Based in the London’s creative hub of Hackney Wick, artist David Wightman’s work uses layers of precisely-cut, brightly-painted wallpaper to create abstract works and hypercolour landscapes. Wightman draws on postmodern techniques like hybridity and pastiche, along with basic geometric shapes, to reinvent and almost send up established genres. While his abstract works often take the form of rounded and square targets, his landscapes present familiar scenes such as mountaintops, injected with swathes of bright colour and simplified in a comicbook-esque style.
A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Wightman has previously exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Korea International Art Fair, the London Art Fair and is a regular participant in east London’s Hackney Wicked Art Festival. He has presented several solo shows in London and Manchester, the most recent of which is Secret Name at Paddington’s Art Work Space Gallery. Wightman was a finalist in the 2003 Lexmark European Art Prize, and won the RCA Hunting Art Prize in the same year.
Q. What was the idea behind your most recent collection, Secret Name?
A. I had been wanting to show my mountainscapes and abstract paintings together for some time when my dealers, SUMARRIA LUNN, offered me a solo show. I see both types of work as being mutually linked by process and concept. So having them together for a solo show at a large space like Art Work Space was ideal.
Q. Do you have a favourite piece in the exhibition?
A. I have two favourite pieces in the show: ‘Lorelei’ and the eponymously titled ‘Secret Name’.
Q. Your work seems to aim to reinvent the landscape for the modern art public. Do you think there’s still room for this genre in the art world? A. I’m not sure. But that’s precisely why it intrigues me as a genre. I see ‘landscape’ in a similar way to abstraction. They’re both pursuits that have fallen out-of-favour in contemporary art discourse. And they both seem to embody a failed sense of the romantic and aspirational.
Q. There also seems to be an element of pop art in the way you take an everyday object like, as you admitted in one article, “cheap wallpaper from B&Q”, and imbue it with a more sophisticated meaning. Have you always been interested in the postmodern side of art?
A. I’m not sure if it’s entirely postmodern. Perhaps it’s closer to Braque’s use of collaged newspaper in his paintings. However, I like the idea of elevating an everyday material or at least making the viewer think different about it. But the wallpaper has a personal connection too. I grew up in a house papered with cheap, but aspirational wallpaper. So wallpaper is more than simply an everyday object to me. It reminds me of my past. It’s a little like Warhol painting tins of Campbell’s Soup, not as an ironic statement about consumerism. But because he used to eat them every day as a child.
Q. There’s also a strong emphasis on geometry and abstract shapes in your work. What is it about these facets of art that appeal to you?
A. I see my abstract paintings as a lament to geometric abstraction. I wish I could continue the tradition that seemed to end with post-painterly abstraction in America. But, somehow, it seems false or pretentious to even desire to continue in the same vain. My work is an attempt to reclaim abstraction (and landscape) on my own terms.
Q. Additionally, there is a great deal of precision inherent in the layering techniques you use. What made you want to work with such challenging material?
A. My collaging technique is similar to marquetry. I like the idea of investigating two established yet maligned genres. But approaching them with a technique that relies on an element of craft and discipline. I think the technique imbues my work with nostalgia and whimsy. And plays up the fact that both genres have become somewhat kitsch.
Q. Who or what inspires you as an artist?
A. Ad Reinhardt and Caspar David Friedrich. And the process of collaging and painting itself.
Q. Are you working on any new projects currently?
A. I’ve just started a six-month residency in Northumberland: the Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship. It’ll give me the time and space to make a new body of work and to expand on what I’ve achieved with ‘Secret Name’.
Q. As an artist, do you consider the response your work will create in an audience during the creative process, or is it solely an individual exercise?
A. I think about the response from different audiences during the creation of my work. But I try to focus on the process of making work itself. I immersed myself in my studio practice in preparation for ‘Secret Name’ and I’m now trying to do the same with my residency.
Q. What do you hope to achieve for the rest of 2010 and how do you think Pelime might help facilitate this?
A. I’d like to capitalize on the success of ‘Secret Name’ and have my work viewed by new audiences. Pelime shall definitely help to facilitate this.