The multi award-winning set and costume designer John Napier is to present his first major exhibition Stages at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne in November. Napier’s innovation and distinctive designs are responsible for some of the most iconic theatre productions: the horses in Equus; the barricades in Les Misérables; the helicopter in Miss Saigon; the outsize junkyard in Cats; and of course Starlight Express. Stages brings to life these iconic theatre designs through 3D art pieces, as well as presenting costumes, steel artefacts and sculptures.
Napier will take over the entire ground floor Exhibition Halls of the gallery and is approaching this exhibition in much the same way he would a theatre show: he is creating a ‘set’ for visitors to experience his artwork including ramps, false walls, a sunken floor and a sculpture garden.
Stages demonstrates Napier’s creative ingenuity and his ability to work with all medium, as his works employ a vast range of materials from bronze, fibreglass, moss, chrome steel and leather to earth, sand and concrete in their construction, each with a defined and particular purpose.
“The pleasure I felt when designing for the stage was mixed with an irresistible desire to make pieces of my own. For most of my life, I have been inextricably linked with the theatre. It has inevitably become an indelible part of my imagination, and subconsciously the key inspiration for many of my other pieces. A number of these were, of course, made decades ago, but part of the collection has only just emerged. All the creations on display have been produced with the same level of invention and energy that led to the origination of some of my most celebrated work. Each item holds a natural individual authority, however, when combined together, they display the specific nature of my passion to devise a gallery show that creates a bridge between art and the stage.
This exhibition has been a lifelong ideal and is a significant milestone. Challenging the notion of a gallery or theatre space to produce an innovative arrangement. I wanted to produce a circle of life, a journey beyond the fourth wall into a stimulating, exciting space - this is not a place to stop, but a place from which ideas can grow.” John Napier
Napier’s influence on theatre design during his 50-year career has been enormous. He began by studying under the influential designer Ralph Koltai at Central School and his career led him to create sets and costume designs for some of the longest running shows in London’s West End and on Broadway. Napier is an Associate Designer at the Royal Shakespeare Company and notable productions for them have included Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, King Lear, Once in a Lifetime, The Greeks, Nicholas Nickleby, Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan and Mother Courage. He has worked on multiple productions for the Royal National Theatre such as The Party (Olivier’s last performance at the Old Vic), Equus, Trelawny of the ‘Wells’, An Enemy of the People, Peter Pan, Candide, and South Pacific. Napier has designed for opera including Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera. He also designed the Captain EO video starring Michael Jackson for Disney, created and co-directed the spectacular Siegfried & Roy Show at the Mirage in Las Vegas, followed by Steven Spielberg’s film Hook.
John Napier’s design awards include four Oliviers from nine nominations, a BAFTA, and five Tony Awards for Nicholas Nickleby, Cats, Starlight Express, Les Misérables, and Sunset Boulevard. Napier is a member of the American Academy of Achievement, was elected Royal Designer for Industry in 1996 and is an Honorary Fellow of the London Institute.