Tooth pics: Dentists and artists have never mixed too well, until Simon Grennan brought them together in Eastbourne. Robert Hanks opens wide

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The Independent Culture
On the surface, it's true, the idea behind 'Six Eastbourne Dentists' sounds ludicrous. Six dentists - all practising in Eastbourne - each select a painting from the collection of the Towner Art Gallery, and then sit for a photograph intended somehow to reflect the chosen painting.

It's true, too, that there is something ludicrous about the final result: in most cases the relationship between photograph and original is tenuous - some vague resemblance in pose, a faint echo in the lighting. You can't quite shake off a gnawing sense that somebody is the butt of a joke.

Simon Grennan, however, who with Christopher Sperandio devised and co- ordinated the project, is emphatic that they were not poking fun at anybody: 'There is quite a lot of humour, but there's no sarcasm, no malice.'

To understand how the pictures work you have first to know that they are only the visible part, the crown, of a project with deep roots: choosing the paintings, taking the photos, inviting the dentists and all their patients to the gallery to view the end-product - these were the real object of the exercise.

Grennan and Sperandio's brief was to come up with an idea that would involve local people with the Towner. They took dentists as their target group mainly for practical reasons - large patient lists, and none of the problems of confidentiality that attach to doctors or solicitors. And dentists had the necessary social standing. Grennan, who grew up in the town, says that 'They're glamorous figures in Eastbourne'; or, to put it more realistically, 'It could have been 'Six Eastbourne Chiropractors', but they don't have the same clout.'

All 27 practices in the town were invited to participate in the project; most refused. Those who accepted saw it, like Mr Grills, as 'something that might do a bit of good for the profession - so the actual patient can see the dentist in a different light'; and they seem pleased by the results.

At the very least, the exhibition provokes some intriguing questions: why did Mr Easton alone choose to be photographed in civvies, not white gown? Why was Mr Willis the only one to pick a work by a living artist? Is it significant that he is Simon Grennan's mother's dentist? There is much here to chew over.

Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne,

E Sussex (0323 417961) to 23 Oct

(Photograph omitted)

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