Painting styles have come in and out of fashion over the years but now, according to some in the art world, the skill of painting itself is endangered. So for this interview I have arranged to meet a talented emerging artist who is challenging this viewpoint by dedicating himself to the task of mastering this difficult skill, regardless of fashion.
To talk with David Ledger about his widely exhibited work and his plans for the future, I come to his studio, which is at the rear of his parent’s house in Perth’s sandy outer suburbs. Once inside the front door I notice that the walls of this typical family home are dedicated as hanging space for his paintings.
Two particularly impressive works flank the dining table where we settle to chat. I begin by asking about the more dominant of these, Alpine Architecture, which won the People’s Choice award in the 2014 Cliftons Art Prize.
Ledger explains that this piece was inspired by the architect Bruno Taut, who envisaged cities constructed of glass in the Alps, and it explodes in an echo of Ledger’s not so distant youth spent on computer games and in virtual spaces.
The influence of cell animation can also be felt in his other, quieter, work beside us. Ribbed Room is an inviting roomscape which suggests both past and future and was created in the same vein as his other interior works like Sunset Room.
Ledger explains these pieces reflect his appreciation of the way animation contrasts between backgrounds in water colour tones and foregrounds in sharp relief. (He also plays with unreality in elements like floating vases and ornaments.)
“My interiors are a return to my earlier work and emerged after I’d been working with landscapes that were heavily influenced by my early childhood in South Africa. I was trying to create a place that exists in my mind, trying to paint something I can no longer access,” he explains.
“In [the interiors] I aim to integrate the landscape through the windows because I wanted to do a landscape that wasn’t a landscape – a painting within a painting or a deeper space.”
The planes he is using in his landscapes assist him in achieving this aim, he adds. “I think I’ve achieved that [deeper space] best with Alpine Architecture.”
I point out Waterfall, which I believe achieves this quality of depth most effectively and he says, “That’s probably because it’s a place where I’ve been [Yosemite National Park in California] rather than being drawn from imagination or photographic references.”
I ask Ledger more about his creative process. “I don’t start out with a concrete notion, it’s a process and I use drawing to play around with ideas.”
To illustrate he pulls out drawings and visual diaries he is currently working with; idea after idea floods the table top as we explore his concepts.
“There’s a lot of problem solving in my drawings, like trying to work out what a curved wave form would look like from space,” he says.
I’m interested to know if his inclusion of planes (whether neatly ordered or exploding) has some foundation in the De Stijl art movement.
“Not directly, although I’m interested in contemporary German painters like Neo Rauch and Matthias Weischer and these things filter through,” he says. “The planes really evolved from the masking method I was using in my paintings at the time in order to amplify the illusion of space.”
“I’m also influenced by early renaissance perspective painters like Masaccio and the way they integrate landscapes into architecture,” he says. “I’m trying to step up my spatial investigations and using architecture tools to invent a process.”
“it takes a lot of work to get the skill base to master it”
Ledger will continue his investigations in work he is preparing for an exhibition alongside noted artists including George Haynes and Nigel Hewitt in October at Mundaring Art Gallery. It’s aptly titled For the Love of Painting and I feel the need to ask him about his decision to pursue this path in the face of fashion. It is clear he is under no illusion.
“Painting is very hard, it takes a lot of work to get the skill base to master it,” he says, “But I have time and I plan to keep painting until I fall off the twig.”
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