Laetitia Yhap, Keeping Company

2 Sep-30 Sep 2023
PV 1 Sep 2023, 6-8pm

London E1 6LA


On Hastings Beach, men and boys who fish live out most of their lives together. It was this communal, continuous life-out-of-doors which made me envious. I wanted a share in it. I went there every day… 
Hales is delighted to announce Keeping Company, Laetitia Yhap's debut exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition displays work for which Yhap is best known - intricate and inventive paintings of fishermen, each crafted on unusually shaped panels, individually hand made by Yhap for each piece.  
Yhap (b. 1941 London, UK) graduated from Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1962. Following her graduation, and, through the support of the Leverhulme Research Scholarship, she travelled to Italy for a year to research Renaissance art and architecture. In 1965, she gained her postgraduate degree from the Slade School of Fine Art. Born in England during the second world war, Yhap has Austrian and Chinese heritage, which, according to her, throughout her life created a feeling that she didn't belong. Finding solace in art making and, later, in the Hastings fishing community, she has forged a unique and important voice within British art history.  
The exhibition spans a ten-year period from 1981 to the early 1990s and takes its title from one of Yhap's most prominent works, Keeping Company which defines her relationship with the fishing community. The paintings see the social side of the fishing beach, the moments which are quiet and unheroic: the endless conversation, the act of coming ashore to haul the nets in, making, mending and clearing them and boxing fish. Timothy Hyman, eminent writer on art and artist, recognizes that 'Each picture has its origin in what she calls the "small transactions", the "warm connections of people with things and places", the tiny, ostensibly undramatic variations in a daily round.' [1] 
Yhap lived in Hastings for ten years before the fishermen became her subject, making paintings that did not consider people or place. A self-described city person, the beach seemed like a too perfect set piece with no entry point, until a revelatory moment: 'It was just a matter of noticing someone leaning on a fishing boat…the way he leaned.' Yhap proceeded to spend 18 months researching, drawing on scraps of paper she kept in her pockets, shuffling the paper like a pack of cards as the action changed, allowing the raw experience to be direct. The first painting came in 1976 and the cycle of paintings and drawings which evolved from this first statement occupied Yhap for 25 years. Looking to the male form in a world unknown would become her essential, intimate subject matter.  
Keeping Company highlights Yhap's ambitious compositions within unique structures - each episode self-contained, shaped into an emblem. [2] The works in the show are made on bed heads, doors, chopping boards and often bound with rope to form an upturned shield or an extended horizon line. Their irregularity reflects the truth of her experience of the unpolished motif. As she explains it, 'they help me to hold and present the paradox of controlled instability.' The influence of her travels is evident in these works, echoing the idea of predellas and the look of frescoes as well as the humanist themes found in Renaissance paintings - Bruegel remained a potent influence. Large works describe a theatre of events of interpersonal relationships in ambitious compositions. Smaller works came later and speak to more fleeting moments or moods.  
Her practice has been defined by a continually renewed attempt to use the human figure in context to express the less than heroic. With retrospection the works act as a beautiful reminder of a nearly lost trade where details are almost anthropological. A tableau vivant of the locale of Hastings fishing beach, Yhap's paintings still hold freshly inventive quality and now speak to a universal theme of a post-industrial world. Documenting the rituals of comings and goings, the scenes are representative of all life, a natural microcosm.  

Yhap has exhibited extensively in institutions including Serpentine Gallery, London (1979); Hayward Gallery, London (1982); Tate (The Hard-Won Image, 1984), London; The Barbican Art Gallery, London (1987); Whitechapel Gallery, London; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (1974, 1982, 1985 and 1987) as part of the John Moores Painting Prize, where Yhap was one of the awardees in 1974. 

Yhap's solo exhibitions include Laetitia Yhap: Fishing Paintings, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Hastings (1984); Laetitia Yhap: The Business of the Beach, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (toured Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, Camden Art Centre and others in 1988-89); My Vital Life, Laetitia Yhap at 80, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Hastings (2020); Laetitia Yhap: Longings and Belonging, Yanlan Arts and Culture Foundation, Beijing (2022).   
Selected public collections which hold Yhap's work include Tate, Arts Council of Great Britain, British Council, Contemporary Art Society, Government Art Collection, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Hove Museum and Art Gallery, Walker Art Gallery, and others. Her work is also held in numerous private collections in UK, Switzerland, USA and China.   
[1] Business of the Beach, Timothy Hyman, May 1988
[2] Ibid