I’m on a bus, hurtling over the hills at exhilarating velocity. An oxbow lake flashes into view: whereas geography was by no means a ardour, the sharp curves of the meandering river because it reaches the ocean at Cuckmere Haven demand my full consideration. The arresting view has featured in work by Eric Ravilious in addition to a Hollywood movie or two.
Gorgeous surroundings and its creative illustration are one of many attracts of the Sussex Artwork Shuttle – the bus’s official title – a brand new service that transports guests between Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery, the Seven Sisters Customer Centre simply outdoors Seaford, the picturesque villages of Alfriston and Litlington, Charleston (former dwelling of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant), and the brand new Charleston gallery in Lewes.
The initiative, launched by the enterprise consortium Sussex Fashionable final weekend and operating till 17 December, ties in with the Turner prize, which opens on 28 September on the Towner, the centrepiece of the gallery’s centenary 12 months. “Guests who come by prepare into Eastbourne need to see the countryside as effectively,” says Towner’s CEO, Joe Hill who, together with Charleston’s director, Nathaniel Hepburn, is driving the route with me. “The Sussex Downs is considered one of England’s most stunning landscapes and latest nationwide parks. This service connects it with our cultural heritage.”
At £2.50 for a hop-on, hop-off ticket, the 16-seater minibus gives good worth, operating 4 instances a day in every route from Friday to Sunday. “Greater than 98% of our guests come to Charleston by automotive in the meanwhile,” provides Hepburn. “So, it’s been a key aspiration for us to decrease this determine.” Admirably, it’s additionally run by volunteer drivers from an area organisation referred to as Cuckmere Buses.
Earlier than we depart, Hill whisks me previous the Towner’s hushed galleries, at present closed prematurely of the Turner prize, whose 4 shortlisted artists – Jesse Darling, Ghislaine Leung, Rory Pilgrim and Barbara Walker – work in media starting from movie and drawing to efficiency and sculpture. After gawping on the gallery’s dazzling geometric exterior, designed by Lothar Götz, we hop on the equally vibrant minibus. As we climb excessive into the nationwide park, Hill and Hepburn enthuse about how the area has lengthy attracted artists, from the Bloomsbury group to Peggy Angus and Grayson Perry. However the space’s ecology can be fascinating. “This chalk grassland has as a lot numerous life in it because the rainforest,” says Hill.
Medieval Alfriston is our first cease, the place we alight on the market cross, considered one of solely two remaining in Sussex. We tumble into the A lot Ado bookshop, which has two flooring and a “ebook bower” within the again backyard stuffed with cut price volumes. Its house owners, Nash Robbins and Cate Olsen, who moved from Massachusetts 20 years in the past, present me framed Vanessa Bell drawings and uncommon Victorian scrapbooks.
I may fortunately keep right here for the entire two hours till the following bus, however lunch is looking, so we stroll to The Star, constructed as a spiritual hostel in 1345. We haven’t time to go to the close by Rathfinney winery, however I strive its acclaimed pale pink fizz: dry and frivolously fruity. The meals menu contains smoked haddock croquettes, beetroot carpaccio and hen Milanese.
Again on the two.28pm bus, the following cease is remoted Charleston, the farmhouse the place the Bloomsbury group frolicked, and the place two new exhibitions open on 23 September to coincide with the Turner prize. One is by the British-born South Asian artist Osman Yousefzada and the opposite is a brand new Hockney exhibition exhibiting not often seen early drawings.
The final cease is Lewes, the place a stark new Charleston arts area opened final week in a former council workplace constructing. Alongside a free present by the modern artist Jonathan Baldock, the primary exhibition Carry No Garments: Bloomsbury and Style explores the “affect and legacy” of the Bloomsbury group on right this moment’s style. It options work, letters, private gadgets and clothes from EM Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Girl Ottoline Morrell and Duncan Grant, alongside catwalk creations by Dior, Burberry, Erdem and Fendi.
Curated by the style author Charlie Porter, it’s partaking and academic, with enlightening captions, notably for Grant’s eroticised portraits of his lover Paul Roche. “I used to be occupied with the queer, non-binary and trans communities that discover such a welcoming dwelling in East Sussex,” Porter tells me afterwards. “I needed to make a present that spoke to the previous and related it to the long run.”
It’s 5pm and the final bus of the day is ready. On the hour-long return to Eastbourne, I watch sheep grazing as we rattle up and down steep winding roads, earlier than the ocean comes into full view outdoors Eastbourne.
The resort is buzzing with an autumn of art-related happenings, together with Eastbourne Alive, a collection of public artworks and interventions by a dozen artists from Nadina Ali to Nathan Coley. On the design-led Port Lodge, the place I’m staying, an exhibition within the minimalist sea-view bar shows prints from the Turner sponsor King & McGaw’s assortment, together with former Turner prize artists Howard Hodgkin, Patrick Caulfield and Fiona Rae.
The city’s palm-lined seafront and backstreets are dwelling to extra high-quality consuming and consuming choices than I bear in mind on earlier visits. As dinner just isn’t served on the resort, my boyfriend and I devour rustic plates of crisp-skinned mackerel fillets and rosy native steak on the packed Skylark within the enticing Little Chelsea space, with its cafes, record-shop-cum-bar Vinyl Frontier (35 Grove Street), reside venue Printers Playhouse and secondhand bookshop Camilla’s (full with pet parrot). Close by is the native taproom Beerarama and an acclaimed artisan bakery, To The Rise.
What’s subsequent for the Artwork Bus? The hope is it’ll be the beginning of a everlasting service. The Towner is utilizing the venture to trial a cultural training centre, Black Robin Farm, within the South Downs (opening 2025), having secured funding from the levelling up fund. “It’ll be a 30-minute uphill stroll from the gallery,” says Hill, “and the bus can be necessary to get folks there in a visitor-friendly method – so it is a good strategy to take a look at if there’s an urge for food.”
Lodging was offered by Port Lodge (doubles from £85 room-only). Journey was offered by Southern Trains (singles from £6). Extra in regards to the Sussex Artwork Shuttle at Sussex Fashionable