Hons) Architecture student Sean Hendley headed to the major new exhibition, ‘Art Deco by the Sea’ to discover a world of classic British design and architecture in seaside leisure. Blog by Sean Hendley, BA Architecture

Art Deco by the Sea, curated by Ghislaine Wood, is nothing less than a successful endeavour into time travel, taking its audience back to the sounds and smells of our coasts’ glamorous Art Deco seaside resorts – evoking fascination and pure ebullience.

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“The colours – oh the colours – scream of the joie de vivre of a time gone by; a time where an affiliation with a train company of all things, was a hot gig for an artist.”

Sean Hendley

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Struck on entry by the powerful colours of the LNER East Coast Joys series by Tom Purvis, one’s vision is taken prisoner and a definite, unmistakeably jazzy tone is set – anticipation builds.

Framed formations of flat colours, soft textures and simplified forms line the corridor walls of the museum’s lower floor – all playing their role in the act of transportation.

The colours – oh the colours – scream of the joie de vivre of a time gone by; a time where an affiliation with a train company of all things, was a hot gig for an artist.

The depictions of the considered body-hugging outfits, architectural cool-nonchalance and an untouched British countryside, make even the young nostalgic for a time in which they never existed.

Whilst the ever-so realistic figures – even the faceless ones in Ernest Procter’s All the Fun of the Fair – tell of the exuberance of Britain’s Art Deco seaside.

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Split into five sections, the exhibition moves between celebrating the two-dimensional and the physical, thus also showcasing how the period’s designers and manufacturers exploited the pursuit of self-love and good living, so key to this new age.

Bold new products such as Alvar Aalto’s contoured wooden chairs, sit with equal pertinence alongside images of Oliver Hill’s architecture: Hill, displayed here in best regard as one of the defining characters of the modernist seaside.

Images of his striking Midland Hotel in Morecambe illustrate how the desired notions of luxury, pleasure and escape were collectively realised.

His signature use of soft-curving faces with basic geometric forms shows consideration to functionality, but also to a time of increased democratisation; a time in motion, not dictated by the geometry or politics of the past.

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Meanwhile, Julian Leathart and WF Granger, and Harry Weedon designed spaces to accommodate the relatively new concept of large-scale entertainment – entertainment for the people – in their respective Margate’s Dreamland (photographed by Arthur George), and Odeon Cinemas.

Images of Weedon’s Odeon on Botolph Street, Norwich, is a powerful illustration of the spectacular detail used within these original cinemas – one of many salutes to the great Art Deco heritage of our region.

At the close, all elements – individual and unique in their cheer – are collectively summarised by the masterful hands of Fortunino Matania and Septimus Scott, whose respective Blackpool and New Brighton and Wallasey pieces employ an extended perspective, and a dominant female figure to depict the true scale of this new, changed world of inclusivity.     

There is a true affinity among audiences of all ages with the pieces on display here, as witnesses in awe.

Admiration for the period is innate, as though the designers of the time had tapped into a metaphysical phenomenon: paired with the acuity of Wood, the result is electric and sweet.

Art Deco by the Sea is on until 14 June 2020.

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