Inspiring West Bridgford artist David Supper
PUBLISHED: 10:28 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:28 20 April 2015
Meet the local artist whose thought-provoking paintings are on view in Somercotes this month
We are in a room on the sixth floor of a hotel in New York. The window of our room frames a view across the street of a brownstone apartment block, whose slab-like façade is enlivened by an external fire escape that zigzags down the wall in alternate diagonals and horizontals. Although the apartment block almost fills our field of vision, we have an oblique glimpse of a narrow alleyway, where a shadowy figure can be seen walking towards a bar. It is evening and all but three of the rooms are in darkness. A bright light bulb can be seen suspended from the ceiling of one room and a potted plant can be picked out on the window sill of the second illuminated room. Through the blind of the third room, we can see the silhouette of a young woman.
When David Supper removed the large painting of ‘Fire Escape, NYC’ that he had been holding up for my inspection and replaced it in a stack of several other pictures in the studio of his house in West Bridgford, I told the artist that his painting had taken me back to a visit I had made with my family to New York a few years ago. Our hotel room on West 24th Street had given us a view of an apartment block that was uncannily similar to the one in David’s painting.
Expressing delight at my reaction to his picture, David said: ‘I always try to ensure that the viewer is drawn into my paintings and made to feel that they are actually there in whatever scene I am depicting. For the same reason, I usually paint on a large scale, allowing the image to fill the field of vision of the viewer and concentrate their attention. This painting is four feet high and four feet wide.’
David’s wife Briony, a former actor and an enthusiastic supporter and promoter of her husband’s art, was equally pleased with my response, not least because she had been responsible for suggesting the theme for this particular painting, which will be featured in David’s one-man show at the Leabrooks Gallery, in Somercotes, from 19th to 30th April. She had even come up with ideas for some of the little cameos in the picture.
David has used photographs from various sources as the basis for different parts of the painting. However, the composition of the ‘film-noir’ like scene in the alleyway was created entirely from his imagination. Following his normal practice, the artist has achieved a pure matt effect by applying five or six layers of acrylic paint to each area of the picture.
The use of acrylic paint and flat areas of pure colour had been popularised by artists such as David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield and Allen Jones at the time David Supper was receiving his art training, which he undertook at Berkshire College of Art and then at Manchester College of Art and Design. After leaving college, he moved to Israel, where he worked as a graphic designer for 18 months, before returning to Manchester to take a teaching qualification.
David’s first teaching post was in Nottingham, but he quickly moved on to the Forest School in Berkshire, where he had once been a pupil and where he would spend the rest of his career as a teacher. In due course, he became the school’s Head of Art and, for the next 17 years, he ran a flourishing department and added Photography as a new A-level subject alongside Art.
Recalling that his own artistic endeavours had been largely abandoned during his time as a teacher, David said, ‘The demands of my job meant that I had very little time to paint, especially as my use of pure colour means that I need to paint during daylight hours. However, I was able to pursue other creative activities in the evenings, particularly through my involvement in various drama companies both as director and actor. I was also a founder member of a poetry writers’ group called Serpent’s Tooth and I have written a good deal of poetry over the years, some of which has been included in various anthologies. But, after putting aside my first love of painting for such a long period, I decided at the age of 60 that I would finally give up my teaching career so that I could become a full-time artist. Drama and even poetry were largely abandoned so that I could make up for lost time.’
David has certainly made up for those lost years as an artist. He now has a portfolio of more than 60 large paintings. The aim of all these works is to take the viewer into the scene that is depicted and to allow them to make their own interpretation of the subject matter. His style has remained consistent throughout, particularly in the use of flat areas of colour. As I looked through the paintings, I recalled a quotation attributed to Manet, who said, ‘There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one beside the other.’
Most of David’s pictures have a serene or even surreal quality about them. In some paintings, the composition is used as a stage set in which a found object, such as a shell or a piece of bogwood, is placed centre-stage. People are rarely present in the pictures, except in the form of silhouettes or shadows. One particularly clever painting called ‘Self-portrait as a Shadow’ shows the artist’s shadow cast onto the patio of the rooftop café at the Tate Gallery in St Ives. The view of the sea from this lofty vantage point is represented by simple horizontal bands of colour, but a metallic patio chair is painted with highly realistic and shimmering precision.
One picture that does feature a clear depiction of a human figure is ‘Ice (SY Aurora)’. It illustrates a close-up view of an iceberg from the deck of a ship. The simple geometric forms of the deck and the railings make a dramatic contrast with the jagged contours of the enormous iceberg that looms up menacingly alongside the vessel. David said, ‘This particular picture was inspired by a press cutting about the experiences of Ernest Shackleton during his voyages on the “Aurora.”’
Serenity, rather than menace, pervades the entire composition in a striking coastal view called ‘Reflections’, whereas symmetry is the hallmark of ‘Sound and Light Festival, Brisbane’. This is one of David’s most decorative paintings and was worked up from photographs taken when the artist was on a visit to his son, who lives in Australia.
The last picture that caught my eye in David’s studio was ‘Bishop’s Palace, Albi’, in which the small silhouettes of two human figures are cleverly used to emphasize the vastness and overwhelming presence of the palace.
I had been drawn into ‘Fire Escape. NYC’ because the picture had reminded me of the visit that I made to New York, whereas the painting of Albi gave me the sensation of walking the streets and experiencing the monumental architecture of a French city that I plan to visit this summer. Thanks to David, I feel that I am there already. n
David Supper’s exhibition ‘Hard-edge Realism’ will be at Leabrooks Gallery, Somercotes, Derbyshire, from 19th to 30th April. David’s paintings can also be viewed on his website www.withspaceinmind.com