colour swatch. detail
contents paramour. dav id wightman
alt haus behemot candida
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page. 40–41 page. 52–53 page. 82–83 page. 58–59 page. 48–49 page. 32–33 page. 64–65 page. 102–103 page. 68–69 page. 88–89 page. 76–77
in conversation with david wightman
i am home mater dei secret name skunk hour
mea bella mea cara
preparatory work. detail
foreword paramour. dav id wightman
David Wightman effortlessly moves between abstraction and representation. His constructed landscapes are striking and thought-provoking, occupying a space somewhere between reality and fiction. Inside this augmented reality, Wightman’s work is an astute observation of the current state of play. With a visual language that encapsulates both positive and negative spaces, Wightman’s landscapes reject realism in favour of possibility. Although they never feature people, and evoke a sense of isolation, their minimalistic stance is defiant. Through a bold colour palette, Wightman tempts the imagination, ultimately demonstrating the potential of colour in works such as Teton (2012) and Behemot (2011). In Teton the river is so dramatically green, powerfully dictating an immediate contrast. This is the defining moment in which Wightman’s work transcends distant mountains and serene lakes, becoming something visceral and otherworldly. Using wallpaper and acrylic, it cannot be denied that Wightman’s works are full of texture, moving his practice beyond landscape painting, and giving it physicality. As one of his signature materials, wallpaper plays a key role in his oeuvre. He began working with it over a decade ago and, like a faithful friend, it has progressed with
him from abstract paintings that politely nod to Kenneth Noland and Ad Reinhardt, to beautiful landscapes that pay homage to Caspar David Friedrich, Gerhard Richter and, in some ways, Andy Warhol. Wightman’s work sits within many cultural and historical disciplines, but there is a redeeming critical distance that distinguishes his work from paintings of the past. However, there’s more to the wallpaper; Wightman precisely hand cuts each piece, delicately layering the paper onto the canvas. Evoking domesticity within this realm, Wightman’s work negotiates boundaries, pushing landscapes in a new and exciting direction, which takes viewers on an intense and personal journey. The paper itself recalls the artist’s childhood home in Stockport in the 1980s, exuding a bilateral mix of nostalgia and aspiration. In today’s visual culture, there are few restrictions, which often creates bodies of work without cohesion; however with Wightman this concern is never called into question. His interdisciplinary approach and commitment to painting’s independence is
refreshing and, in many ways, inspiring. In a genre with a determined meaning, Wightman provokes questions about society, reality, invention and truth. These mountains represent an idealised place - one of serenity, purity and devoid of human contact - but there is tension because Wightman inadvertently lulls us into a false sense of security. Where are these landscapes? It’s a question he’s continuously asked, but a bigger question ensues: does it really matter? You must spend time with Wightman’s paintings; on the surface they are beautiful and intricate, but like the layers they are made from, there is so much depth to these works – they contemplate not only artifice, but also the natural versus the manmade. His combination of craft and skill redefines genres and blurs meaning. As an emerging artist, this show at Halcyon Gallery is his first major foray into the international art world, but it’s only a matter of time until David Wightman justifiably gains wider recognition.
Cherie Federico Editor Aesthetica Magazine
david wightman at work in his london studio
dav id wightman in conversat ion
Excerpted from an edited interview of artist David Wightman by Judith King, curator of English Heritage’s contemporary art programme. The discussion was recorded before Wightman’s solo show Paramour by Simon Quintero of Halcyon Gallery at Wightman’s studio in Hackney Wick, London. JK: Is it important to you that the traces of the story, the beginnings of each painting, are not present in the final piece? DW: Not necessarily, but I like the idea of presenting cartoons alongside finished pieces in Paramour. The finished pieces don’t attest to the laborious nature of the process of making them, and the cartoons can only hint at part of the process. So much of what I do involves drawing, and re-drawing, along with intricately cutting every single piece of wallpaper used to make up the painting by hand – like traditional marquetry. I like the illusion created in the finished pieces – their opacity, in a sense. I still don’t like revealing source images, however, as I don’t want people to think of my paintings as variations on an ‘original’ image.
SQ: People have suggested to me that they recognise a mountain range in one of your idealised landscapes. What would you reply to that? DW: I try to be honest and say my work is based on found images (photographs, paintings, postcards etc.) of real places. But the source image has been changed and reworked, so the final piece becomes fiction. Especially as I use different images for the same painting – the paintings are collaged materially and representationally. I see my paintings as depicting idealised archetypes rather than specific places. JK: [indicating a cartoon in the studio] Making cartoons is a very traditional way of creating paintings. DW: I like that – I use all of these old terms: cartoon, modello, ricordo – it’s evidence of my sentimentality. Despite using digital software, I still use a sketch book to work out and record colour, and I use cartoons rather than a projector to scale up drawings. I also have colour swatches for every finished piece.
painting. I see the paintings as vehicles for colour and form and texture. I’m interested in the tradition of landscape, but I feel my paintings have more in common with the work of Bridget Riley than John Constable. JK: That’s an interesting area to explore: you’re hovering between formal aspects of painting and nostalgic representation. The spatial aspect of the work is intriguing, recalling colour-field abstraction and romantic landscape. DW: In some ways the spaces represented in my landscapes are quite ‘prop-like’, they almost suggest two-dimensional spaces, rather than three-dimensional spaces. Elements of the composition sit in front of each other as flat planes. The represented space doesn’t quite make sense, nor does the colour – skies are dark and lakes are bright. There is something eerie in my use of colour, but the pieces still have to be convincing as landscapes. I don’t want them to veer into sci-fi or fantasy. Some pieces show recognisable mountain ranges, but, despite similarities to actual places, the paintings represent fictional destinations.
JK: It sounds as though you are nervous about that?
DW: Only because I don’t want viewers to obsess about the location of a source for a
judith king with david wightman at his london studio 2012
paramour work in progress. studio shot
JK: How long is it since you stopped making target paintings?
DW: I don’t feel that I have stopped. To me they are an endless series that I can go back to at any time. JK: You hover between structured, strong abstraction and this liminal dreamlike place of emotional attachment, recognisable but not specific. There is a see-saw effect going on in your work, for the paintings are one thing and then the other. They come together as powerful works, each in their own right. Do you not see the landscapes as abstract? DW: In one sense they are, but there is still a definite element of representation in my work. I see them as abstract in the sense that many of the concerns I had in my earliest abstract paintings – to do with colour, line, form – have carried over. Yet, I still want my landscape paintings to read as actual landscapes – I want the fiction they represent to be believed. We have a river that is a bright, acidic green in this piece [Teton, 2012] but, nonetheless, I want it to read as a river – I am not letting go of the representative aspect. JK: Do you think having a starting point like a landscape helps to explore formal ideas that are normally more easily recognised in abstract paintings? Do you see a distinction between abstraction and representation?
DW: To me the distinction has become less important, and I like the idea of my paintings moving closer to abstraction. When I first began to explore making landscape paintings it was in a similar way to how I approached my abstract works. I was also interested in approaching a genre of painting that had fallen out of favour in contemporary discourse. I noted that no-one talked about landscape, even though it has such a long tradition. JK: The visual language you use and the things that are important to you demonstrate to me that you are a painter and a draughtsman first, before being labelled as any particular kind of painter or draughtsman. Can you see where the work will go in the future? DW: I want it to progress naturally. Landscape and abstraction have been present in my work for some time – I like the tension between representing something and simply wanting to experiment with colour and other formal aspects. I look at colour and form and composition, and, to me, it isn’t important whether I’m painting landscapes or abstract paintings.
JK: I think you’re describing the formal side of painting excellently. I totally agree with you about abstraction and representation. Whether we’re looking at a Riley or a Turner painting, they are both about surface. We haven’t mentioned the wallpaper, which I am sure a lot of people notice. Tell me why you use wallpaper. DW: When I started making abstract paintings, I liked the idea of re-working abstract motifs – getting beyond the seriousness of abstraction by using wallpaper. I used wallpaper similar to the wallpaper my childhood home was decorated in. I wanted to reclaim abstraction and make it personal, almost biographical. JK: The wallpaper helps you to accentuate movement on the canvas, and I think you’re using it as a drawing device as well as employing it for personal reasons. I’d like to talk about wallpaper as a thing in itself, because I am interested in your attachment to wallpaper as evocative of memory. There is something here about emotion, place, time, and the past. You’re the youngest in your family?
DW: The youngest of six.
JK: That must have been a busy house.
DW: When people hear I’m the youngest of six they imagine a busy house, but in fact it was relatively quiet and I had a lot of time on my own. Being the youngest I didn’t feel any pressure, so I spent all of my time drawing and painting, and it was easy to hide away and not be disturbed.
in 2010]. How much do you feel the place influenced your work?
a painter and being alone there. I’ve tried to capture this feeling in my work.
DW: The beauty of the place and the absence of distractions [Berwick-upon-Tweed is a small coastal town on the border between Scotland and England in Northumberland] was disarming. I could feel myself being affected by the winter, the darkness, and the cold. The atmosphere of isolation and aloneness was bleak and a little depressing. Before going to Berwick I think I was trying to capture a feeling in my work but didn’t really know what that feeling was. I experienced it first-hand in Berwick though. A strange sense of melancholy and silence.
JK: Is there a sense of nostalgia for that place and time?
JK: What are your earliest memories about looking at paintings?
DW: Definitely. It is only now that I’m back in London that I can appreciate the impact the residency had on the way I approach my work. JK: With the Royal Academy showing David Hockney’s landscape paintings, this is an exciting time for you to be exhibiting landscapes too. There is a particular luminosity in Hockney’s art that relates to yours.
DW: I remember being taken to Manchester Art Gallery as a child, and it was the first time that I had seen any art. The collection had a heavy focus on the Pre-Raphaelites; I had an obsession with fantasy art as a child, so it was easy to appreciate John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs. JK: You display a self-consciousness in liking those paintings [the work of the Pre-Raphaelites]. They’re fantastic and gorgeous because they’re illusionistic. They make the viewer believe something, taking one into a world that is emotional and nostalgic. I see the same appeal in your work too. I want to touch on your time in Berwick [Wightman was awarded a six-month fellowship by English Heritage in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland
JK: It occurs to me that there is a certain mournfulness in your work.
Judith King and David Wightman
Paramour opens on 19 April 2012 at Halcyon Gallery, 24 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QQ.
DW: I think that’s the right word. ‘Mournfulness’ was the feeling I was interested in capturing in my work before Berwick. Not something dramatic like despair or tragedy. In Berwick I occasionally walked to Spittal Beach on my way home late at night. I would hear the waves roaring against the promenade, and feel a romantic sense of being
david wightman in studio
paramour. dav id wightman
behemot. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 144 x 300 cm
alt haus. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 73 x 100 cm
alt haus. detail [above]
alt haus. 2011 [right] graphite on paper 56.5 x 76.5 cm
mea cara. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 161 x 215 cm
mea cara detail [above]
mea cara. 2011 [right] graphite on paper 56.5 x 76.5 cm
duomo. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 83 x 99 cm
mater dei. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 59 x 59 cm
kokoro. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 91 x 117 cm
kokoro. detail [above]
kokoro. 2011 [right] graphite on paper 56.5 x 76.5 cm
candida. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 115 x 135 cm
beatrix. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 58 x 58 cm
penobscot bay. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 170 x 195 cm
mea bella. 2012 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas ø 120 cm
mea bella. detail
i am home. 2009 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 51 x 51 cm
loreley. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 135 x 230 cm
c. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 72.5 x 72.5 cm
protokletos. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 78 x 110 cm
protokletos. detail [above]
protokletos. 2011 [right] graphite on paper 56.5 x 76.5 cm
homage. 2009 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 51 x 51 cm
zauberberg. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 177 x 241 cm
zauberberg. detail [above]
zauberberg. 2011 [right] graphite on paper 56.5 x 76.5 cm
secret name. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 98 x 98 cm
v. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 185 x 315 cm
term. 2008 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 39 x 39 cm
pietà. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 101 x 101 cm
hylas. 2012 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 93 x 131 cm
83. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 64.5 x 64.5 cm
vesperbild. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 79 x 117 cm
elene. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 69 x 69 cm
odalisque. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 111 x 147 cm
xli. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 51.5 x 51.5 cm
teton. 2012 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 107 x 160 cm
magic mountain. 2011 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 92 x 116 cm
magic mountain. detail
paramour. 2012 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas 150 x 300 cm (diptych: each panel 150 x 150 cm)
first-called. 2012 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on canvas ø 110 cm
skunk hour. 2010 acrylic and collaged wallpaper on linen 72.5 x 72.5 cm
homage to loreleia, berwick gymnasium gallery, berwick-upon-tweed, northumberland
br it i sh, b. 1980 Contemporary artist David Wightman builds layers of hand-cut wallpaper and paint to create both abstract and landscape paintings in a method similar to marquetry. He has made a career out of the pursuit of hybridity in an attempt to occupy ‘the space between abstraction and landscape, high art and low, the home and the gallery.’ 1
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland (2011), Secret Name at Sumarria Lunn / Art Work Space at the Hempel, London (2010), Behemoth and Other New Paintings at Cornerhouse, Manchester (2009), Aspirations – New Paintings at William Angel Gallery, London (2008) and New Work at Found Gallery, London (2007). Art Fairs include the London Art Fair (2010 and 2011), KIAF – Korea International Art Fair, Seoul (2010), and the Venice Biennale (2009). He has been shortlisted for the Fringe MK Painting Prize, Milton Keynes (2010), the CUBE Prize, Manchester (2008), the Celeste Art Prize, London (2006), and the Jerwood Artist Platform at the Jerwood Foundation, London (2003). Wightman was a finalist for the Lexmark European Art Prize, London (2003), and winner of the Hunting Art Prizes Young Artist of the Year at the Royal College of Art, London (2003).
applies the wallpaper, then sands and primes the work, ready for painting. He states wistfully that the process is ‘far more labour intensive than the end product suggests.’ 3 Wightman’s abstract works are simpler, with the colours and forms worked out first in small modelli on paper; his landscapes are originated from found images, re-worked digitally and then transferred as cartoons to canvas before collaging and painting. The imagery seems familiar and beautiful but in fact is fictitious. Landscape and abstraction intrigue Wightman as genres because they have both fallen out of favour in contemporary art discourse. He sees the strong emphasis on geometry in his work as a ‘lament to geometric abstraction’. His take on established genres that art criticism has declared as obsolete – sometimes ironic, sometimes mournful – results in an homage to nostalgia and homeliness. As he puts it, ‘my work is an attempt to reclaim abstraction and landscape on my own terms.’ 4 In 2010, Wightman was awarded a fellowship in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, by Berwick Gymnasium Arts Fellowship, English Heritage. His solo exhibitions include Paramour at Halcyon Gallery (2012), Homage to Loreleia at Berwick Gymnasium Gallery,
Born and raised in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Wightman studied Fine Art at Middlesex University and then gained a Masters in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London. Fuelled with references to his own background, Wightman’s paintings include ‘kitsch’ connotations which are imbued with nostalgia. He takes wallpaper, an everyday material, and elevates it in an attempt to make the viewer think differently about it. Wightman admits that the wallpaper has a personal connection, as he grew up in a house papered with ‘aspirational wallpaper’. 2 The material reminds him of his past and has parallels with Andy Warhol’s homage to Campbell’s Soup in his art. Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich and Ad Reinhardt, Wightman creates his landscape and abstract paintings using a systematic process that relies on craft and discipline. Every work is made from individual pieces of wallpaper, painstakingly cut with a surgical scalpel and placed side by side, never overlapping. After stretching a canvas, he
1 Introducing Hybridity by Donna Marie Howard, (Who’s Jack, Issue 4), November 2010 2 Q&A with Sarah Kendall, People Like Me, December 2010 3 In conversation with Alli Sharma, Articulated Artists, January 2011 4 Q&A with Sarah Kendall, People Like Me, December 2010
paramour. dav id wightman
Yuki Aruga, Frances Giffard, the Wightman Family, Cherie Federico, Judith King, Jessica Long and everyone at Halcyon Gallery.
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Photographic credits: Cover and pages 2, 12, 20–24, 34–36, 45–47, 54–56, 72–75, 78–81, 84–87, 90–97, 99–101, 108–110 Jessica Long Pages 104–105 Colin Davison All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing from the publisher.
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