Eastbourne Christmas Open Houses

If you're thinking of buying art this year there's no better way to find the right piece than visiting the artists themselves. Jean Clark meets some of the talented folk taking part in this year's Eastbourne Christmas Open Houses

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ARE you hoping for a quiet Christmas this year? Just the two of you with a glass of champagne, the Queen’s message and It’s a Wonderful Life? Or maybe you’re planning a traditional bells-and-whistles lunch with family, friends and neighbours? Even so, you might be taken aback if a crowd of strangers knocked on your door and invited themselves in for a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie without even singing the first verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. But this will be the scene at more than 30 venues in Eastbourne on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 December, when more than 70 painters, jewellers, photographers, ceramicists, sculptors, embroiderers and other craftspeople welcome the public into their homes for the second Eastbourne Christmas Open Houses and Studios weekend. The Open House was the concept of Brighton artist Ned Hoskins who, in May 1980, formed the Fiveways Group and cajoled nine friends into filling his home with their creations. He invited the general public to enjoy art in an intimate environment and chat to the artists outside the detached atmosphere of a gallery and any pressure to buy. It was a phenomenal success and revolutionised people’s perception of art being an incomprehensible, elitist pleasure for the very rich. No longer did you gaze at a painting feeling you ought to like it; now you were free to say how much you loved it. Or even hated it. Over the last 30 years, this unique artistic movement has gained momentum with cities, towns and villages throughout East and West Sussex celebrating and encouraging the expanding wealth of local talent. If there isn’t an Open House or Art Trail near you, there soon will be.

Key manOne of the epicentres of the burgeoning Sussex art scene is Eastbourne, where the brains behind the success of the Open Houses scheme is Julian Sutherland Beatson. Artist, graphic designer, co-director of the Eastbourne Festival, salsa dance teacher and overall Renaissance man, he is one of the most popular and respected figures on the cultural stage. One featured artist says: “Where would we be without Julian? He keeps everyone happy,” while another said “his enthusiasm is infectious and support for the artists unbounded – I owe him a lot”. Julian passionately believes that Eastbourne’s flourishing artistic community deserves to be celebrated, supported and encouraged, so what better showcase for their talent than their own homes? Whether you’re hunting for that elusive, original, inexpensive Christmas present or just fancy browsing, chatting to the artists and mingling merrily with a glass of festive cheer, you’ll be assured of a warm welcome from the Eastbourne artists. Here, five of them give us an exclusive preview of what to expect. The doors are open, so come on in!

Sarah Jane WhittakerSarah’s sparkling personality and zest for life belie the fact that ten years ago, after quitting the legal profession and qualifying as a homeopath, she was diagnosed with MS and confined to a wheelchair for two years. Undaunted, she embarked on a journey of homeopathic self-healing during which she not only defied medical science by making a complete recovery, but regained a creativity and confidence that had been stifled at school. Designing and crafting jewellery became her new focus – she opened the Sussex Jewellery School in Berwick – and her belief in homeopathic remedies led to founding her own company, The Phoenix. This will be Sarah’s first Open House in Eastbourne and her exquisite silver and semi-precious jewellery will be for sale. But behind every beautifully-crafted piece is a story: Her Fly Me to the Moon silver and pearl pendant (illustrated) was inspired by a vivid childhood memory of floating in a pool at dusk when a bird flew across the full moon. “For a split second,” Sarah says “I was the bird and felt I could do anything at all with my life.”  Sarah will be joined at the Christmas weekend by fellow artists Gillian Bates and Grace Powell (textiles), Jo Thonger and Marion Brandis (ceramics) and Vicky Mappin (botanical artworks) and they’ll all be there to help you choose the perfect gift. “It’s so nice,” Sarah says “to give or receive a beautiful, original artefact lovingly handmade and bought in a welcoming, family home. And you can relax on comfy sofas over a cup of tea and homemade chocolate cake!”

Sarah Jane Whittaker, Treasures and Treats! at Cuckoo Cuckoo, 15 Addingham Road,  07...

Fiona MorrisonInspired by the ever-changing Sussex landscape there is a dream-like, evanescence, even a Chagall-like quality to Fiona Morrison’s paintings: “I hope they trigger memories within the onlooker of places and moments which are special to them,” she says. “Or you can simply admire them for their beauty. Born in Sussex, Fiona obtained a fine art and painting masters degree at Newcastle before moving to southern Spain, on to California and back to her spiritual home of Eastbourne, where she lives with her partner, four children, a dog and a cat. “The Open Houses gives us all a chance to discover the often hidden creativity that is happening in our communities within a relaxed, friendly environment,” she says. “As an artist, it allows me to share what I am doing and it  has been encouraging and inspiring. I’m also participating in the Hop Gallery’s Christmas show in Lewes, where I already have a permanent display at the Chalk Gallery. 

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Fiona Morrison and Franziska Wieser, 87 Willingdon Road,  01...  Patricia LathamLast year’s Christmas Open Houses in Eastbourne was magical for Patricia Latham as everyone who visited “was in festive mood enjoying all the treats and searching for that unique present.   “I had the added bonus of meeting new Sussex artist friends and being part of the buzz that is the growing art community along the south coast.” Visitors to her home and studio will get a buzz this Christmas too, as her striking assemblages of weathered flotsam and jetsam including her Winter Landscape (illustrated) will be on display close to Eastbourne’s beach, Patricia’s hunting ground. She beachcombs the coast every day from Hastings to Seaford collecting her washed-up bounty in a Waitrose bag for life. She has a passion for the bits of twine, rubber, rusty screws and wood that litter our shores. They are “twisted, wrapped, threaded, pulled, sewn, frayed, bound, cut, burnt, ground down and melted until they achieve their ‘altered state’ and are given a new meaning,” she says. “Realigning our observation of the everyday world.” For Patricia, “debris becomes a composition – a landscape or seascape juxtaposing light and dark with contrasts of texture, colour, proportion and scale. Canvases sometimes evolve from a particular item and lend themselves to a humorous twist. “Who Stole My Wetsuit? for example came to life when I found a discarded rubber leg on the beach,” she adds.

The work of Patricia Latham and fellow Eastbourne Group artists Val White and Ann Johnson will be on show at 4 Cranbourne Avenue,   07.... Val and Ann’s work will also be exhibited at the Casson Gallery, Eastbourne College, from 5-11 December.

John WarrenThe lady laced with lichen (illustrated) is affectionately known as Ivy and is one of John ‘The Potter’ Warren’s bevy of beautiful ladies who adorn his spacious  Edwardian house and studio in Old Town. His talented painter and Older Towner Project campaigner wife, Helen, being another. John, a member of the Sussex Guild, is particularly famous for his cheeky, corseted ladies modelled on Kate Moss and Liz Hurley but he is happy to oblige with a Chippendale man if you’re looking for somewhere to store your umbrella, walking stick or golf clubs! One couple bought a ‘his and hers’ with the date of their engagement on and their wedding day on the other. Another used one to deter a nosy neighbour, who did a double take on seeing Liz Hurley’s exposed boobs! As well his as the decorated torsos, John specialises in lavishly-decorated plates, ornamental bird baths, sundials, wall plaques and verdigris Celtic Green Men, whose hooded eyes stare back at you out of a face etched with scraffiti marks. All and more will be for sale and home-made cakes and refreshments will be in offer. Proceeds will go towards The Old Towner Project. Don’t forget to say hello to Charlie Dimmock in the turquoise bath on the way in! Louise BellCanadian-born Louise Bell will also be at John and Helen Warren’s (The Big House) on the first week in December spreading her lavishly-coloured, lovingly-embroidered patchwork quilts over every bed, banister and beam, the opportunity to display in a tranquil, domestic setting being very important to her. Psychic Garden (illustrated), is just one of the intricate creations which will be on display. Whether you are an experienced needlewoman or only once made a patchwork pin cushion at school, you’ll be lost in admiration at the detailed craftsmanship that goes into making these exquisite quilts. Louise displays that rare artistic magic of operating on a small scale while bringing everything to life as a whole. One of Louise’s main influences is her Canadian background, where the craft heritage is big.“But in the UK, craft and earning a living are proudly combined and there is a rich history of making a living from your work here,”she says. “That is no longer the driving force though and I do it for love and supplement my income with art teaching. “Canada is huge and beautiful, which I love, but standing on the Downs looking out to sea, Sussex is very beautiful, although I’d like more trees!”   As many artists have experienced, working alone can have its drawbacks and for Louise Open Houses offers a break from the solitude and the chance to mingle with other like minded types.   “We are quite a solitary species when it comes to work, so talking with other exhibitors, exchanging ideas and just having time out with other artists is good and John and Helen are so friendly and welcoming. I feel so relaxed there.”

John and Helen Warren, Louise Bell, Maria Suarez and Lynda and Ray Linfield (jewellery) and Habibe (textiles) atThe Big House, 49 Prideaux Road,

For further details of venues and artists participating in the Eastbourne Christmas Open House weekend on 5 and 6 December, contact  www.eastbourneartists.co.uk or 01....

Free colour brochures are available from libraries, school, hotels, galleries, restaurants and information centres.

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