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Making your mark by commissioning new work

10th Jun 2019

This month Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, celebrates the 10th anniversary in their current building and opens a programme of new exhibitions to mark the occasion. We took a look behind the scenes of one of the special works that will launch the season on 15 June, Dance Diagonal. The work, also known as the Brewers Towner Commission, is a major new commission by Lothar Götz that envelops the entire gallery exterior in a rainbow of geometric colour. If you’ve been to Eastbourne recently it’s likely you’ll have seen the glimmers of colour begin to appear on the gallery façade ready for the launch this weekend.

We spoke to Towner’s Curator Noelle Collins about the inspiration and the process behind bringing this dazzling commission to life. Noelle has been a Curator at Towner since 2016 and has previous experience commissioning work for EVA International, Ireland’s Biennial of Contemporary Art, alongside curating exhibitions of existing work. She has led this commissioning project at Towner since it was initiated in 2018.

The Brewer Towner Commission is part of the ambition behind Joe Hill’s new directorship and programme strategy at Towner. Bringing fresh eyes to the organisation, he has recognised that whilst Towner has a rich and varied exhibition and events programme, it was not immediately apparent from the outside of the building what its function is, and that the organisation could be better signposted. There were practical considerations too; the building has been in its current location for ten years and whilst being a beautiful piece of architecture its exterior needed refreshing. How could its exterior also be used to engage people with art?

For this commission, Towner looked at their longstanding relationship with local company Brewers Decorator Centres, who have supplied paint for their exhibitions over many years and who are based in the same town as the gallery. Together they decided to produce an external painting commission and then looked at how they could open this opportunity to artists and designers to see what they might propose.

There were more than 60 submissions for the commission including those from local artists who knew the building and collection well, alongside national and international candidates.

The successful artist, Lothar Götz, German born but based in London and Sunderland, impressed the selection panel by presenting them with an eye-catching artwork in his application. He used a template of the building that was included in the application pack to illustrate his proposed design. They also took into consideration his experience, and his portfolio of previous work that showed examples of how he had realised past projects, even if they were not to the same scale as this commission.

A top tip from Noelle if you’re considering applying for a commission is to be well researched, and to look at the best way to answer the brief. With Lothar, he really engaged with the architecture of the building and of celebrating this above all other considerations, which was quite unique amongst the proposals they received. He also highlighted the importance of site visits, so that he could respond to the building directly. Lothar demonstrated a real eye for detail and a desire to see every ledge and alcove, treating the architecture with careful consideration. This approach also came across strongly in his application.

For Noelle, keeping the lines of communication open has been key to producing this commission. She ensured that Lothar met with the Towner team, Brewers, and had spoken with the mural painters about any changes to his initial designs. One of the first things that Noelle arranged was Lothar’s site visits – once he was on board with the commission. Soon after the announcement of his selection he visited and stayed for three days setting up a temporary studio space in the gallery, producing drawings in his sketchbooks and examining the building carefully, tweaking his drawings in response to the curves of the building. He has most recently been back to check on the final stages of the painting to examine the details and identify any snagging that needs to be done.

There was a lot of research and planning required before the artist was selected. Noelle was in touch with the London Mural Company since summer 2018 about the feasibility of a project of this scale. There were many Health & Safety considerations, negotiations with the Local Authority, and logistics management of teams of contractors. Before the artist could work with the façade it needed to be cleaned, and the pattern of the artwork to be mapped with string and masking tape. The weather has also been a consideration in planning the project, a flexible schedule was needed to provide contingency for rainy days. Noelle notes that it is worth investing time in careful planning for a project of such ambition.

The sponsors Brewers Decorator Centres are experienced in working on large scale building projects, but to work on an artwork is completely different. Lothar is an incredible colourist and makes precise paintings, which needed to be honoured in making the work. Brewers have had masonry paint specially mixed to match Lothar’s drawings and have carefully considered the special requirements for a commission of this size.

There has been a lot of attention around the commission already, given how eye-catching it has made the building. Whilst the gallery is preparing for a professional photographer to document this project, there is no hiding the commission from the general public, and there has already been a huge amount of social media posts of the artwork. There have been lots of positive and supportive posts on Instagram, and one photograph has even made it into a recent edition of The Guardian. If you happen to pop by do take your own picture and share it with @townergallery who are sharing the best ones on their social media platforms.

The Brewers Towner Commission will be launched on Saturday 15 June at the Towner Art Gallery’s summer party (6.30pm-late, all are welcome). The party also celebrates TEN: Towner curates the Collection, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s Sedibeng, it comes with the rain and Phoebe Unwin’s Iris. Eastbourne Arts Circle 2019 Sculptural Commission, where a Sussex based artist or maker will produce a 3D work for the gallery’s front window, will also open in July and Towner’s learning team’s Art School project will this summer offer opportunities for local artists to be resident in the space.

Image: Brewers Towner Commission: Lothar Götz, Dance Diagonal (work-in-progress), Towner Art Gallery, 2019. Photo: Eva Eastman.

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