More about the piers

I think it was Alan Bennet who said that your best ideas appear in the corner of your eye while you are looking for something else and so it was with the Piers Project. I had made a painting of Eastbourne pier many years ago for a commission and the idea of painting other piers had been in the back of my mind ever since. So it was that on a sunny day in the summer of 2017, I found myself in Bournemouth with time on my hands, a camera in my pocket, having lunch overlooking the pier.

I walked the length of the pier taking photographs and over the next few weeks made a side-on elevation painting of the pier. As Southsea is quite near me, it became the second painting and by the time I visited the third pier I realised that I had started a series.

As I live in Hampshire, it made sense initially to paint the piers closest to me. There are about thirty piers south of a line between Bristol and London, the exact number depends on how you classify a pier. I decided to keep my criteria simple – it had to stick out into the water and you had to be able to walk along it, if it fitted that spec, I would make a painting of it.

It would also be important that these were not to be simply paintings of structures, they were portraits of well-loved community hubs where people had made lifelong friendships, went to Saturday shows as kids, then had proposed, partied, spent lazy days fishing and had family outings, which may be lifetime memories.

It was therefore essential to spend some time on each pier to get to know them a little and where possible to chat to people who worked on them. If it had a café, I had to have coffee and cake there. I wanted to ensure that each painting held some memory of the day, or days, for me.

Every pier, from the grandest to the most modest has its own story. They have been blown up, blown down, knocked down, fallen down, burnt down, had boats knock them down and been the subject of bankruptcies and dodgy deals.

The weather and susceptibility for fires has resulted in piers changing shape on a regular basis. Many are far shorter than originally built, especially on the east coast, where the tide goes out a long way. Some change their colour scheme, others refurbished to locals delight or dismay.

I am not an architectural illustrator, there is no duty on me to paint exact representations of the piers as they are today, they may be different tomorrow. Instead, I try to paint the personality of the pier, as you might a portrait of an elderly distinguished gentleman, scrubbed up to look their best, but showing their past and in doing so I might overlook a slight blemish or two.

Extending the Project

I have a growing collection of old postcards. Many piers have gone through several changes over the years and the postcards are a good record of these changes. Other postcards are a record of long-gone piers.

If anyone has old postcards of piers that they no long want and would like to donate to the collection, I’d be grateful to receive them. I display the folders of postcards wherever I show the paintings.

In the notes that accompany the paintings I’m putting together just a few lines of interest that describes a little of their story and I hope that others will contribute to this collection. If anyone has anything they would like to add, again I would be grateful for contributions, reminisces, poems, interesting facts, anything that fits.

On the whole, I have included just one newspaper archive for each pier. Of the many articles I have read, I picked the one I found the most interesting. Some tell the story of an opening, others of a storm, one American one of a court case concerning civil rights issues revolving around a restaurant on a pier. These are just snapshots from the past.