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Sunday, September 24, 2017

David Piddock

Herox, 2011, David Piddock
If you were to ask most landscape painters to paint the streets, buildings, and citizens of a major urban center, chances are many would make some excuse having to do with preferring the peace and quiet of the lush countryside to the loud, hustle and bustle of the city. Then once your back was turned, they'd double up in a fetal position sucking on their thumb. The point of this imaginary discourse is to underline the tremendous differences in painting the countryside and the "cityside." Cityscapes are far more challenging. I've done a many of the former and a few of the latter over the course of several years, so believe me, there's a tremendous difference. Landscapes, except for a few manmade intrusions, are mostly the art of camouflage. Cityscapes are a lot more than simple geometry with a heavy dose of extremely complex linear perspective. Add to that the vagaries of lighting, weather, reflections, and textures, most of which are manmade and thus subject to exacting standards of naturalism, even when painted in something less than a realistic manner. The British painter, David Piddock, bends to the demands of naturalism while avoiding the acute worship of realism.

Traffic Light Tree, 2008, David Piddock

At first, casual, glance the immaculate, architectural precision and clear, uncluttered surfaces of David Piddock's paintings of London's riverscape seem to place his work very much within a tradition that stretches well back into the 18th-Century, as in the work of Canaletto and Samuel Scott's London views, for example. From there they extend all the way up to the photorealism of modern times, as seen in the U.K. today by the icy glitter of Ben Johnson's paintings of both historical and contemporary interiors, and townscapes; or Clive Head's complex perspective explorations of the London urban scene.

Give Me Strength, David Piddock

Under the Bridge, David Piddock
However, very quietly, something alto-gether different starts to emerge, something warmer and more playful, though still quite thoughtful and ser-ious as to the poetic wonder Piddock's paintings also present. Certainly there are some complex perspective games going on in many of Piddock's larger paintings as in the classic single-point, Renaissance-style perspective of Lon-don's Greenwich Park and the 180-degree viewpoint of Albert Bridge. In addition, the largely mirror-images of works like Give me Strength (above), Samson at Queenhythe, There and Back and Under the Bridge (left)supplement a number of substantial works which rely simply on a rather more straightforward, compositional approach, such as Herox (top) where the artist is clearly preoccupied with the intriguing interplay of architectural forms and odd juxtapositions to be found.

Samson at Queenhithe, 2008, David Piddock
Born in 1960, the now fifty-seven-year-old artist's work has been called Post-Modern, Pre-Modern, Magic Realist, and New Realist. But of all these, individualistic, might be most appropriate. He delights in ignoring current trends in contemporary art. Magic Realism is the term most often used these days to describe a genre of literature with a darkly comic supernatural dimension dealing with themes such as love, grief and obsession. Using this definition, it could be reasonably applied to virtually all of Piddock's work.

Critics seem to have agreed to disagree as to how to
label Piddock's work. How about intriguing?
Many of Piddock's paintings are set in six different areas of London: Tower Bridge, Bankside, The South Bank, Mudchute, Crossharbour, Exchange Square, and a development behind Liverpool Street Station. The places are recognizable to some extent but his versions of them Piddock's penchant for blending fact and fiction. Piddock raids the contents of London's museums and distributes them around town to various ends. For instance, Bankside lV and Mudchute ll use a tiny ivory carving by Pisano in the Victoria & Albert collection. The damaged head in Southbank l is an ancient fragment from the British Museum. The sculpture that appears in Tower Bridge l, on the other hand, is based on a more recent work by Edoardo Paolozzi which has been dragged a few hundred yards up the Thames Path and re-sited at the foot of the bridge.

London as it isn't and never was.
The light in Piddock's paintings, if not magical, is certainly unearthly, bearing so relationship to any quality of light to be found in the streets of London. His spatial qualities vary widely. He seems most interested in the point where the logic of perspective breaks down. Some of Piddock's paintings go far beyond that point using tilting and rotating viewpoints to create an unsettling, even a disorientating effect. Other of his London works employ simple one-point perspectives and are, by comparison calm and detached. A view such as Greenwich Park (below)seems like an impossible mix of old and new, with 18th Century buildings in the foreground framed by a skyline of skyscrapers and the Millennium Dome. This is however a fairly conventional viewpoint with a wide angle view. The people on the viewing platform draw attention to the process of looking and the contrast between ancient and modern.

Greenwich Park, David Piddock
Piddock's work can be read like a contemporary take on Piero Della Francesca in his emphatic verticals and horizontals, strong surface patterns, carefully judged intervals and restrained detail balanced with a broader description of form. Most are bathed in strong light, however, the artist often creates an evocative world of deep shadows and enigmatic content that keeps us guessing.

Art Sabotage, 2001, by David Piddock, based on
an actual incident when a painting by Marcus
Harvey titled Myra was vandalized while on
display at the Royal Academy. Piddock's
painting freely mixes fact and fiction.


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