|Eric Meadus Portrait of a Bowler Hat 1970 © ‘The First’ Gallery|
There are two exhibitions on here in Southampton at the moment of work by the local artist Eric Meadus (1931 to 1970). I went to see them both on Thursday with my Meadus-fan cousin who was visiting for the day. It was a lot to take in; I’ve seen exhibitions of his work before but have never seen so many paintings in one go. My thoughts are still a little scattered about them so I’m hoping that in writing this post, I can sort them out a bit.
I’m really interested in the idea that Meadus was on the cusp of making it big (the exhibition at The First Gallery is titled Eric Meadus – Almost a Meteor) when he died at the horribly young age of 39. He was qualified in technical drawing but other than that, had no artistic training and his creative period was a short fifteen years. What he lacked in art education, he more than made up for in determination and motivation and managed to produce a phenomenal number of drawings and paintings in that time. One can see the experimentation, study and drive in his work and how it progressed and matured over the years; so much so that his first solo show in 1969 sold out. He had come to the attention of LS Lowry who championed him, and galleries in London and Paris were interested in his work. In 1971, the year after his death, one of his paintings was exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. There can be little doubt then, that this self-taught artist had something. How cruel that he should die when he did.
I guess at this point I should say that up until now, I’ve kind of overlooked his work, but the more I see, the more I can appreciate it. Seeing so many of his later paintings at once helped me to see that actually, he was really good with colour and composition. He wasn’t afraid of colour like so many artists can be (myself included!) and had confidence in its use, a real sense of what worked with what. His sister died not long before him; the colours in the paintings around that time change to become sombre and desolate in turn. Brooding, dark blue skies hang over a church in one water colour; searing mustard heavens against the deep red church of another. Off-white expanses above and in the foreground suggest a wintery desolation in a third – not the crisp, bright white of fresh snow, the sort of snow young children happily cavort in watched by their contented parents. These paintings suggest rumination and maybe a preoccupation with death… churches, gravestones; symbols present… They remind me somewhat of the emotion in Van Gogh’s last paintings and indeed, Meadus was a big fan (tragically ironic that he would be just two years older than his favourite artist when he died – are there other parallels…?).
I am going to stop there for the moment as it’s getting late (for me anyway – rock ‘n’ roll kid that I ain’t) and my brain is beginning to seize up. Composition, his drawings, his motivation and drive; these I want to ponder here, so more on Meadus soon.