Our Secret War is perhaps David’s most acclaimed series to date. Taking more than eight years to create, the series is also accompanied by a book that David has authored. It is his hope that through his book and series of paintings, he can take his viewers on a journey of discovery through Australia’s colonial history; that for David has been a journey of personal discovery. What he has learned about Australia’s colonial past, has not only shocked him, but has also greatly impacted the way he now views the indigenous people of Australia, their character, and their culture.

David says: “These images are about the invasion of the British and their occupation of Australia under the guise of Terra Nullius, or “land belonging to no one”. The paintings focus on the impact that the First Fleet of British invaders had on the land, its resources, and the displacement and maltreatment of the indigenous people that had lived there for thousands of years.The series also has a strong focus on indigenous heroes and their formidable resilience and resistance.

It is my hope that through the paintings I have created, I can offer people a different point of view of Australian colonial history and indigenous culture that is both confronting and thought provoking. I think it is extremely important to the process of reconciliation that people understand and recognise the hardships and attitudes that the indigenous people of Australia have had to endure – from the first fleet invasion, through to their ongoing struggle for full recondition and rights to land they belong to.”

David’s goal, right from the outset, was to create images that hadn’t been seen before by forming the series from the pages of history itself. David drew inspiration for his images from the words within the many historical texts he was reading. For David, the paintings needed to become more than just images, they needed to give the people, that these books were about, a chance to come to life again on canvas. He wanted to give them a new voice and a new platform to tell their story in person. He wanted to connect the viewer to history in a way that was engaging, and even confronting. He knew that without that connection, the paintings would simply end up being void of power or emotion.

Before David even painted the first brush stroke of this series, he gave great consideration as to how he wanted the paintings to look. After studying many of Australia’s early colonial artworks, he discovered that they all appeared to have a very distinct European feel to them, even though they featured Australian subject matter. Many of the first fleet artists were, of course, European, so they relied heavily on the styles they had been taught whilst learning to paint in Europe. Much of their early landscape depictions featured a style of painting houses, flora and fauna that could be easily mistaken for Europe, had they not contained depictions of Australian aborigines or kangaroos. David knew that what he wanted to create was a look and feel to the work that was unmistakably Australian in colour, landscape and subject matter, so that no matter where it was viewed, it would be instantly recognisable as Australia.

David had a very powerful and confronting story of history to tell, and it needed the correct technique and style to go with what it had to say. He also wanted to create totally original images that no one had ever painted or seen before, images that would allow the viewers to feel like they had physically entered the paintings. David eventually decided to use a style that he had discovered when he was just sixteen, living in the outback mining town of Broken Hill. Using gouache and watercolour, he had learnt to paint the earthy colours and subtle nuances of the outback landscape where he lived, and felt that this style would be perfect for Our Secret War. Not only would the style reflect the harshness and challenges of Australia’s early colonial history perfectly, it was also totally original and uniquely Australian, and in David’s mind, it was exactly what was needed to bring this series to life.

Even though David had read an incredible amount of history books and knew the stories of the indigenous well, he made a point of imagining himself as being present at each scene before beginning. In his mind, taking himself into the scene was the only way he could bring the viewers with him. It was something he had learnt from watching his father paint as a young boy. while painting a series of paintings on the war battles of Gallipoli, Pro would fire off caps, and light pieces of fuse and small amounts of gun powder to fill his studio with the sounds, smell and smoke of the battle field.

David says: “An artist must situate their mind in the moment in time they are hoping to capture; that’s the only way to translate emotion into the work.”

It was important that David took himself into the story as closely as possible. Before starting this series, he even planted particular plants and native trees in the garden outside his studio that would have been found in the stories he was painting, and would often refer to them if particular images required their presence. In this way, he would know how the plants would have actually looked at different times of the day or year. He would also play didgeridoo music, and had large sticks and lengths of aluminium extrusion leaning up against the walls of his studio that looked just like spears.

Before starting work on each painting, David would spend an hour or more reading and watching the story unfold in his mind with the hope of transferring the feeling of being there, to the canvas and viewers.

One of the things that you may notice as you observe the landscapes in some of these paintings, is that the background, or tree line, can have an exaggerated softness and beauty in its appearance and colour. The reason for this was drawn from a technique often employed by Norman Lindsay. Lindsay would often use a group of ugly woman or demonised dwarfs, to enhance the beauty of an average looking woman through juxtaposition. David has done the same here in this series of work; using soft colourful landscapes to create a sense of serine light and tranquillity to juxtapose the grotesque carnage taking place within some of the scenes. Just as Norman Lindsay used ugliness to enhance beauty, David has used beauty to magnify the ugliness. This reinforces the fact that what’s being seen does not belong in the landscape, and does not belong within the heart of a human to perpetrate such things.

The canvas that David chose for this series was an 8oz, triple primed, seedless, cotton canvas with a very fine tooth. David chose a fine tooth, or smooth finish, as it would lend itself better to the fine brushwork and glazing that his style would involve. David also used Chroma Atelier Interactive Acrylic as his choice of painting medium, as he felt the range of colours they offer and the way the paint behaves was the best choice for the style being used.

David says that there were still many moments of frustration with both the medium and the technique, in that they were very unforgiving, and allowed no room for mistakes. He experienced many difficulties with glazing and staining techniques that were used to create shadows and build depth within the images. The problem he faced with this was the reactivation of the underlying colours, even after many weeks of drying time. When new colours were being applied over the top of older colours, it had the potential to moisten them again and cause them to lift away. David had to make sure every time he finished painting something into his work, that he spent a good amount of time heating it and drying it with a hair dryer in order to fast-cure the paint. This would usually do the trick, but even then, there were no guarantees that the colours wouldn’t reactivate.

David says: “There was a constant pressure not to make a mistake after completing hours of work. One mistake could destroy an entire painting. The landscape alone could take up to 50 hours to complete, so a mistake would literally ruin a week’s worth of work. Simply painting someone or something in the wrong spot, or not having my scale or perspective exactly right was all it would take to ruin the painting. If I were to paint a person into a landscape at the wrong size compared to say, a tree or building, it would be almost impossible to reverse the mistake.

“Painting the first strokes of the main subject matter is always tense moment for me, and requires total dedication to concentration. Every stroke is technically a controlled stain and it can be quite neve racking and challenging, but conquering that fear and completing a great finished painting always brings a joy and satisfaction and sense of achievement that is difficult to explain.”

Contrary to what people might think, nothing in David’s paintings is sketched out first, in fact, everything in his paintings is painted in by hand from the inspiration of the moment. David never does a pre-sketch of what he thinks painting should look like, as he finds that over-planning can take the feeling of inspiration away from what he’s painting. Preferring Instead to just let it happen, David says that, quite often, things he does spontaneously end up being some of his best work. David believes that every painting he creates has a life of its own, and, throughout its creation, can cross from life to death and back again many times. In that battle, there is a wonderful relationship that is born between the canvas and the creator; turmoil and joy working together to give birth to a masterpiece. This is part of the joy of being an artist, and it is also what David has enjoyed most about creating this important series of work.

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Originals

December 16, 2014

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Series

November 16, 2014

End of Day

Reproductions

September 16, 2014

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Giftware

August 16, 2014