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Eileen Agar included in new group show at Hastings Contemporary

May 28, 2021

Eileen Agar is among a number of leading artists to feature in a new exhibition at Hastings Contemporary that explores how the beach became an essential source of inspiration for British artists during the first half of the twentieth century.


Agar was heavily influenced by the sea, and spent much of her life, from the 1920s onwards, beachcombing. One of her most famous assemblages, Marine Object, comprises a Greek amphora, which Agar had retrieved from a fisherman's net in the south of France, along with crustaceans and flotsam found on a beach two years earlier, in Mougins. In another assemblage, Agar applied small sea shells to a painted human skull, and later combined a sea urchin and shell to make a single-standing sculpture, both of which are now in the Tate's permanent collection. Such creative and bizarre juxtapositions of found objects confirmed Agar's association with the Surrealist movement.


Agar's fascination with the sea also inspired a series of haunting black and white photographs, taken in 1936, of the extraordinary rock formations on the beach at Ploumanac'h. The artist returned to this subject matter some 50 years later, painting the same rocks in hallucinogenic, heightened acrylics. Other sea-inspired paintings include Bride of the Sea, of 1979, from which a 2016 retrospective at the Jerwood Gallery took its name. Now in the Government Art Collection, this large-scale painting combines symbolic forms such as fish and foliage, and transforms them into abstract, surrealist forms. 


Curated by John Russell, Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach runs from 27 May to 31 October, and includes work by Laura Knight, LS Lowry and Eric Ravilious.