The Keep Frieze

Lewes-based artist, Carolyn Trant, has designed a concrete frieze which wraps around the top of the external walls of the repository block of The Keep. The frieze represents the landscape and traditional activities of East Sussex,

Reproduction of frieze displayed in The Keep entrance area

Reproduction of frieze displayed in The Keep entrance area

from Hastings and Eastbourne to Lewes, Brighton and Hove.  

Carolyn has an international reputation for her woodcut books with hand cut texts, and these techniques have informed her approach to The Keep frieze. She has an in-depth knowledge of East Sussex, having studied and interpreted aspects of the county’s archaeology in her art over many years. For this project, Carolyn drew inspiration from The Keep’s original documents and historical themes, as well as artists such as John Piper, Eric Ravilious and Peggy Angus, all of whom are featured in the archive.

Carolyn chose to highlight motifs including: a bathing machine, a train, a viaduct and a seagull to represent Brighton & Hove; a Sussex village church; a Sussex Southdown sheep and dewpond; the ancient chalk image of the Long Man of Wilmington; a lighthouse to represent Beachy Head; fishing and the net-drying huts of Hastings; ironworking, hops and oasthouses for the Rye area.

As the commission for the frieze required tonal rather than linear representations, Carolyn created her images using paper cutouts. These were then digitised, using four tones of grey, so that the tones could be recreated on concrete panels by different widths and densities of vertical lines, running from the top to the base of each panel. The frieze was fabricated by Thorp Precast in Stoke-on-Trent, employing a very new technique, in which rubber moulds based on Carolyn’s digitised illustrations were used to cast the concrete. The frieze has been installed to take maximum advantage of the strength and position of the sun, which plays an important role in the visibility of the images. When the sun comes out, the tonal contrasts immediately give the motifs an astonishing prominence.

Several images from the frieze have been replicated in colour on large-scale original screen prints in The Keep foyer. Motifs from the frieze also appear on bespoke, thick-pile rugs for use in the education space.

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