David Whittaker 'If This Life'

17 Apr 2008 – 9 May 2008

Penzance, United Kingdom


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When it comes to an artist making statements about his work, David Whittaker has relatively little to say. It becomes clear when looking at the work and conversing with him that this has nothing to do with a lack of content, more to do with the ambition of the work to capture so much, indeed more, he feels, than words can convey.

The objective seems explicit: to give, as much as is possible, a sense of the totality of what it is to be a human being. There are of course clues. I noticed a note in the studio on my last visit that read; 'something we find in a piece of music remains with us for all our lives'. Music acts as a backdrop to many of the works, named after an album or song that Whittaker may have listened to at the time; another way of not limiting the meaning to one idea, often suggesting something more transcendental. There are ghostly images of places once visited or perhaps seen third hand in a picture, scraps of paper torn from things once read, a story that may have moved or merely caught peripheral attention. This clinging, to things that nourish our senses suggests that such influences seem to become part of our DNA.

This mulitlayering saturates the work: the blurring celebratory or melancholic power of memory, the moments that move us and at the same time hint at our animal instinct, our primal element. His abstracted fragmented human heads act as windows, Whittaker sees our life as a small window on to humanity.

His motivation seems to be an endless artistic search for something as yet unseen. In doing so he could fit in to the lineage of great artists from the past, artists he feels were able to do that very thing and find a place of permanence. The works are born from moments of intense creativity, when they are pushed as far as possible. He finds the window to capture the image 'relatively short before it disappears into itself.'

His paintings are a platform where the past and the present collide: classical, primitive and urban marks skating on the surface of the work like a tapestry of our times. This 'boiling pot' gives a sense of timelessness as though we have developed little from our primitive core. The studio has iconic imagery to act as stimulus, from National Geographic images of Catholic pilgrimages to Hindu shrines, yet there is always a sense of the now as his studio hovers over what he once described to me as 'the scum-fucked streets of Newquay'.

There is a sense that all art comes from the same energy; the feeling that the art that we see on the streets made with spray cans and permanent markers is parallel to the marks made by early civilizations, and in turn the journey of life from disparate cultures has the same trials, that we are merely another tribal culture paying homage to our past and our future and recording our lives with our individual markings. For example one of Whittaker's pieces; 'Shadows of the Bowl' a work that pays homage to skateboarding can also clearly be read as a painting about the crucifiction of Christ.

Whittaker told me a story of when he was a boy growing up in his parents guesthouse in Newquay. In the corridor on the first floor landing there was a small glass covered coffee table, and beneath the glass on a fading print of Constable's 'Haywain'. He recalls hovering over the glass on one knee, and whilst watching his own reflection in it, he drew around the landscape with his finger, this gives us rare insight in to much of this current imagery and is compounded with an early literal example of viewing through a window.

There is an indefinable tension in the work, a feeling of an artist aiming to come to terms with his own mortality, to offer justice to the time given to him. To capture its essence and have it forever remain a window for others to peer through, to see him, and, in the reflection of these windows, perhaps they will catch a glimpse of themselves.

Joseph Clarke. Gallery Director.

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