Acclaimed British artist David Kim Whittaker has not one but two major exhibitions upcoming; one in London and the other in Paris. The London presentation, his first solo show with the Opera gallery, is comprised of more than 40 large, medium and small-scale oil and acrylic works. Most of Whittaker’s paintings are based around an interpretation of the human head and its metaphysical core. These portraits often juggle duel states of inner and outer calm and conflict, offering a glimpse of strength and fragility, the conscious and subconscious, the masculine and the feminine. These opposites are arguably reinforced by the artist’s gender dysphoria, a condition where one’s physical body does not match their deeper identity.
This personal struggle, which saw Whittaker ‘come out’ 9 years ago, is a condition he/she has learned to live with through the endeavour of expressing something bigger than oneself through painting.
Fowlers-in-the-Field 2017 © David Kim Whittaker, Courtesy of the artist and Opera Gallery.
In celebration of his London show we are David a few questions:-
How do you feel you as an artist bring a new facet to the painting of the head, whether as a portrait or as a literal part of the body?
A young girl told me when she looked at my work in recent solo exhibition at the Fondazione Mudima in Milan that my paintings were like looking at the Mona Lisa shattering. I loved that – perhaps we could leave the interview there? I guess the question implies that I think a lot about bringing something new. What I certainly do is bring myself and put that in to the mix of existence. Rather than paint a head or a portrait, my interest has always been in making a universal statement about the human condition. Part of that quest has been to capture something that has not been captured before, something that is fleeting and permanent at the same time. Part of that is to paint something that is both physical and metaphysical – we occupy duel states (many duel states). So we experience what goes on inside and outside of the head. This is a past state, present state and future state. A personal and collective one, and it all flies by in the blink of an eye.
What is your process when you come to paint, do you sit in front of a bare canvas ? do you do prep drawings? is there an idea you see clearly before you start?
This duel state is definately evident in the making of the works. An area of my studio is like a living collage. Cuttings from weighty and light weight publications litter the floor and are pinned to the walls. The trivial rubs shoulders with the powerful and the potent. Personal and world history alongside current affairs taking place in the great theatre of the world. These areas act as impetus. Titles are also important, I have books of titles for paintings yet to be born. This is like the naming of a child before it joins us in the world. When the painting begins it is painted in two parts, almost by two personas. Acrylic is used like water colour to paint detailed, time consuming areas of content. These areas can be punishing. I guess these sections could be seen as having traditionally feminine characteristics however I guess I view them as the areas where the quite gentle man that I was makes his mark. Once complete, a more gestural, physical and visceral process begins in oil paint. Often violent ejaculations smear the surface. The messiness of existence. Again this act could be seen by many as archetypally male, in fact I see it as the woman in me bursting on to the scene. On and within these complex surfaces one can view logic and reasoned thought jostling with primal, bodily, emotional passages.
Hallucinating Soldier, 2017 © David Kim Whittaker, Courtesy of the artist and Opera Gallery
The idea of modern art now really is to help us feel/ engage / to show us / to explain an idea not to represent what a camera can..so how do you feel you do this and what do you feel you want your work to say via your work?
Close your eyes, and picture a tree. There it is. We all have a picture box inside our heads. Its amazing what we can see and where we can travel when the lights go out. Art can be many things. It’s not that new – we’ve been doing it for quite some time. I believe painting to be an extraordinary and intimate way to make work, not just a way to create an illusionistic image but to make a ‘thing’ in its own right. Something that seems to contain the energy and life-force with which it is made alongside something elusive and intangible. It is such an expressive medium when the maker is able to let go. Full of emotive gesture alongside thought. It is by its nature very human and often faulted and fragile. Thats probably why we have been compelled to pick something up and make a mark with it for so long now. Because it helps us to recognise ourselves.
The ideas shown in your work about duality; how do you feel you share these in the imagery you produce but also in technique choice of materials of textures, colours etc
It’s all there on the canvas. Mankind sits in the centre of the universe. Between the micro and the macro. Somewhere on the tracks between birth and death. Able to travel outwards in the physical world and inwards in the imaginary. Some of us are men, some are woman, I sit in between. The world is a place of profound beauty and horrific destruction, and all this and million other things consume us and are consumed by us on a daily basis. Im just trying, in a humble way to make works that are about everything. Ive been doing it for 30 years and Ive only just begun.
Artist image Joseph Clarke Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street , London W1S 2TF, UK operagallery.com