Never during his time at art school did David Piddock find much encouragement for making art his way, or even understanding of why he wanted to. After all, that was in the early Eighties, and virtually no one seemed to have any time for painting and sculpture as they were traditionally understood. Wanted to paint on a gesso base, did he? Whatever for, when he could be making installations or playing with video? READ MORE
John Russell Taylor, Art Critic, The Times
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Of course now it is clear that he was boldly ahead of his time, instead of pathetically lagging behind. If it is in some measure the duty of art students to react against whatever may be the establishment art of their own time, it is not really so surprising that, at the beginning of the third millennium, the students of today tend to dismiss installations as “that old-fashioned sort of art that wins Turner Prizes”. Or that Piddock's sort of art seems extraordinarily timely.
Piddock's art is essentially his own, defying classification. But a few tentative comparisons might be suggested. It could be seen in the light of Post-Modernism, for instance. In its subject matter it is learned, in its treatment generally ironic. Several paintings in his new show refer to the interior of the Royal Academy: specifically the columned area visible from the top of the Norman Shaw staircase. But given that this is the starting-point, he is quite happy to play fast and loose with the architectural details, adding or subtracting doorways at will and placing all sorts of artworks, classical and contemporary, within this general context.
Sometimes the irony comes in the combination of things displayed, but more often it lies in the interaction between what is happening in the art and what is happening in the gallery, where sometimes the living people reflect the paintings or sculptures, sometimes react strongly to them, sometimes totally ignore them. Other works look rather like baroque capriccii, suggested by, rather than representing, Trafalgar Square or Canary Wharf. Plinths are created or refurbished, and supplied with more or less appropriate statuary. The architecture is ruthlessly rearranged whenever it suits Piddock's purpose. And the settings are scattered with people behaving unpredictably.
Again in these pictures art and life interact: in ‘Incident at Mudchute', for example, the pose of the mysteriously collapsed young man in the foreground mirrors that of the sculpture in the middle distance. This edgy mixture of reality and fantasy produces a curious and distinctive atmosphere in Piddock's work. In some ways it reminds one of the mysterious, deserted neo-classical towns of de Chirico's imagination. If this is realism, then it is magic realism, illuminated by the light that never was, on land or sea.
And indeed, there is something dreamlike about Piddock's rich and vibrant sense of colour. Oils applied on creamy gesso, his paint achieves a remarkable luminosity, and a smoothness which suggests egg tempera. The colours tend towards the warmer end of the spectrum, as though everything, even the interiors, is bathed in that golden glow that sometimes spreads westward over the land just as the sun prepares to set.
In Britain being ‘painterly' is generally associated with the splashy and impressionistic: despite the evidence of Italian Metaphysical painting, American Precisionism and other influential twentieth-century art movements, the tradition of smooth, classical finish is supposed to have exhausted itself as a vital force with Ingres. But Piddock's work is quite definitely painting rather than illustration. The very preciseness of the technique simply emphasizes the mystery and ambiguity of what is depicted. Piddock's re-creation of his own private world is at once real, superreal and surreal. And, most importantly, it all comes together in one individual, unmistakably personal vision, that of an English eccentric lightly disguised as a dispassionate outsider.