David Royle

Inside Out
26 February - 27 March 2004

A Short Stay in the Sun 1 2002 Oil on Linen 152.4 x 152.4 cm

‘Inside out’ is an expression we use every day – we know people ‘inside out’ (they hold no surprises), a piece of clothing is ‘inside out’ (not meant to be seen). But David’s choice of title is both literal and open to other interpretations, a way of situating the viewer in a painted interior that looks out on two exteriors – one painted and virtual, one – looking back into ourselves – that is real.

These are complex, challenging works that deliberately attract and repel, charged with a sweeping energy yet executed with painstaking precision down to the smallest detail. They take us in and out of the mind, through familiar and hallucinatory interiors and exteriors, and leave us on the edge of space.

David’s paintings, which emerge from thematic and structural juxtapositions, are not easy. His dizzying and meticulous Coinstar fees use of perspective gives an impression of unreality. So a familiar prop – say, an armchair (an internal reference to Matisse) – floats above a city seen through a night lens. What he calls his ‘layered’ realities have an almost 3-dimensional effect. There is an extraordinary sense of depth. David uses grids – occasionally disguised as tiles – as fluid boundaries – that serve as yardsticks or as virtual rafts for the viewer to impose an illusory order. The grids tilt, reflect, dissolve into flowing lines that might be water or air currents or waves of light on a background of oceanic space.

Basic geometric shapes integral to the compositions draw in the viewer in their guise of everyday objects – tables, plates, books, drawing pads, windows, buildings. But they are also present as negative images, distorted as projected shadows or as light, or unsettlingly transparent. We are constantly forced to look through objects and structures and beyond them. The eyes of a face floating in deep shadow reflect the sun coming in through windows situated behind the viewer.

In the Villa Maria paintings, the beautiful sun-drenched colours of the South of France are present, but only briefly comforting. Memories and dread are implicit in the shadows.

One of David’s ongoing themes is the desolation and dislocation of inner city interiors and landscapes. Inside, television and angle-poise lamps blaze. Outside, nature is reduced to weeds in the rubble. His disturbing, electric palette appropriates the lurid neon and acrylic colours of street signs and shop fronts to apocalyptic effect. A local geographical feature such as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, which for 4 years David’s son crossed on his way to school, becomes a doubly charged symbol in an urban nightmare – where all that awaits us at the top is a pixillated heaven.

David’s paintings are about insecurity, that moment before or after a disaster. Occasionally this is made explicit through references to trees that look like nuclear explosions or a background of war-scarred landscapes. More often the insecurity is generated by a dislocation of scale, with objects and rooms suspended together in a precarious tension, small things appearing large and what should feel large compressed or distorted. The ordinary becomes eerie.

The latest painting, Darkness Visible, brings together an outpouring of personal references and glimpses of hell. Matisse’s armchair, wallpaper and hexagonal tiles are bled of colour by an unearthly light. The interior has been invaded, and the painter cannot take refuge. The painter cannot take shortcuts either. Although David may often use modern technology as a source for his imagery, he meticulously re-draws and re-works everything through paint. He has a passion for craftsmanship. Which is another reason why his paintings demand such close attention, but always reward it.

Mike Dibb and Cheli DurĂ¡n

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