SUSPECTED arsonists have destroyed a lifetime’s work exhibition in tribute to an Essex artist who died last year.
The fire broke out on Sunday, at 4.10am at the CoExist Gallery on North Road, Westcliff.
Four fire crews tackled the blaze which destroyed several pieces of Hadleigh artist Chris Lang’s work.
The fire spread from a transit van into the building which is part of a waterworks.
The fire spread into the main building through the window taking hold in the roof void of the large open planned art gallery inside.
Chris Lang (pictured above left with son Joe) died in September 2011, aged 65. The former Headteacher studied art and photography in his retirement and painted hundreds of pictures. He died of cancer last year and this show has been in the planning for a year.
One of his final pieces was hung on the one wall which survived the blaze.
Chris’ son, Joe Lang, 25, told the Enquirer: “He did a lot of autobiographical painting and spent the last 15 years creating and painting, it was a therapy of sorts and his passion.
“We found out about the fire on Sunday morning, we’d had a private viewing on the Saturday night and had spent three days setting it all up. You just don’t believe it until you see it, it was mad. It was so pristine when we put it up on Saturday and so much work had gone into it now it is a smoky charcoaly mess. We’ve moved it to another room now and it has given it a much darker, smokey atmosphere.”
The exhibition also showcased some of Chris’ mother, Gwen’s work, who died when Chris was seven years old.
Joe added: “There is enough work to be saved and there is still work to be seen. We are remaining positive over this mindless, boring act of vandalism. Whoever did it, I don’t know what they were thinking.”
The van was destroyed and the room suffered 20 per cent fire damage and 100 per cent smoke damage.
An Essex Police spokesperson said: “The fire is being treated as suspicious and a joint fire and police investigation is being carried out.”
Gallery Curator, Jon Kipps, 25 said: “It is dreadful about the gallery but the worst thing was the work - it was irreplaceable. That is what we are all gutted about. Some of Chris’ work is completely gone. There was a canvas sculpture by the window and all that remains is the stand.
“We had hung about 20 paintings up and some of them Chris painted when he was battling cancer. If you saw the work, it is really emotionally charged. If people can get down to the gallery to see it, they should. A lot of it was auto-biographical but there was real emotion in it that people can relate to. “
The smoke damaged work has now been moved to another room (pictured) in the building not destroyed by fire.
Viewings are by appointment only, for more information email Joe Lang at email@example.com or visit the Facebook page ‘Exhibition Chris Lang “If no ever…If you have never…”’