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Leading artist and Towner curator celebrated with blue plaque

A blue plaque has been unveiled to honour the artist William Gear, one of the most important figures in post-war British art who was also curator of Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery.

The plaque, commissioned by Eastbourne Borough Council and The Eastbourne Society, is located at Gildredge Manor in Borough Lane, Old Town, where the gallery was based from 1923 to 2007, before it moved to its current home at Devonshire Park.

At the unveiling, the artist’s son David Gear shared family memories and anecdotes of family life at Gildredge Manor during his father’s tenure as curator there from 1958 to 1964.

He said: “An annual purchasing fund of £330 enabled the Towner to increase its permanent collection and this became an inadvertent but significant source of the gallery’s – and my father’s – notoriety.

“His stubbornness bore long-term fruit as he felt impelled to battle with the fairly Edwardian instincts of the purchasing committee, and this was not without costs to his health.

“Diagnosing the cause of an unusual rash on his arms, the doctor perceptively commented: ‘Mr Gear, it seems your committee is getting under your skin.’”

“However, by educating and cajoling them, he was often successful in acquiring modern works of art.”

William Gear, originally from Scotland, was one of the leading abstract British painters of his generation and produced some of the most radical and controversial compositions of the 1950s. He was the first British artist to present screen prints as works of fine art.

Councillor Margaret Bannister, Cabinet Member for Tourism and Leisure, said: “I’m delighted this plaque has been installed and that the town recognises the wonderful contribution William Gear made here. His acquisitions hugely enhanced the Towner’s reputation, making it one of the most forward-looking galleries in the country at the time.”

Published on 31 October, 2019