Star theatre designer's sets for Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Cats and more to go on public show

By Culture24 Reporter | 29 September 2015

BAFTA, Olivier and Tony award-winner John Napier's theatre designs to go on show in Eastbourne

A photo of a design for the opera cats appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
John Napier, Cats (2000-2015). Mixed media© Julian Napier
The horses in Equus, the barricades in Les Misérables, the helicopter in Miss Saigon and the outside junkyard in Cats were all shaped by John Napier, an artist and designer moulding all sorts of materials into magical sets. Working out of his Sussex studio, Napier has taken a theatrical approach to an exhibition he calls a “lifelong ideal”, opening at Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery – not far from his Sussex studio – next month.

A photo of a metal sculpture design for the opera Macbeth appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Macbeth (1978). Bronze, fiberglass, glass and moss© Julian Napier
A photo of a red paint and mixed media collage design for the opera Miss Saigon appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Miss Saigon (1996). Mixed media© Julian Napier
Synonymous with Starlight Express, Napier is creating a “set” for visitors, with ramps, false walls, a sunken floor and a sculpture garden across the gallery’s ground floor. They’re made from bronze, fibreglass, moss, chrome steel, leather, earth and more.

A photo of a paint and mixed media collage design for the opera Sunset Boulevard appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Sunset Boulevard (2000). Mixed media© Julian Napier
A photo of a paint and mixed media collage design for the opera Les Misérables appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Les Misérables (2002)© Julian Napier
“The pleasure I felt when designing for the stage was mixed with an irresistible desire to make pieces of my own,” says Napier, who also delights in costumes and steel sculptures.

“For most of my life, I have been inextricably linked with the theatre. It has inevitably become an indelible part of my imagination, and subconsciously the key inspiration for many of my other pieces.

A photo of a circular grey metal sculpture design for the opera Beached at Troy appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Beached at Troy (1997). Bronze© Julian Napier
A photo of a light brown sculpture design for the opera Jesus Christ Superstar appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Jesus Christ Superstar (2000-2015)© Julian Napier
“A number of these were, of course, made decades ago, but part of the collection has only just emerged.

“All the creations on display have been produced with the same level of invention and energy that led to the origination of some of my most celebrated work. Each item holds a natural individual authority.

A photo of a horsehead-shaped metal sculpture design for the opera Beached at Troy appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Equus Horsehead (2015)© Julian Napier
A photo of a grey metal sculpture design for the opera Beached at Troy appearing at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and designed by John Napier
Bird of Prey (1996). Bronze© Julian Napier
“When combined together, they display the specific nature of my passion to devise a gallery show that creates a bridge between art and the stage.

"This exhibition is a significant milestone, challenging the notion of a gallery or theatre space to produce an innovative arrangement.

“I wanted to produce a circle of life, a journey beyond the fourth wall into a stimulating, exciting space. This is not a place to stop, but a place from which ideas can grow.”

  • Stages is at Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne from November 29 2015 – January 30 2016. Tickets £5/£3.50.

Nottingham Contemporary
The autumn exhibition features four interrelated solo exhibitions, all with a connection to performance, theatre and film: Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz from Switzerland and Germany, Rana Hamadeh from Lebanon and the Netherlands and Danai Anesiadou from Greece and Belgium. Runs October 10 — January 3.

Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery

The winter exhibition, The Magical World of Masks and Puppets, includes masks from Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Italy and from mainstream actor training. Runs October 26 — January 17.

Tate Modern
, London
Continuing Tate Modern’s acclaimed reassessments of key figures in modernism, Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture will reveal how motion, performance and theatricality underpinned his practice. It will bring together major works from museums around the world, as well as showcasing his collaborative projects in the fields of film, theatre, music and dance. Runs November 11 — April 3.
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