David presents his most recent oil paintings which have been informed by visits to Alaska and Iceland.
“The ice landscape is full of paradoxes: shrinking alarmingly and yet beautiful, in motion yet seemingly still. The sense of energy in a glacier is overwhelming and there is no term of reference as to scale or distance. It is ineffable and quite possibly unpaintable”.
My first real encounter with art was when, as a twelve-year-old boy, I visited an exhibition of Van Gogh’s paintings at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. It was a profound experience, and it has stayed with me for nearly 60 years. That’s where I understood just how powerful a painted mark could be: the feeling of contact with paint, with the artist’s hand, and with the subject. What Celia Paul describes as “making immediacy immediate”.
I was involved in art education for many years, and throughout that time I always painted. From the beginning, it seemed natural to me to respond to my environment and my experiences, so my first exhibitions were of paintings of urban environments in the north east of England, where I grew up. Later, after four years of teaching in Jamaica, my work changed to reflect the land and the lives of rural people.
To me the strongest experiences of being in the world are bound up with being in the landscape – with travelling, walking, or simply being there. I am an enthusiast of the process of gazing, which the photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper describes as his primary activity.
I have travelled widely. My most recent work has been informed by visits to Alaska and Iceland. The ice landscape is full of paradoxes: shrinking alarmingly and yet beautiful, in motion yet seemingly still. The sense of energy in a glacier is overwhelming and there is no term of reference as to scale or distance. It is ineffable, and quite possibly unpaintable.
I work in my studio, where I keep a big jumble of photographs and sketches that I refer to. These overlap like Hockney joiners, and are unrelated, making fictitious spaces. In moving between the easel and this jumble I feel I can establish an authenticity in my painting activity. Sometimes I can paint an experience without these props if the feeling I have is especially strong. On a trek coming down from the Annapurna Sanctuary I was involved in a multiple avalanche drama. Back home I painted several large canvases until I felt that one of these was right.
When I paint I try to make something that feels true to my experience of a place, true to the feel of it. Things evolve out of process – through an improvisational struggle, a kind of stumbling exploration with the paint. The painting that emerges has to be an image, not a representation. And it has to be as much about the paint itself as the place.
I am a member of the John Muir Trust and believe in Thoreau’s maxim that “in wildness is the preservation of the world”. Now that I have four granddaughters I feel especially strongly about what is happening to our planet. I am not a climatologist or an environmental campaigner; I just want my paintings to be part of the conversation.
This exhibition will be on display in the Sugar Store Gallery until 6th January.