Last Chance to See: Harold Mockford’s eerie Sussex landscapes at Eastbourne Towner

By Jenni Davidson | 28 September 2012
an abstract painting of a headland
Harold Mockford, Belle Tout.© Towner Art Gallery
Exhibition: Harold Mockford – A Retrospective of a Sussex Painter, Towner, Eastbourne, until September 30 2012.

Self taught artist Harold Mockford grew up in Eastbourne and has lived for the past 16 years in Newhaven, East Sussex, so it's not surprising that the Sussex landscape is imprinted on his psyche.

Born in 1932 he began painting in the 1950s and his work soon caught the eye of William Gear, a painter who had exhibited with the European avant garde CoBrA group and who was at that time the curator of the Towner Gallery. He curated the first solo exhibition of Mockford's work in 1959.

Gear also bought Mockford's 1958 painting, Eastbourne, for the gallery, a decision that caused a public outcry at the time. The painting was considered politically subversive and became the subject of a council meeting about why the gallery had paid for such a thing.

The Eastbourne painting features an aerial view of the town with line drawn houses surrounded by chalk and the Long Man, a giant emerging from the chalk, seemingly about to step on the town.

It's hard to understand the controversy now as the Eastbourne gallery celebrates Mockford’s 80th birthday with this retrospective covering all periods of his output.  

The landscapes are distinctively eerie, often painted at night and full of deep blues and greens, although some have a surreal ochre and terracotta hue. Little patches of light are picked up in the darkness.

Motifs crop up again and again, often on the periphery of the paintings, confusingly asking you to look at something sitting on the edge of the frame: a gate, a fox or a crow. Several have a dark figure on horseback, others feature Mockford himself as a spectral figure amnd theyre There is a morbid quality to some of his pictures of people.

In his 1986 Self Portrait he portrays himself with two dead pheasants and in Self Portrait with Gran and Granddad from 1995 he is a ghostly figure seen in the mirror with a skull on table in front of him and an old photograph of his grandparents on the mantelpiece.

The paintings are rooted in places around Eastbourne and the Sussex Downs, but they are not entirely true to life as Mockford paints from memory to create psychic landscapes that are more intense and strange than the real thing. They may no longer be controversial, but they are still uncanny and unsettling.

  • Tuesday- Sunday 10am-6pm. Entrance £5.50 (£6.50 with donation, concessions £4/£5).
an aerial landscape paintiong of a landscape and headland
Harold Mockford, Eastbourne, 1958© Towner Art Gallery

a landscape painting of a town at night with park, trees and houses
Harold Mockford, When the Lights Come on, 1989© Towner Art Gallery

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