I don’t think anything has gone to plan for anyone this year. I never would have thought back in January, when planning my big Oxford exhibition, of the dark and difficult days this year would hold.
Firstly I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has continued to support the Arts this year in any way they could. And in turn I hope that us artists have been able to provide you some beauty and solace; some light in the darkness.
To everyone who has continued to work; from NHS staff, delivery workers, and teachers, to gallery owners and event organisers a huge thank you.
Alongside planning for my Oxford exhibition, I had two large illustration projects. Last year myself and Ronda were asked by Scholastic to create a new Lighthouse Keeper book. From the germ of an idea about ocean pollution came The Lighthouse Keeper’s Mystery, 43 years after our first book, and with a poignant message about protecting our environment.
The second project was to complete the illustrations for my third Schubert book, Die Schone Mullerin. Being in Lockdown actually provided the time to focus on this, and using the wonderful music as inspiration the images flowed out naturally. After completing the paintings, it was then the task of my great friend and graphic desinger Paul Hayes to compile and arrange them into book format, with the text from the peoms alongside.
Both books were printed just in time for my exhibition in Oxford which featured some of the original illustrations.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to continue to show my work this year. My exhibition at The Jam Factory in Oxford was pulled together within weeks thanks to a passionate team. Having been delayed and close to being cancelled, as the first lockdown lifted we all sprung into action to get the show marketed and hung. With three exhibition spaces spread across the venue, it was ideal for showcasing my wide range, from illustrations to large abstracts. The paintings shone in that wonderful space and I was very pleased to receive positive attention from the press, as well as the many visitors.
Hot on it’s heels was Lewes Artwave. With a few Covid safety adjustments, the studio welcomed many visitors – all masked of course! But that did not stop many interesting conversations, and a few sales. (More on that below.)
Lockdown 2.0 put an end to my idea of an additional studio show for Christmas, so I turned my attention online. I joined the dreaded Twitterati! And I am building up my online shop, which now has a selection of quality giclee prints, as well as my Schubert illustrated books.
Lastly a special thank you to my patrons and followers. Your support is ever appreciated, and I have happily sold many paintings this year, large and small. I hope that my work has enriched your homes (god knows we could all do with a change from staring at the same four walls!!) and lifted your spirits.
Below is a selection of the work I have sold this year which now resides in homes as close as down the road and as far away as New Zealand.
Best wishes to you all for the Holiday season and here’s to vaccines and a better 2021! I shall now be putting my feet up next to the fire with a large glass of fruity red.
Visitors are welcome once again during Artwave Festival, when artists from Lewes and surrounding areas open their studios to show their work . This year’s event was slightly delayed by the small matter of a global pandemic, and of course I will be following social distancing and safety guidance. Being out in the countryside helps, my studio is spacious and there is plenty of room outside for anyone waiting.
As some of you may know I currently have a large exhibition up in Oxford, but there is still plenty of work on show in my studio including some of my early paintings from Australia; new paintings completed this year from the puppet series; and the original illustrations for the new Lighthouse Keeper book, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Mystery.
I will also be joined again by my assistant and fellow artist Abigail Myers who will be showing a few of her abstract paintings, along with some small prints and works on paper. Her work is a different take on the abstract aesthetic, informed both by the abstract expressionists that inspire me, but also later eras of pop, street, and conceptual art.
The studio will be open the weekends of 5/6, 12/13, and 19/20 September from 11am-5pm, at my studio just outside East Hoathly. Use the interactive map below or type BN8 6Qp into google maps or your satnav. This will bring you very close, then just look for the Artwave banner!
The latest book in the much loved series is out on 6 August!
In this latest addition to the classic childrens book series, now in it’s 44th year, Mr and Mrs Grinling return, with other favourite characters with a message about the environment and conservation.
After a clean up at the Lighthouse Mr Ginling is worried: it seems that someone is dumping rubbish into the sea! His great-nephew George thinks it might be the work of pirates. But could the culprit be closer to home?
Everyone’s favourite seagulls are causing trouble again! Along with a cast of sea creatures, and help from Hamish, it’s time to clean up the ocean…
…AND defeat the pirates.
You can read about the creation of this book in my blog post here. I think the publishers – Scholastic, have once again done a great job of bringing together the words and pictures and have stayed true to my original illustrations and maintaining the painterly quality.
Of course there is a happy ending and a positive message about what we can all do to help keep our beaches – and the rest of planet – clean.
The book will be released on the 6th August 2020, and is available from many local bookstores including one of our favourite shops: Much Ado Books in Alfriston.
For online purchases you can pre-order from Waterstones and Amazon, where it is also available on kindle.
This exhibition will now run for a full 10 weeks, from 31 July – 18 October.
This exhibition will present a full range of the artists practice, from large scale abstract paintings, to colourful illustrations. At first these may seem like disparate fields, but on closer inspection, the techniques involved inform each other, and at times interconnect; as in the Earthwatch series of paintings on paper which utilise the techniques used in his illustrative work, but resonate with the passion and vibrancy of his abstract expressionist canvasses.
Armitage’s abstract paintings have long been admired by patrons and critics alike, and his work has developed a rich and distinct character over decades of artistic practice. Large canvases resonate with deep rich colours, inspired by his native Australia and world travels, classical music which plays in the studio as he paints, and the abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler.
Smaller works include semi-figurative subjects and landscapes, where he distils the vibrancy of his larger works to a more domestic scale, depicting snippets of the world from everyday still lifes to the darker side of humanity and the victims of war and violence.
The other main aspect of his practice is illustration, to which he brings the same mastery of colour and composition whilst embracing chance and accident. His methods combine watercolour, monoprint and ink drawing, creating a unique style that can be fun, beautiful, but never mawkish.
The Lighthouse Keeper book series, written by his wife Ronda, have delighted readers for generations. The first book, the Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch was inspired by the Beachy Head lighthouse near to their new East Sussex home in 1977. Over 40 years and many successful sequels later comes a new book; The Lighthouse Keepers Mystery. This latest installment encourages young readers to look after the sea and the animals that live there, as Mr Grinling solves the mystery of who is polluting the sea with rubbish.
Some of the original illustrations from several of the favourite books will be on display, along with exclusive pre-release copies of the new book.
Armitage’s illustrative style perfectly suits the feeling of yearning and melancholy captured in the music and poetry of all three of these works. The original illustrations will be exhibited, with books and prints also available.
David Armitage, A Survey Exhibition will run from 31 July – 18 October 2020 at The Jam Factory, 4 Hollybush Row, Oxford, OX1 1HU
A ‘Meet the Artist’ event will be held on 2 August 1- 5pm. Social distancing measures will be in place, refreshments will be available to purchase from the venue’s cafe/ bar.
I have just completed the third book of illustrations based on Schubert song cycles. Winterreise was the first Schubert book I created, followed recently by Schwanengesang. This third book reflect Schuberts first song cycle Die Schone Mullerin based on the poems by Wilhelm Muller.
Below are a few of my paintings, accompanied by excerpts of the text, translated by Celia Sgroi. You can also read more about my process in creating the paintings for all three books here.
Wandering is the miller’s joy, Wandering! A man isn’t much of a miller, If he doesn’t think of wandering, Wandering!
Did she send you to me? Or have you enchanted me? I’d like to know, Did she send you to me?
4. Gratitude to the Brook
Now shake off the veil of dreams And lift yourselves fresh and free In God’s bright morning! The lark circles in the sky And sings from the depths of its heart The sorrows and cares of love.
8. Morning Greeting
What is the hunter doing at the mill stream? Bold hunter, stay in your forest preserve! There’s no game here for you to hunt, There’s only a doe here, a tame one, for me, And if you want to see the dainty doe, Leave your rifle behind in the woods, And leave your barking dogs at home,
14. The Hunter
Oh green, you hateful color, you, Why do you keep staring, So mocking, so proud, so pleased by my pain, At me, a poor pale man?
17. The Hateful Colour
And when love frees Itself from pain, A little star, a new one, Twinkles in the sky; And three roses spring, Half red and half white, That never wither, From the thorny stem. And the angels cut off Their wings And every morning Go down to earth.
19. The Miller and The Brook
Die Schone Mullerin will be available soon and will join Winterreise and Schwanengesang on my online shop, where you can also purchase original paintings and prints.
If you are interested in a particular work, please contact me.
Below is a short excerpt of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin, performed by Thomas Quasthoff at the Verbier Festival in 2009
You may or may not have heard the rumours – but YES we are working on a new Lighthouse Keeper book!!!
Thought I’d been a bit quiet recently? Here’s why:
You may or may not have heard the rumours – but YES we are working on a new Lighthouse Keeper book!!!
Scholastic came to us a several months ago and took us for a lovely dinner, a new book was suggested and we agreed upon a concept, which as you will see has a very important and topical theme.
Ronda’s done her bit, so now it’s up to me to do justice to her words with some illustrations, with the Lighthouse Keeper brand of colour, detail and humour.
It’s wonderful to be creating a new book, having recently celebrated 40 years since the first Lighthouse Keeper book was published, and to know that new generations of readers are discovering a love of reading through our books.
We’re currently looking at a release date sometime in spring 2020, which will hopefully coincide with a large exhibition of mine featuring original illustrations from the new book. So watch this space for more details in due course.
Working across different disciplines adds an element of confusion to the casual studio visitor, or, in one case it was somebody who wanted to see some work for a local show. Being familiar with the range of my children’s illustrations, the first thing she saw in the studio were several very large non-figurative paintings and lots of smaller ones. Puzzlement and doubt abounded. There was nothing cozy about these things. Had she come to the right place? How to extricate herself?
This was symptomatic of the reaction of many visitors and has led to me providing a brief tutorial in order to clarify this. Let’s start with the ‘abstract’ stuff.
My explanation was, and is, by invitation only otherwise the listeners boredom levels would be severely tested. Their interest was genuine and any hint of a patronising attitude from me would be spotted at once.
The gist of my riveting talk turned on learning the history and the language (or lack of it) of painting. As it is with literacy or numeracy or musical notation or culinary techniques, the study of these things is crucial. Otherwise, without the background knowledge of ‘reading’ paintings then the the lure of conventional pedestrian ‘proper pictures’ in all their tedium prevails.
Does one tackle this with a barrage of words? Heaven forbid. Consider this. After having enjoyed a play, or a novel, or a collection of poems, would you like to see a series of pictures to further increase one’s understanding? Or, conversely, does the visual experience have to be translated into mountains of words? Of course not. I once had a show where the only words were ‘fire exit’, and that was because it was compulsory. As somebody said ‘painting is about painting, everything else is about everything else.’ Quite so. Study it, learn about it, look at it, and even try it. Then forget the words.
As previously mentioned, illustrating childrens books has been quite a successful venture. And along with Ronda’s superior literary skill our Lighthouse Keeper books have kept us both busy for over 40 years. Being published by Scholastic they have been a hit in schools, with hundreds of lighthouses being crafted by kids all over the world!
Some years ago, Ronda and I were doing a school visit in London. For some reason, we worked with the kids in a lecture theatre, at the end of which was a grand piano. It was lunchtime and I was on my own finishing off some session pictures for my young audience. At some point a young man appeared, asked if I minded if he did a rehearsal on the piano. ‘Of course not’, I replied, ‘can I come and see?’ He was doing that wonderful warhorse, the piano part in Beethoven 5, a piece I had known since I was about 4 years old. His concert date was pretty close. He was nervous. He had umpteen goes at the start of the rondo. I approached the piano. ‘Look at this,’ he said, gesturing to the left hand page. He played a bit. ‘Now look at the right,’ he said. ‘You can see the problem! Bloody difficult, fancy a go?’ Of course, I could not see it at all. All I saw was a series of black marks on a piece of white paper. He looked at these marks and his head filled with music. This language was incomprehensible to me. My head filled with nothing. Not a hope. The music of top class painting is the same. It is wordless and deeply affecting.
And of course, the dross of the ordinary in this venture is just as evident and as easy to spot. There is acres of it. This can be very confusing. Online websites are full of the stuff, so much of it is of spellbinding mediocrity. More explanation required….
[A coda: Back to the lecture theatre type experience with the children….
Making images for children is wonderfully unequivocal and almost totally wordless. The scene is a draughty assembly hall. 200 kids, years 1 and 2 are settled down and expecting a good show. So, get to work and then grab them and hold them, but be quick about it. Do that and the rapport is a kind of silent and magical electricity. The children almost take all the oxygen out of the air. At the end, nobody wants to leave, including me and the teachers. If you are not up to it, death is not lingering, it is immediate and horribly final . Children don’t mess around with platitudes. This activity is not for the faint-hearted. In which case, go and do something else…..]
I first started my studio shows about 1980. Why? Dealers and I have never had a meaningful relationship, indeed, apart for a couple of minor skirmishes, one could say no relationship whatsoever, a state of affairs not likely to change. This isn’t a personality based phenomenon as far as I can tell.
For many years I worked as a jobbing illustrator. At times this could be stressful, to say the least. A phone call on Sunday evening. Who could that be I wonder? The caller, an agent, comes straight to the point.
‘Right, David, we need an A3 4 colour spread of….(take your pic)… a snow scene / children playing / an exotic forest / Greeks / Romans / Victorian slums / a moody sea scene / dogs / ducks or general livestock / portraits of war poets / airships and balloons / a Romanesque basilica / a street scene / a gooey sunset….etc. etc.’
We need it NOW, please, and… if you could courier it over by lunchtime tomorrow that would be terrific. The client will be lobbing in about 2pm. No time for visuals or scamps. Bye’.
Socialising grinds to a halt, back to the studio. Job is done to the accompaniment of an out of tune tawny owl. My motorcycle mate arrives at 10 a.m. to collect. (Wi- Fi has changed all that.) I have breakfast and get on with a bloody great ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ pic which was way overdue. What was good about all this? It paid well. The downside? One develops a pathological dread of forever doing this kind of stuff. If I see a load of this , or similar ilk, at any dealers, (quite right and proper from their point of view). I thank God, with all my heart, that I will never have to knock out these sort of pictures again. EVER .
Besides, there are loads of highly trained seals who are also really good at this, and they enjoy it! Good for them.
Amongst all of this, illustrating children’s books, a totally different discipline and for a much tougher audience, proceeded rather well to say the least, and still does. More of this anon. Finally, the discipline of painting was also prosecuted to a greater or lesser degree. I still want the painter to create a new magical world of their own, not merely illustrate, more or less, the one we just happen to inhabit. Pictures in other words. That’s easy.
Anyway back to the studio shows. These are, and still are my shop front, so to speak. These were/are a happy melange of painting, children’s illustrations, life drawings and cartoons. A lot of fun can be had juxtaposing a 5 metre abstract painting with some little A4/fragments and a load of children’s illustrations.
Audience reaction or lack of it is wonderful. I have invented a ‘shortest viewing time competition’. The current record is 2.4 seconds (viewed from the doorstep) but that will be bettered. The other great obstacle is the husband/wife dynamic. An example:
They appear. Wife sees a 1.5 metre -ish painting to die for. Hubby a slab of indifference. A tape measure was produced, the problem of furniture moving discussed at some length, generating conviction and increasing volume. Then, the matter was decided. The price agreed, a mere snip at 8 grand, a cheque written. Delivery sorted… I immediately thumbed through the en primeur wine lists and told the bailiffs to call off their dogs.
Next morning the cheque was cancelled. Never mind. I have been there, on a lesser scale, many times, and doubtless will do so again.