It’s September 2020, we are mid-pandemic and mid-Brexit negotiations and I’ve been a resident of Dover for a couple of years now. To document this moment in time, I’ve invited Sophie von Hellermann, a fellow foreigner who lives in Margate and has a studio nearby to come and make drawings of the town and surrounding landscape.

On Monday 14th September Sophie and her partner Jonathan arrive in Dover for our first session. We have coffee at home in Victoria Park and I show them the back yard, a pleasure garden once used by the officers of the castle. We head to the swimmers beach on the harbour for high tide where a coach from Illinois in a gun control t-shirt monitors a swimmer’s progress as she trains to cross the channel. David, Jonathan and I swim as Sophie draws the sea and then the view of the town behind us. We head to Shakespeare Beach via the marina and the cargo terminal. We divert into the Pink Car Park – formerly used for cruise terminal parking – and see dozens of migrants lined up on benches, being ‘processed’ by home office officials. Sophie and I try to sketch the confiscated dinghies but are moved along by a Harbour Board official, this is private land we’re told. We attempt to draw Arthur Beresford Pite’s listed Customs watch house but are asked to leave by a police officer who makes a note of my vehicle registration. We drive back to Shakespeare Beach and think of King Lear. Sophie makes a drawing of the beach, and then one of Lord Warden Hotel, now offices, where Napoleon and Princess Eugenie were once reunited. We have another swim as fishermen pull up strings of pearlescent mackerel. I collect the car from the Cinq Port Arms customer car park as three Immigration Enforcement buses are loaded with passengers. We head up to an altogether different type of cruising terminal, the Western Heights car park and have sandwiches that David has prepared on a melted fireproof bench. After lunch we perch upon one of the gun placements and Sophie makes a picture of the harbour below. France is hazy on the horizon. We walk down to Drop Redoubt – a Napoleonic fort designed to protect Dover fromm French invasion – and Sophie makes another drawing. Back at Victoria Park, Sophie works on a final picture as we water the garden and Jonathan reads the paper. They leave at 17:15.

On Friday 18th September Sophie arrives at 10am and we have coffee at Victoria Park. We discuss a visit to the castle but decide on a cliff walk instead. We make our way to the White Cliffs and begin our walk, high up above the ferry port and then along the crest of Foxhill and down the zigzag steps to Langdon Bay. It’s baking hot and the steep path cut into the chalk cliff bounces light like Greek whitewash. We enter a newly dug tunnel in the cliff and emerge at the top of a steep ladder onto the beach. I’d planned our arrival for high tide but we’ve just entered a new moon cycle so the tide is higher than expected, it laps the bottom of the ladder and there is no beach to sit on. Sophie sits at the top of the ladder with legs swinging and makes a picture as I scale down and brave a swim. It’s pretty rough and I get tumbled around a bit. I help Sophie carry down her equipment and we go for another swim. We find a nook on the grey pebbles and she makes two more drawings of the cliffs and ferries coming into port. We have to leave as the fresh seaweed has attracted a swarm of flies. Back on the cliff top we head to Fan Bay and sit on the flank of it’s curved bowl. A Spitfire flies above, another ferry comes in and another drawing is made. We walk back and stop off in Langdon Hole, a cup like dip in the cliffs where the self-seeded roman cabbages are bountiful. We both make another drawing, the last one of the day.

On Monday 21st September Sophie arrives at 9am and we drive up the A258 to draw the castle from the roadside. We have made a booking to visit the castle at 10 and head straight to the central tower, Henry II’s court. Sophie makes five drawings here: one of the stone chapel entrance, another of a guards room, of Henry’s bedroom, of the view from the rooftop and of the kitchens. We have chicken sandwiches and plum cake on the hill by the roman lighthouse, built 20 centuries ago. After lunch we make a drawing of the lighthouse and adjoining Saxon church and walk back down the hill. It’s high tide again and we decide to have another swim in the harbour. Some of the regulars are on the beach: Mary, Ronnie, Leanne, the swimming coach and the woman who never waves back. Sophie and I swim to the green Buoy far out in the harbour and from here we survey all the spots we have visited so far. There is only one sheet of paper left in the pad so we walk into Market Square and deliberate between Dickens’ favourite bakery, the view up Castle Street, the Maison Dieu, the High Street or a visit to the Grand Shaft. We visit the museum first and its Bronze Age boat. Still with the single sheet in hand we decide that the final drawing should be of the Roman Painted House, it’s closed but Sophie sits on the tarmac and paints the façade of the reception area along with her reflection in it’s mirror-foiled doors.

Nicolas Deshayes

All twenty images can be viewed in the image gallery on this page.

Sophie von Hellermann was born in 1975 in Munich, Germany. She received her BFA from Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf and an MFA from Royal College of Art, London. She has exhibited widely internationally and has held solo exhibitions at Pilar Corrias, London; Wentrup, Berlin; Greene Naftali, New York; Office Baroque, Brussels; Kunstverein Hannover, Germany; Firstsite, Colchester; Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium; Le Consortium, Dijon, France; Chisenhale Gallery, London and Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen. Von Hellermann is a founding member of the London and Düsseldorf-based artists collective hobbypopMUSEUM, active since 2006.

September, is a strand of Dover Arts Development’s What Next? project.

What Next? is a 6-month programme of activity to explore ways of securing DAD’s future, funded thanks to Arts Council England’s Covid-19 emergency funding.

WHAT NEXT? another DAD project