Friday 6 July 2012

Eric Slater at the Towner

As part of an exhibition called 'A point of departure' the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne has dug into its collection and hung a room with twenty-five colour woodcuts by the Sussex artist Eric Slater. The spin they have put on Slater goes something like this: forgotten artist who had not been on show since the Normans invaded. As anyone who tries to buy a Slater on ebay will know, this is curatorial tosh. You don't normally have much change out of perhaps £150 if you do. And when he starts to look like Ian Cheyne, as he does with Spring (above) it may well be more. But with Slater it pays to be selective. He is hit-and-miss.


No matter. The old Towner used to be a nice gallery to visit. Now apparently they have a new one equally strong on British C20th and seeing so many of Slater's colour woodcuts together is probably an opportunity no one should really miss if you don't live too far away. Slater really is quite an appealing artist although I would normally balk at the prices. But if you want to have a go, Bellagraphica currently have A downland mill (below) for sale on British ebay which currently stands at £119. It won't stay there.


The exhibition runs untill 11th November, 2012, so you have lots of time. Be there, or be square.


  1. I would love to see that exhibition, but Eastbourne isn't exactly around the corner from where I live... I think in Slater's best works there is a complexity of colour and light (e.g. blues and greys in the sky, blues and greens in the sea) that keeps his woodblocks interesting to look at even after years of having them on the wall, at the same time capturing in perfect harmony the typical mood of the landscape in Southern England. But as you point out, he doesn't always succeeed in achieving this harmony: I am not too fond of the "Downland Mill" for that reason, for example.


  2. Some curators have no idea, Klaus. People are buying British prints literally from Munich to Monterey and they still churn out this drivel about 'Sussex artist' as if the only audience is a local one. They should at least get the things online.

    How many Slaters do you have? It will certainly be interesting to see so many prints together. I can see from what you say that having them in front of you makes a difference.

    But the school holidays are only just around the corner. Couldn't you tempt your wife with a shopping trip to London?

  3. Charles,

    I have only got one Slater, "Seaford Head", but this I like very much, as you can tell from my last comment. Unlike many other prints that I have bought and then sold again in the last couple of years, I am going to keep this one. I think with prints it's a bit like with people: It takes a while until you can be sure that you want to live with them. And I have to make choices for the lack of money and space to hang them (the prints, I mean).

    By the way: There is another Sussex Mill by Slater which I find far more appealing than the one that is sold on ebay at the moment.


  4. It still went for £211 and, as you say,it was far from his best. In the end the only worthwhile response to a print is personal judgement and all that entails. Even so, it's interesting to see your take on Slater and the way you identify with those southern landscapes of his. I think my response to Kenneth Broad is similar.

  5. Slater has always been one of those artists whose appeal isn't always immediately evident to me. His works tend to be flat, humourless and they are often lacking in warmth and heart. If I compare him to a plethora of other artists of the period who worked in the same medium, Slater doesn't really rate.

    I think in some ways, Slater knew what sold, and he knew how to create works that would sit nicely near the telephone nook of a cottage in Devon or Dorset. It's all very inoffensive but also uninspired.

    Ironically, the first image where he is clearly channelling Cheyne, is the most appealing to me. He has dabbled in a drop of cubism, and although it's too busy, and cluttered, I could imagine it on my wall. Lest you think me a miserable bastard who has nothing positive to say, there is one thing that Slater did and did well.

    Clouds. He got clouds and he understood how to make them create depth. He did something that many, many better artists never managed to master. I would also add, that it's about time for galleries to drag out their prints and start putting them on walls for people to see.


  6. Slater is to Sussex what Hall Thorpe is to bowls of primroses. Part of their appeal today is the obvious period feel. We can assume that Slater had discovered a successful style in the way Hall Thorpe did but the problem is we know alot less about Slater than we do about Hall Thorpe who was basically a backwoods prospector who turned up gold.

    I always used to put Slater in the naive category till I saw his bridge image. You can see from 'Spring' that he had learned something not only from Cheyne but from Cezanne. So, I was wrong. This means that pictures (not a word I would normally use!) like 'A downland mill' are pot-boilers. Sooner that than starve.

    But you can hardly blame him for doing what so many others were doing around him ie approaching his work like a textile, Frank Brangwyn being the leading culprit. Another problem is I have a copy of Ian Jeffrey's annoying little tome, 'The British landscape 1920 - 1950' where he disdains so much of the period and its artists, I tend to want to play devil's advocate just to spite him and others like him.

  7. I was going to write that Slater was very Hall Thorpe in his ideas, composition and his execution. Your turn of phrase is far more delicious. I might also suggest, that Slater has more in common with the British woodblocks of James Alphege Brewer (not his continental woodcuts) and I would still rate J.A.B. as being better at the technique than Slater.

    Ian Jeffrey is a patronizing smarm.

  8. Brewer was all-round an artier sort of person than Slater. The whole family were at it - his dad, his wife, his brother-in-law. He was also a Londoner and took a more sophisticated approach than Slater did. That said, he never escaped that late Victorian atmosphere. His woodcuts had finish but lacked character. But you like that period more than I do.

    This lack of enthusiasm probably explains why I get outbid when his work comes up.

  9. Your droll appraisal makes me laugh...both because it's accurate and because it cuts through the nonsense. I agree absolutely with you on Brewer, he was surrounded by art and artists in all it's many permutations. He was quite sophisticated and charming from what I have read, and his British woodcuts are surprisingly warm.

    Overall however, I dislike his works and I think those dingy cathedrals and endless medieval architecture are unappealing in every way. I think his weakness is, he clearly churned it out for the market and to put food on the table....there wasn't much taste for the struggling artist in the Brewer family. It shows.

  10. It always surprises me that people like Blaylock, Brewer and Slater would go to the trouble of making colour woodcuts as bland as Brewer's. I think the attitude was, 'Hokusai be buggered. We're not bothering with a keyblock. Too difficult.'

  11. James Trollope (curatorial tosher!)23 August 2012 at 11:15

    What a splendid disregard of the facts!
    There are 10 woodcuts on display not 25 (double vision perhaps?)
    Only one print comes from the Towner's collection, the rest are from the British Museum and various private collections.
    Slater is described as 'forgotten' because he died in complete obscurity in 1963 (a date newly uncovered) and this is his first show for 70 years.
    He's a Sussex artist in that he lived in Seaford for more than half of his life and most of his landscapes are within a 10 mile radius of his home.
    If you can't get to Eastbourne, there are more of his pictures on