I particularly enjoy the shapes, the noise and the shadows of city landscapes – whether it’s the drama of lower East Side in New York, the reflections in the canals of Venice, the romance of Paris streets, the quirky laneways of Melbourne, the crowded pedestrian footpaths of Brisbane city, or the treed streets near my home and studio in suburban Brisbane.’
David Hinchliffe travels the world six months of the year painting and selling his light-filled impressions of city scapes. I met with David in his Brisbane studio to talk about his extensive career and current practice.
Q. Since retiring from local politics several years ago, you’ve become a globe-trotting artist, with successful exhibitions in London, Paris, New York and many other cities. Do you paint en route or come home and work from images you have recorded along the way?
A. The most creative part of my work by far is the painting in studios that I rent around the world. I paint in my studios at Blackheath in London, Harlem in New York and Wan Chai in Hong Kong, but my favourite studio is my own in Fortitude Valley.
Q. You must have a unique perspective on cities, seeing them through the experienced eyes of an urban administrator, yet through the sensibilities of an artist. Do aspects of your background flow over into your art practice?
A. Someone said of me once that I’d gone from paving cities to painting them. As a former Councillor and Deputy Mayor in Brisbane I was always trying to make our city better — not always succeeding, but at least trying. Now I just paint the beauty I see in the cities I am lucky enough to visit. I paint portraits of cities. I try to capture their mood, the light and the atmosphere.
Q. Your success has grown over some considerable time. I understand you won your first art competition at age 12 and had your first solo exhibition at 21. What wisdom have you gleaned from a life time of painting?
A. Yes, I’ve been painting and selling my work now for 50 years, although it’s only in recent years that I’ve focused on painting to the exclusion of everything else, except family of course. In terms of wisdom, I always tell my masterclass students these four simple learnings:
1. Anyone can paint. I believe that implicitly.
2. Anything can be art. I mean, look at Duchamp’s ‘urinal’ fountain as an example. All you need is a pedestal or a frame and a cooperative gallery!
3. Less is more. It applies to so many things in life. In relation to painting, it means don’t over think or over-paint. Let the viewer’s imagination fill in the detail.
4. Painting is really about 5% aptitude, 45% attitude and 50% opportunity. (David defines ‘opportunity’ as two things: time to paint, and the opportunity to show your work.)
Q. You are a prolific artist. You paint very quickly and with great energy. I recall you said in a video, ‘paint as quickly as possible and see what happens’. Watching you in action, there has to be a level of confidence and certainty that supports such an approach. Have you always worked this way or has it come from long years of practice?
A. A journalist once said to Picasso that he’d painted something in just under an hour, and he replied that it had taken an hour and 60 years to paint. You use the experience of decades of painting, solving problems, making mistakes and learning from them. I find paintings done quickly and without much thinking have an explosive energy about them.
Q. I understand you’ve also done photography and sculpture. Can you tell me more about this?
A. My first full time job was as a newspaper photographer and I loved that. I’ve had photography exhibitions and I won a sculpture award in Atlantic City 40 years ago, but now I specialise solely in painting. I’ve got too much painting stored up in me for me to consider any other media.
Q. On the subject of photography, do you work directly from photos or are they purely a reference? What do you see as the legitimate role of photography in artistic practice in these times?
A. Art and the role of artists changed forever in the 19th century with the invention of the camera. Whether they admit it or not, all figurative or semi-representational artists use photography to some extent as part of their work, either as a source of inspiration or reference. I’m no exception. However I think it’s just plain stupid to try to paint a photograph. Why would you bother? The challenge is creating something new that interprets, rather than simply replicating a photographic image.
Q. You are very accomplished and proficient in your style and painting techniques. Is there no struggle left?
A. I have to reject the word ‘accomplished’. I’m always learning. My painting is always evolving and I’m constantly refining technique. I find it cyclical. I get into a mode and paint in a particular way till I need a change of direction. I’ve had episodes of realism, then need to shake off the cobwebs and learn to see things in a different way. In my workshops I always reinforce the need to keep learning.
David is represented by Store Street gallery in London, Ingbar Gallery and Soho Editions in New York, Seigo Ohkawara in Tokyo, Red Hill Gallery in Brisbane, Wentworth in Sydney, Aarwun in Canberra, Manyung in Melbourne, Blue Chip in Mooloolaba, Eumundi Gallery, and Montville Gallery. Currently he has a solo exhibition at Manyung Gallery Malvern, Melbourne.
David also conducts workshops overseas in exotic locations like Venice, Florence, Slovenia, Bali and Sri Lanka.