David Spiller is the ‘Peter Pan’ of today’s post-pop art scene. Beginning his career in the 1960s, he occupies a unique position in the contemporary art world; belonging to the pop tradition but not a pop artist. His work draws on the iconography and sounds of popular culture – on comics, TV cartoons, art history and lyrics by the greats of 20th century song-writing – as well as graffiti, which he uses to subvert his pristine canvases with scribbled text and images to create a dialogue with the viewer that anchors the work firmly in the present. “I make my own wall,” said Spiller, “and it’s one you can carry about and hang in your sitting-room.”
His eclecticism might mark him out as a post-modernist but there’s no irony intended here. “I use all sorts of popular motifs in my work. They’re not there for the sheer hell of it; everything has a meaning to me.” And, he hopes, for his viewers.
Forever Young at Beaux Arts, London, presents 25 new works from Spiller’s studio. They take the onlooker on a journey in which snatches of well-known song lyrics (from Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and The Troggs, among others), poetry and cartoons jostle with stories from the Old Testament as well as visual references to artists such as Picasso and Manet.
These vibrant paintings develop ideas from past work but also present new challenges; some are purely abstract – a new development – while others give prominence to favourite motifs such as dots and squiggles. Still, the emphasis here is on fun, serious fun, and on activating the work, the colours, the forms, so that each painting really lives.
“Art school was a cacophony of sounds,” says Spiller. “Most students were musicians and together we’d sing the blues. They played music and I painted. My art is still a performance, drawing on inspiration from music, books, films as well as my own memories, breaking moulds and challenging fears, so that my pictures are always about today.”
David’s studio is in South East London, a stone’s throw from where he sold flowers as a boy. Music fills the space, which is lined with life-size canvases, drawings and stencils, while the floor, with its spattered blobs of hardened oil paint, tells the story of over 20 years of creativity.
He works tirelessly – preferring to do so alone, without assistance – creating a maximum of 50 works a year, many of which are in private collections and museums throughout the world, from Belgium to Korea. “I don’t have any grandiose expectations about the effect of my work on people,” David told us. “It’s enough if they want to stop and look. But you want to make a difference, even if it’s only for ten minutes.”
The Forever Young exhibition runs from November 10th to December 11th. Prices range from £6,500 – £17,500. Address: Beaux Arts, 22 Cork Street, London, W1S 3NA. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7437 5799. Website. Opening times: Mon-Fri 10am-5:30pm; Sat 11am-1:30pm. Nearest tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.