“I stopped painting for over 20 years.
Whilst not making art, I spent all my time with art and artists – looking, listening, learning. I had always presumed that subject matter drove meaning; that the content of a work leads us directly to meaning, or what a painting is about. The more I learned, the less true this appeared.
It took me a long time to understand what my favourite artists painted. Chardin, Vermeer, Morandi, Neel, Cezanne, Manet, Vuillard, Tal R, Katz, Hammershøi, Hartley, Freilicher, Caulfield, Sleigh, and other greats appear to have made paintings out of almost nothing. They painted their family and friends, their surroundings, the things on their table, apples, dogs, everyday life. Contrary to normal logic, the lack of content in these paintings produced the most meaning. A schism exists between the subject and its contents. The subject of a Hammershøi painting is an empty room, doors, windows, walls, but it’s really about love, loss, time, memory, light, death. Giorgio Morandi painted old jugs and bottles. Everyone who ever picked up a brush has painted such images, and they remain just that: images of old jugs and bottles. When painted by Morandi, though, an alchemy takes place—those pictures suggest family, isolation, melancholy, joy. Cezanne’s paintings of apples say more about death than his pictures of skulls. Tits and skulls don’t make a painting about sex and death; a painting of an apple might, unexpectedly and heartbreakingly.
Now, after my 20-year hiatus from painting, I’m ready to reverse the flow. I’m making paintings of things I care about, things that matter to me, things I love: family, friends, flowers grown by my girlfriend, other beloveds. I remain hopeful that meaning can find its way into these paintings somewhere somehow.”
David Risley, October 2021.
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