The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill. An icon of modernist architecture, it was built in the mid 1930s with curved and streamed lines, high glass windows, a roof terrace and a spiral staircase that looks as if it’s been stolen straight out of an ocean liner.
The Pavilion was commissioned by the 9th Earl de la Warr, a left wing member of parliament whose family had built up much of Bexhill, providing housing for a hard-pressed working population in the 19th century. The town was developed as a tourist destination and a place of rest and recuperation for convalescents to take the sea air. The Earl’s aim was to create a true ‘People’s Palace’ of the Pavilion – an entertainment venue for the masses with a library, auditorium and cafe looking out onto the marine blues of Pevensey Bay – all with cutting-edge architecture and fitted with cool, contemporary art and design.
Like the waves, the fortunes of the De La Warr Pavilion have fallen and risen through the years. It faced closure due to war, economic depression and pandemic but has always risen again with the help of arts funding and the goodwill of the local community. Today it acts as a beacon of the arts on the British South Coast regularly hosting internationally acclaimed performers and visual artists.
And now also it hosts me.
I was commissioned to create a new mural for the rooftop foyer. The piece is a map of the area, of course, but instead of focussing on the Pavilion or Bexhill itself, I turned in the other direction and charted the sea instead. Using, as reference, Admiralty Charts – the official maps of the waters that sailors use – I mapped the beaches and bays, the sandbanks and rocks, the beacons, buoys and pipelines that all mariners need to know.
Filling the waves are features that connect Bexhill and the De La Warr Pavilion with the sea. The relationship is strong. It’s a border with the rest of the world and that, inherently, means its shores wash up visitors, refugees, immigrants and invaders. Many have influenced the history of the area and the building itself.
The sea acts as creative inspiration for artists and architects too.
Its waves and sunshine have provided respite for tuberculosis patients and war victims historically but also for those taking daily walks along the beach during the latest Corona Virus lockdowns.
As part of the newly created Marine Conservation Zone, it’s home to short snouted seahorses, dead man’s finger coral and dahlia anemones. And of course the effects of climate change raise questions about sea levels in the future.
The mural was created in pen and ink initially and then enlarged and printed on archival wallpaper by a specialist printer. It now graces the foyer wall and has also been adapted as a design for the outdoors terrace bar. I hope the people of Bexhill and those who visit, for whatever reason, enjoy the mural at the De La Warr Pavilion. Perhaps, as they head to the rooftop, they’ll look out at the glorious sea view and see it with fresh eyes.