Towner hosts major retrospective for Eastbourne artist’s 80th birthday

Harold Mockford
Harold Mockford

TO MARK the 80th birthday of Harold Mockford – one of Sussex’s best known and most loved artists – a major Towner retrospective opens this weekend that spans his long and distinguished career.

Born in Eastbourne in 1932, Mockford has lived his whole life in Sussex, and his works display a deep and personal connection to the South Downs landscape.

As a child Mockford was evacuated from Eastbourne during the Second World War, and one of his most formative early memories is of seeing the South Downs from a train window as he returned home.

The landscape had a profound effect on him as a small boy and later as a painter, forever associating our rolling hills, woodland and coastal scenes with ‘coming home’.

His inspiration comes from the South Downs and Sussex coast, however he transforms the familiar into mystical, dreamlike landscapes through his use of deep, rich colours and surreal perspectives.

He is also known for depictions of his own personal history and self portraits.

After leaving school at 14 and training to become a dental technician, Mockford took up painting in his twenties and joined a group of artists in Eastbourne.

Former Towner curator and well-known abstract artist William Gear recognised Mockford’s potential in the late 1950s, when he was part of a group show at the former Towner Art Gallery, with Gear describing Mockford as “one of the most promising young painters I have come across in recent years”.

Gear was instrumental in encouraging and supporting Mockford – not least by purchasing his paintings for Towner’s permanent collection. There are now a total of 14 Harold Mockford works in the Towner Collection.

Mockford usually paints oil on hardboard, and is known for painting on the floor, mixing sand in with the paint and applying it with fingers and palms as well as brushes.

When he is finished painting for the day he turns the work upside down on a blanket – creating smudges which then inform how the work will progress.

The next day he turns it over, and puts it on the easel to look at it afresh – always allowing for the possibility of surprise!

The View from Newhaven – an exhibition focusing on Mockford’s later Newhaven paintings – will be held at the Hillcrest Centre, Newhaven over September 1 and 2.

Harold Mockford: A Retrospective of a Sussex Painter runs at Towner until September 30.

Admission is £5.50 and visitors are asked to make a donation of £1 on top of their ticket price to the Towner Summer Appeal, which this year supports the gallery’s youth participation programmes.