Eric Meadus (1931 – 70)

draughtsman and painter, revealing the numinous in the commonplace

Eric Meadus came from one of Southampton’s 1920s – ’30s estates, established during the blossoming of the Garden City movement, known locally, after the street-names, as The Flower Roads (he was born in Rigby Road, Portswood, but his family soon moved to Lobelia Road).  Despite its current reputation, when new these were quality affordable homes, built to noble ideals, and making real the edifying principle of green spaces within sight of most properties.
From an early age, Meadus showed an aptitude for drawing and became a truly accomplished draughtsman (and a trained technical one).  His early passion was for music, an interest he never lost.  After National Service, during a European coach-trip he met, and must have fallen for, a Canadian woman who opened his eyes to the work of van Gogh, and maybe other Post-Impressionists.  Probably in hope of this blooming, he upped sticks to Toronto for about 18 months, where – with no access to a piano – he had to find some vent for his creative energies;  it was probably also a displacement-activity to cope with the lack of romantic success.

Back home, his paintings attracted attention from the first time he exhibited in mixed shows, especially at the city’s Art Gallery.  His employers, Pirelli General, were lucky enough to be able to call on his talents as a
cartoonist for their national house magazine Cable.  Though never out of a job, Meadus considered work
an interruption to the true business of life, which was the pursuit of creativity.

Although his drawing is assured, he had to learn (and to struggle for over a decade) to become a painter.
Because he died aged only 39, his artistic span was at most only 13 years, during which time, it is esimated
he may have produced some 1000 works.  Due to storage-limits, he destroyed copious quantities,
considering the work done to refine his technical craft mere exercises, though some are of high quality.
Almost until his final year, his ‘paintings’ were really coloured drawings.

Much of his output features the Swaythling houses, other distinctive buildings and open spaces from his home patch.  Initially, these were quite reality-based [see above] but, as his vision matured, he began to create fantasy landscapes, implanting other (usually actual) buildings into invented layouts of the Flower Roads housing [see right:  a Flower Roads corner house is sited next to the passenger shelter from the old Floating Bridge access-ramp;  between them is either a fanciful version of the Sayer Monument further up the slipway, at the original tram-terminus, or an enlarged detail of the short clock-tower which topped the shelter (or even, possibly, an abstract from Bitterne Triangle’s clock-tower, miles away, which was built with Sayer’s bequest money, to a similar design.  Meadus essayed it in situ several times).  All these may be on the end of Hythe Pier, or Town Quay, or an imagined landing-stage.  And all that historical information wouldn’t have bothered Eric one bit!]

“The First” Gallery owns a substantial part of Meadus’s oeuvre including a few of his later, most individual, works.  Through a series of exhibitions, it is gradually selling those surplus to the requirement of keeping a representative collection in accessible places.

Southampton City Art Gallery holds over half a dozen Meadus line drawings and some three dozen paintings.  They show these as occasion and space permit.  Meadus’s earliest one-man exhibition at “The First” was in May 1985 (the Gallery, as a full-time, open-by-appointment venture was launched on the back of it;  his input into the first two tiny Xmas shows in 1968 & ’69 planted the seed from which the whole thing started).  After a later show, in Spring ’96, a permanent Meadus Alcove was set up.  There are now five large Meadus collections, including private ones in Ireland / France and Brighton.

“The First” Gallery’s aim is to build Eric Meadus’s posthumous reputation until he is as well-known as he deserved, and to disperse a majority of his work onto the walls of art-lovers everywhere, so that it may be enjoyed as he intended.

This intro hardly scratches the surface of Meadus’s multi-faceted aesthetic concerns, which encompassed music, writing, designing educational games, and – briefly – carving.

In 1996, Meadus’s drawings were displayed in the foyer of the City Art Gallery;  in 1999, there was a major show, in two stages over the whole summer, of his Southampton-based works, in Tudor House Museum.  In 2011, a small development of social housing, next to Swaythling Station (an oft-covered subject, all his artistic life) was named Eric Meadus Close.  Spring 2014 saw almost two gallery-spaces devoted to him in Southampton City Art Gallery for a display, curated by “The First”, as part of SCAG’s exhibition Artists in Tandem:  Eric Meadus with LSLowry / Larry Wakefield with Roger Hilton.


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