We remember local printmaker, teacher and illustrator Robert Tavener
PUBLISHED: 07:33 05 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:07 20 February 2013
For almost 50 years Robert Tavener enjoyed a highly successful career as a printmaker, teacher and illustrator. Throughout this time he lived and worked in Eastbourne. Emma Mason, who owns a gallery in the town, recalls the man and his work
Robert Taveners images of the Downs, fields of poppies, flint barns and churches are evocative of Sussex. His home and studio was at the foot of the South Downs, an area of England that he felt gave him enough material to last him indefinitely.
I met Robert Tavener in 2003. I had recently moved to Eastbourne with my family and I was at the local auction rooms looking for a chest of drawers. Quite by chance I saw a collection of prints, including one called Sussex Boats by Tavener. I had studied art history and I liked prints; this image by Tavener really caught my eye.
A few days later whilst chatting to a picture framer I learnt that Tavener was a local man and lived just five minutes from me in Eastbourne. I went to meet him and we very quickly became friends. Over the next few months I helped him to organise his studio and his prints, which he was struggling to do. Robert and I, along with his daughter Mary, then made plans to ensure a future for his prints, something that had become a constant worry for Robert.
Born and brought up in Hampstead, north London, Tavener had always enjoyed art. As a boy he sat for hours making chalk drawings on the pavements. After school he took an office job for a short time before being called up into the army in 1940. He served in the Royal Artillery for six years and in the Second World War took part in the D Day landings at Arromanches, France.
It was at the end of the war, whilst still a soldier, that Tavener had the opportunity to pursue his love of art. For eight months, he studied drawing and painting at the College of the Rhine Army. This experience confirmed his wish to study art. On his return to London in 1946 he enrolled at Hornsey College of Art. Here, Tavener took a National Diploma in Design, specialising in lithography; he also gained an Art teachers Diploma.
After college, Tavener began his career as an art teacher, teaching for a few years in Kent. In 1953, now married, Tavener was delighted to get a job teaching printmaking at Eastbourne College of Art and Design. He and his wife Jane, and later a daughter Mary, set up home in Eastbourne, the place he was to spend the rest of his life. When I visited him in 2003 it was to the same house he had moved to almost fifty years earlier.
Tavener soon set up a highly regarded printmaking department at Eastbourne College of Art. His success and reputation grew and he was invited to teach printmaking at St Martins School of Art in London for a day a week, which he did for several years. During this time Tavener also worked as a freelance illustrator and received commissions from important clients such London Transport, Shell, the BBC and ICI. He became a well known illustrator designing front covers for Homes and Gardens magazines, the Listener, and Liliput as well as hundreds of illustrations for childrens books by publishers such as Longman, Penguin, and Methuen images people often remember seeing if they were at school in the 1960s.
His poster designs for London Transport in the 1960s are striking examples of his work. The poster of the Horse Guards from 1967 invites people to visit London and see the changing of the guards, the clinking magic of the household cavalry.
Tavener then produced a series of linocuts and lithographs of the horse guards some of his most bold and colourful prints. A number were purchased just last year for the permanent collection of the Palace of Westminster Collection.
Taveners output in printmaking was prodigious. He produced most of his prints, mainly linocuts and lithographs, on an old Albion Press cast in 1882. He made each print himself by hand, printing them in small limited editions. Tavener described his work as: English countryside and English architecture. Shape, pattern, colour, texture, design. In other words, my subject matter is a personal interpretation of the richness, variety, beauty, and the underlying relationship with the past, of our landscape and building.
He particularly loved the Sussex landscape and it influences much of his work. His images of the Downs, the farmland, the Sussex villages and the Sussex seaside were very important to him.
Tavener became Vice-Principal at Eastbourne College of Art where he worked until he retired in 1980. He continued making prints until the late1980s when the printing press became too heavy for him to use. He continued though to paint in watercolour. His prints have become highly collected and his work is held in more than 25 public collections including the Government Art Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He held over 35 solo exhibitions during his career and exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition every year for 34 years. A few years before he died he left a collection of his work to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.
Robert Tavener died in July 2004 after suffering a fall at his home. Since then I have exhibited Roberts prints and the recognition for his work continues to grow. Now I am delighted that a long overdue project to produce a book about Robert Tavener is complete. It has been a very important book for me to do and I hope it will take Roberts work out to an even wider audience.
The book Oh, Mr Tavener, I wish I had the Original! is published by Bread and Butter Press.Fully illustrated with more than 100 colour plates, it is available from the Emma Mason gallery and on Amazon. Price 20.00 (UK P&P 2).
The exhibition Robert Tavener; Celebrating a lifetime of printmaking Saturday 13th November
Saturday 11th December 2010
Emma Mason Gallery, 3 Cornfield Terrace, Eastbourne,BN21 4NN
Full details on www.emmamason.co.uk
or tel. 01323 727545.