Robert Mapplethorpe in Eastbourne! Who'd have thought the South Coast town would put on an exhibition of photos by New York City’s Bad Boy gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe! But that's saying more about my own preconceptions about Eastbourne as a town for the retired: "Dover for the continent Eastbourne for the incontinent".
It was a brilliant autumn day that we drove along the coastal road from Brighton, through Rottingdean (another South Coast place which I've revisited many times now that Maurice lives there and found it to be more than the village of the "local shop for local people") and Saltdean (now with the lido protected, restored and seemingly safe from demolition). Peacehaven also is more than the post World War One new town where the houses are laid out on a grid so the people are just a step away from being in the grid of a cemetery.
We approached Eastbourne from the Downs around Beachy Head, The coastline curves around - East bourne presumably being derived from something like East-facing river mouth, Bourne meaning river in Saxon, if you can believe Wikipedia - and dropped down to the sea front and the restored Victorian pier. "Dover for the continent Eastbourne for the incontinent" immediately had a ring of truth to it; Terry found that a good number of the steps and paths had useful hand grabs and that there were lots of people with walking difficulties.
Maybe it also shared the "Greoux effect" with the spa town in Provence also with a reputation as a haven for old people taking the cure; Greoux also seems full of families and youngish well to do people if you visit on Sunday morning, but later on Sunday you see them all leaving Mum or Dad at the spa for their holiday and by Sunday evening it's just the oldies. Anyhow the Victorian tea rooms on Eastbourne’s lovely old pier were as full as the carveries in the big hotels along King Edward's Parade. The actual families with kids were out shopping in the surprisingly capacious indoor shopping centre. Nice railways station with more of an air of Victorian or Edwardian seaside holiday than a functional commuter transport pole; journey time to Clapham junction about a quarter of an hour longer than from Brighton station. All in all, like Hove might like to think it is but isn't, actually.
And the Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Towner gallery, after not a bad chocolate cake in the cafe there; same prices as Peter Jones in Sloan Square but rather than looking out over Knightsbridge we sat out on the Towner's balcony overlooking the tennis club, college and looking over towards the cars parked high up and far away on Beachy Head.
Robert Mapplethorpe's actual prints turned out to be printed very bright, so the highlights were just printed to loose detail. He often used the technique often used on female portraiture but on male sitters, which gives them either an androgynous character or a scary weird look. Not many of his erotic images and none which haven't already become familiar and really there's not much more to be said about them (except, this being a photography exhibition, each image of course had to have a 200 word curatorial description, quite a lot of which missed the point and context in my view. For example, a set of polaroid self portraits were clearly "trade photos" for sending as part of a response to personal contact advertisements. That's what we did in those days, the dilemma was always did one send out the best of the photos or did one keep the best... seeing as how the rate of returning such photos was always pretty dismal, possibly the more attractive the photo, the more likely it was that it was not returned.)
Some realisations of his designs for sculptures, pentangles (that were popular in the seventies and eighties, I put one in studs on the denim of my own bike cut-offs) and something that looked very like their Star Trek arrow. The curatorial notes just mentioned it as a design for an arrow, which was typically missing the point: the colour and shape are Star Trek, was Robert Mapplethorpe a trekkie as well as a leather sadomasochist (not meaning to imply anything wrong with either but interesting to know); did he design the arrow that became the icon for the Starship Enterprise?
It was refreshing to see real prints of these images that are now familiar but there was nothing new except seeing the collection/selection in one place and the realisation that even Mapplethorpe has moved from being banned in the nineteen eighties to being presented in a seaside town, albeit in an open-minded gallery on the South Coast not far from one of the campuses of Brighton University rather than the Town Hall of a northern mill town.
Back out in the autumn sunshine it seemed the town was still quite quiet with lots of space between the houses in the tree-lined street. We finally seemed to have got the hang of the avowedly non-orthogonal street layout and found Terry's car without a further extended exploration.