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A major UK retrospective of mid-century British painter Victor Willing opens at Hastings Contemporary
Victor Willing, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas © The Artist's Estate.

HASTINGS.- Hastings Contemporary opened the first major UK retrospective of work by British artist Victor Willing (1928-1988) since his death, charting each decade of his tumultuous life and career from his time at the Slade, his life in Portugal, and back to London and his untimely death from multiple sclerosis.

As part of Hastings Contemporary’s ambitious and expanded programme, the exhibition features key loans from Tate, Pallant House Gallery, Arts Council Collection, Gracefield Arts Centre and private collections, bringing the best of Victor Willing’s works to the South Coast. The exhibition offers visitors a chance to encounter the work of this ground-breaking artist, whose determined, large-scale paintings illustrate phases of domestic life with his wife and fellow artist, Paula Rego (b.1935) and their family, as well as darker periods of emotional difficulty.

Victor Willing: Visions brings to life Willing’s varied artistic output from training in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his life in Portugal with his young family through the 1960s, and their return to London in the mid-1970s through to late 1980s. 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.

Liz Gilmore, Director, Hastings Contemporary comments: “This hugely important exhibition, commanding almost the entire gallery space puts Victor Willing back into the public spotlight. Willing is an artist who has and continues to inspire generations of artists. This ground-breaking show draws work from collections across Europe and reflects the new ambitious programming of Hastings Contemporary.”

Marked out as a star pupil at the Slade School of Fine Art, the school had a profound influence on his professional and personal life – it was here that he met Paula Rego and worked alongside the celebrated Slade Director, William Coldstream (1908-1987) and his fellow students and friends Euan Uglow (1932-2000), Michael Andrews (1928-1995), Craigie Aitchison (1926-2009) and Peter Snow (1927-2008). Victor Willing: Visions explores the relationships between Willing and his contemporaries, with key loans of works by Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993), Paula Rego and Michael Andrews, including Michael Andrew's The Deer Park, 1962, from Tate, Paula Rego's intimate portrait of Victor Willing Vic - Study for the Family, 1988 and an unseen work from Rego’s personal collection, Descent from the Cross, 2002, inspired by Willing’s MS and death and originally intended to be part of Rego’s series for the chapel ‘Our Lady of Belém’ for the President of Portugal.​

During his time at the Slade, Willing came to know artist Francis Bacon and the renowned art critic David Sylvester who described him as ‘a sort of spokesman for his generation’. While still a student Willing’s work was included in two exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and he had his first solo show at the prestigious Hanover Gallery just one year after graduating. Victor Willing: Visions includes key works from 1952 - 1957, representing paintings from the time Willing left the Slade until his move to Ericeira, Portugal, including Standing Nude, c.1952-3 from Tate, Standing Nude, 1955 and Winter Machine, 1956 from the Arts Council Collection.

In 1957, Willing moved to Ericeira, Portugal to be with Paula Rego and their family where they remained until the Carnation Revolution in 1974. During these years, as their family grew, Willing’s work underwent a profound change and the exhibition features key works produced in this period between 1957 and 1974. The exhibition features a powerful series of nudes from this era of his wife and muse, including Blue Nude (Diptych), 1958.

Following the political revolution and economic crisis in Portugal in 1974 the family returned to London, and Willing created work with a renewed urgency until his untimely death in 1988. The exhibition features works from Willing’s residency at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in 1987 curated by Sir Nicholas Serota. Writing about Willing’s work, Sir Nicholas Serota has stated: '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'.

A new publication on Victor Willing featuring an introduction by early champion of Victor Willing, Sir Nicholas Serota, an essay by John McEwen and texts by Victor Willing has been published to accompany the exhibition.

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