The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work
Feature of the week 12/05/2019
The heyday for the British seaside holiday was in the late fifties and early sixties; I was a happy recipient of this new phenomenon and as a young child, I happily embraced the whole ethos. We would spend one week per year in a caravan at Towyn, near Rhyl on the North Wales coast; paradise, never mind if a gale were blowing or there were spiders in the dreadful loos. This is when I learnt to ride a bicycle which I was never allowed to own, ride a donkey, play on the pinball machines like a pro and tentatively dip my toes in the freezing sea. Even as a young child I felt the cold badly and thereby escaped botulism or worse from gulping the muddy looking water.
Highlights of these holidays included walks along the beach as the sun was setting, watching dogs and children play on sand freshly swept by the outgoing tide, whilst dimly lit trains roared past along the coast on their way to Llandudno junction. Also savoured were trips to the funfair containing a myriad of colour and bright lights, where glittering prizes could be won simply by hooking a duck or maneuvering a crane. These are simple attractions that still attract me today, along with genteel rides on the carousel of horses bobbing up and down, not for me the noise and aggression of the dodgem cars. I fondly remember eating hotdogs smothered in greasy onions and tomato ketchup with my dad, while my mum looked on with disapproval telling us how much more goodness there was in a lettuce sandwich but, because we were ‘on holiday’ she could not object too much.
The promenade and pier at Rhyl were unremarkable and don’t feature in my early memories. It was much later when I started travelling around the country independently that I became interested in the architectural features of these seaside icons. Piers were not originally intended as venues of entertainment and leisure. They were constructed as a means to transfer passengers from ship to shore. If the tide were out the end of the journey could involve a walk across very wet sand, an obvious deterrent to visitors. From the 1830s onwards they began to appear at difficult to access seaside resorts such as Weymouth and Margate. It wasn’t long however before entrepreneurs latched on to the money earning potential of these distinctive buildings and incorporated features like pavilions, aquariums and camera obscures.
By the time Eastbourne Pier was opened in 1870 there were a few architects noted for their engineering and creative skills, notably Eugenius Birch who was responsible for Eastbourne. It has suffered much over the years yet bears its scars lightly. In 1877 half of it was swept away following a tidal deluge; during the second world war friendly fire in the form of a mine attached to the stanchions by local police caused extensive damage and finally, since I made this painting in 1992, 2014 saw another fire. The Pier just about lives on, despite being purchased by a private businessman who has had it painted a rather common (in my opinion) dark blue and gold.
I first encountered Eastbourne in the early 1970s when I spent a weekend there. It was visibly past its heyday then but I savoured the sophistication of staying in a Guest House just off the sea front. Another treat was going to a proper restaurant with waiters, something I was not used to at that time, and eating avocado prawn cocktails… how 1970s that now seems! I produced quite a few paintings and drawings of Eastbourne, Beachy Head and nearby Hastings during the following years. I worked on the seaside paintings when I needed an antidote to urban paintings of London and a breath of fresh air.
This painting of the pier was painted in 1992. I was attracted by the abstract compositional opportunities afforded by the facade and the simple, rather stark colour scheme of blue and white. There were of course people milling around and Eastbourne wasn’t that deserted but I wanted to focus on the pure pictorial elements and I felt that the presence of human beings would be detract from the personality of the structure, but if you look very closely enough, you can see a man standing in the shadow staring at me impassively!