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David Whittaker

Goldfish, Penzance  April 2008


Whilst most artists have to consciously reduce the range of their focus in order to make art that is coherent and meaningful, David Whittaker appears to avoid doing this. Instead, to his credit,  he makes art that is an expansive amalgam of everything.

Certain themes and features recur, however. There are layers of references to other art and artists, which gives the work complexity and depth. There is a preoccupation with calligraphy, that, in a manner reminiscent of Cy Twombly or Jean Michel Basquiat, animates the surface of all the images. This web of graffiti-like scribbles is simultaneously both writing and drawing, and it interweaves with collaged pictures from magazines, or other fragments of found imagery.

The works also tend to be structured around a diffuse central form suggestive of a human head or figure. Shown downstairs at this, Whittaker's first solo show at Goldfish, 'Shadows from the Bowl' is a good example of the latter. It is a triptych of paintings on board in which the figure appears crucified. Indeed as if crucifixion isn't enough, the central image is hollowed out and apparently disembowelled.

Cuter, prettier, but no less engaging are other works in the space. 'Islas Canarias' is a sumptuous and seductive pink, whilst 'Closure' (above) continues a religious theme by being suggestive of the Madonna. In 'Transindental Morning' this is made more explicit: the ambiguous shrouded figure has a collaged cross for a face, and a hesitantly drawn halo above them.

In the stairwell are a number of works including one that is wilfully crude and grotesque. Called 'Eat on Day of Kill' it is a Francis Bacon-style portrait given a futuristic twist of irony, and consists of a meaty looking head, Klingon-black frown-marks, and three layers of teeth.

Upstairs are some larger works, including 'The Drawing Near' and 'Closing Piece' (detail above left), both containing in their centre, pencil drawings of tranquil, arcadian landscapes, which are encircled and enveloped by a miasmic vortex of pigment stains, scribbles, and writing.

The largest works are also the most abstract. 'Empty Your Heart Now' (right) for example, painted on canvas in the large room upstairs bears a cloud-like blurr of grey paint. Embedded into this is an orange structure like a fence or railings, down the edges of which cascade ornate whirls.

These are difficult, and ambitious paintings finely balanced between representation and abstraction, that are executed with confidence and flair. Indeed as a painter Whittaker has a distinctive and original voice, and one that deserves wider recognition.




Rupert White 27/4/08