David Surman - Sirens

13 Sep 2019 – 26 Oct 2019

Regular hours

15:00 – 18:00
15:00 – 18:00

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Sim Smith

England, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Nearest Bus Stop: Camberwell Green (F), bus numbers 35, 40, 42, 45 and Warner Road (J and H) bus numbers 36, 185, 436, N136
  • Nearest London Stations: Oval (Northern Line), Denmark Hill (London Overground and Thameslink) or Loughborough Junction (London Overground and Thameslink)
  • Denmark Hill
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Sim Smith is delighted to present ‘Sirens’, the debut exhibition by British artist David Surman and the first solo presentation at the gallery.


A siren is an alarm call, a warning system to alert us. It is also a mythical creature, luringunwary sailors with hypnotic songto shipwreck on rocky shores.

The artist will present new works that peer into the non-human world. By rethinking the importance of art history to our anthropocentric worldview,Surman questionsthe roleof animals in life and art. Through painting, drawingand film, Surman takesanimal bodies as his subject, and considers thelabour ofnature in the shadow of our human lives; if animals could speak how would they speak of us?

In preparation for this show,Surman has immersed himself in the history and conventions of animal painting, drawing on paintings by Goya, Géricault, Maella and Watteau. People are no longer the protagonists in hisreimagined art history.Instead animals are pulled to the forefront and transformed intomonumentalsubjects.The traditionally less qualifiable moods of the animal are now seen in brightly coloured swathes, drips and splashes of expressive paint, or in intricate pen drawings full of movement. 

Working across a variety of media, we see how Surman’s thoughts on his subjects are explored and expanded. With each mediumthere is a change of attitude and rhythm. He workswitha sense of choreography, and an exactness and knowledge in hismethod. Every pieceis approached like a game, with rules to be both obeyed and broken. Although Surmanworks without a clear plan, he is highly conscious of the history of painting itself, and approaches each painting as a question to be posed in its own right. 

With a wide-ranging set of influences at play, fromthe brushwork of the zen buddhist paintersandpost-war expressionism tothe action painters and gutai, Surman practicesa distinctpainterly economy, creating worksby minimal means that can be understood by everyone. They are animals drawn from the world but also the world of images --in a film, on a greetings card or in a tapestry. They are familiar, unthreatening and ever-present. They make us feel, they make us gentler and they make us lighter.

Together, the works build upon complex narratives about our connection, conduct and place in the living world. They alert us to our oversights, to our mistakes and restrictions and encourage a new way forward. They inspire a life that is lived with a heightened sense of enthusiasm, love and responsibility for the non-human world.

About the Artist

David Surman (b, 1981, Barnstaple) lives and works in London. He was born in the rural South West of England, and moved at an early age to the remote Scottish Highlands. There he apprenticed to the painter and mountaineer Rob Fairley, before moving to Wales to study animation at Newport Film School and later film at Warwick University. Though trained as a filmmaker, Surman has established himself through his distinctive paintings and works on paper over recent years. He has exhibited in London, Miami and New York. Sirens is his first solo exhibition at the gallery.

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