Sussex, the artistic gateway to the world

This weekend I was lucky enough to catch the last day of a truly superb landscape exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.  Titled “A Point of Departure” the exhibition featured work from the Towner’s own permanent collection as well as work on loa alongside new acquisitions by contemporary artists including the Israeli video artist Yael Bartana and the Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn.  The Towner itself is fortunate to be the holder of a fine collection of by printmakers Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious and it was a real treat to see several pieces of their work included in the show.  A couple of other well known artists included were Fine Art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, the Towner owns a triptych of  silver gelatin photographic prints investigating the sea and two interesting collaged pieces by John Piper (who’s full name I discovered was John Egerton Christmas Piper – wow!)

What was so special about this exhibition was that it featured a room full of woodcut prints by the long forgotten Sussex based artist Eric Slater.  Born in London in 1896 Slater moved to Sussex with his mother after the death of his father in 1904.  Slater attended the Hastings School of Art, although it is thought he was most likely taught the technique of woodcut printmaking by his neighbour in Seaford, Arthur Rigden Read who had studied the technique in Japan.  Slater produced in excess of 30 full colour woodcut scenes mainly of the local area around his Seaford home between 1926 and the start of the Second World War.

From his studio in his home, Slater built up an international reputation, winning a Gold Medal in the USA for his depiction of Seaford Head.  He also found popularity in Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Austria.  Slater’s work is very much of its time, beautifully simple and delicate pared down images of recognisable landscapes (indeed many of these are remarkably unchanged today) hand printed in vibrant translucent colour.  His work shows a high degree of technical excellence and perfectionism.  Sadly Slater stopped working suddenly when his mother died at the beginning of the War and faded into obscurity.  He died in 1963 and a solicitors notice which appeared in a local newspaper on his death made no mention of his work as an artist.  Eric Brindley Slater is buried in the churchyard at Seaford in a shared grave.

Due to image copyright it is not possible to include an image in this posting, but you can see images of Slaters work online at

This exhibition was a double whammy of interesting artists for me as in another room were a group of paintings by the 93 year old London artist Roland Collins.  Although Collins is a painter, his work links directly with that of Slater and also Bawden and Ravillious and Piper (all whom are admired by Collins) being set firmly in the romantic landscape tradition.  Collins has been working as an artist all his life and attended St Martins School of Art before starting work as a commercial artist.  In 1937 he had a drawing titled Riverside, Chiswick accepted by the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, he was just 18 years old.    The works on display were all related to the Sussex coastline and included the somewhat odd but really intriguing “Beachy Head from Belle Tout” (1958), a painting in gouache on paper which looks like a mixed media collage, “Rye Harbour” and “Eastbourne Beach” (again gouache on paper, both 1958) and also the slightly menacing 1955 gouache painting “Oil Wagon, Newhaven”.   Kent based Mascalls Gallery held a retrospective of Collins’ work in the spring of 2012 and an excellent catalogue publication is still available from the Towner gallery for a mere £10, bargain!

Due to copyright it is not possible to include an image in this post but you can see images online at

An impulse decision to visit a local gallery has resulted in my discovering the work of TWO artists that I had previously been unaware of.  I find their work a joy and a delight to behold and I hope that others reading this may do also.  A book about Eric Slater is hopefully to be published in 2013 to co-incide with the centenary of his birth and I for one will be rushing out to grab a copy!

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