Artist profile - Giles Davies
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 July 2019
Mike Smith meets Derby artist Giles Davies whose collage works contain a wealth of fascinating hidden messages
When I visited Giles Davies, the Derby landscape artist, he invited me to step into the chalet-like garden-studio where he was adding the finishing touches to a picture called 'Criccieth, the Breakers of Dawn'. Most of the elements in the colourful composition were already in place. There was a blue early-morning sky sprinkled with wisps of light cloud. The low light of dawn was illuminating the pastel colours of a jumble of buildings seeking protection beneath the walls of an ancient castle, whose outline could be seen as a distorted reflection in the bright-blue sea and in the frothing waves that were breaking onto the shore.
The final element to be added to this soothing portrait of the Welsh resort would be a depiction of the foreshore, where the wet sand had taken on a grey appearance. For this purpose, Giles had prepared a suitable 'palette', but not of a kind that would normally be used by an artist. Rather than setting out paints and brushes, he had collected various shapes cut out from the pages of magazines.
In line with the method he had used to compose the rest of his picture, Giles' next step was to make a collage of these shapes by fixing them onto his composition with 'contact adhesive' until they formed a complex representation of Criccieth's beach. Although some of the cut-out shapes were simply strips of colour, several of them retained strong hints of the magazine illustrations from which they had been taken, including some that had originated as elements in pictures of mouth-watering dishes in 'foodie' magazines. As a result, making a close inspection of the beach in Giles' final composition would be like coming across surprising discoveries during a beachcombing expedition.
Summing up his novel approach to landscape art, Giles said, 'By collaging photographic fragments, rather than using paint, I can inject an element of mystery into my work. Even in my landscape pictures that resemble conventional paintings, there are things waiting to be discovered when you look very closely. Adding this element of intrigue is great fun for me and I hope it is amusing for the viewer. For example, I particularly enjoyed inserting some intriguing details into a picture of the Devonshire home of crime writer Agatha Christie. When you look closely at my depiction of the lush garden of her house you can pick out ghoulish details of various body parts and bottles of poison hidden among the foliage.'
Giles first became interested in collage during his days as an art student in Great Yarmouth and he employed the technique from time to time throughout his long career as a graphic designer in the publishing industry. However, he didn't start to create collaged landscape pictures until 2015, after he had been encouraged by a friend to enter some work in the Derby Six Streets Art Trail.
Prompted by the memory of a wall of snow that he and his two sons had faced when attempting to reach the summit of Snowdon, he decided to recreate their dramatic encounter by making a couple of collages constructed from shapes cut out from the pages of magazines. When the compositions he had produced were bought by the first visitors to the exhibition, Giles realised he might be 'onto something'. There could well be a market for other landscape pictures made in this novel way.
Since those tentative first attempts, Giles has become very skilled at spotting textures, colours and tones in cuttings from magazines that could be given new life as 'building blocks' in his landscape compositions. As his pictures of 'Curbar Edge on a Chilly Morning' and 'Stanage Edge at Sunset' illustrate, he has become very adept at capturing the various moods of the Peak District landscape.
His compositions featuring buildings are no less impressive: a picture of Biggin Hall Hotel, captured when the lights of the cosy rooms of the hall shine out against the semi-darkness of the late evening, compares favourably with Atkinson Grimshaw's celebrated paintings of moonlit streets in Leeds. And Giles' panoramic view of Buxton from Corbar Woods cleverly achieves its three-dimensional effect by fading gradually from foreground details to misty distant hills.
The artist's invention of his collaging technique came at a critical point in his life when he had become disenchanted with his work as a graphic designer. Looking back on that time, he said: 'After spending happy years working as a "hands-on" designer for Longman, I was finding it impossible to muster the same enthusiasm for web design and other computer-aided tasks I was being given.'
To demonstrate how he had tried to carve out a new career path, Giles reached up to a shelf in his studio and, like a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, pulled out several examples of ingenious products he had designed, including an illustrated children's storybook put together with a friend, a series of folding activity books, designed to keep children amused in restaurants or on long journeys, and even a prototype for a folding urinal for use in hospital beds. Unfortunately, none of these innovations has yet to find a sponsor - but not for want of trying on Giles' part.
Thankfully, his equally inventive method of producing collaged landscape pictures has been very well received and has given him the opportunity to pursue the new career direction he had hoped for. He has been accepted as a member of Peak District Artisans, allowing him to exhibit at the various shows they organise. Many of his pictures, produced as originals or as limited edition giclée prints, have been accepted for exhibition at several galleries in Derbyshire and North Wales. He also accepts commissions and runs workshops.
Giles' new career received a further boost recently when he was selected as one of the featured artists in Home Is Where the Art Is, a BBC television series fronted by Nick Knowles. The format of each programme involves three artists pitching for a commission from a private buyer after they have looked around the buyer's home to discover their artistic preferences. Deducing that the person to whom he would be pitching his pictures enjoyed playing the saxophone and was a fan of bright colours and all things Italian, Giles concocted a collaged Venetian canal scene, enlivened in his usual fashion with a number of hidden elements, including a saxophone mouthpiece masquerading as the pinnacle on the dome of a church.
Although the artist's picture was not the one chosen for the commission and the BBC made the unbelievable mistake of identifying his home as being in Halifax rather than Derby, his submitted composition, called 'Venetian Overture', made a considerable impact with viewers. Subsequently, the picture was entered as a lot in a charity auction, raising £750 for deserving causes. And as a result of Giles' clear and confident presentation of his work on the television programme, the artist has received almost 30 enquiries about commissions, confirming that the intriguing landscapes which have emerged from that chalet-like garden-studio have great popular appeal. u
Giles Davies will be exhibiting with Peak District Artisans and giving a talk at the Great Dome Art and Design Fair, Buxton, on 19th-21st July. His work is on display at the Cromford Studio and Gallery, and details of other exhibitions where his work will feature can be found on his website, www.gilesdavieslandscapes.co.uk, as can a portfolio of his work and details of workshops.