Glasgow-born artist David Band draws on a keen sense of colour and form to create his idiosyncratic abstract prints and paintings. Now based in Melbourne, Band balances his artistic practice with running his own design business – dual tasks he describes as “equally important”. Curator and photographer Ross A. Waterman joined the artist in his studio to talk about his career and his working process.
Words: Ross A. Waterman Portraits: Stephen Oxenbury
The ability to conceive, to invent and to create new bodies of work and to continue to do this over many years is the measure of any artist’s success. Musicians can be one-hit wonders, a filmmaker or author can be remembered for a great singular work, but visual artists in particular, regardless of the impact of any single artwork or exhibition, need to continue to prove themselves over many years and exhibitions before they can earn an enduring reputation. It is this combination of talent, originality and rigour over time that makes an artist’s career and eventually earns them history’s regard.
David Band is such an artist. His latest paintings, to be exhibited in March at Melbourne’s Australian Galleries, form part of a fifth body of work. Band’s first exhibition in Australia was in 1987 and since then he has shown in London and New York, been commissioned to create work for various hotels and restaurant interiors, lectured at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and operated a successful design business. He is equally as well known for his prints and paintings as he is for his designs, which have graced the album covers of popular 1980s band Spandau Ballet, as well as appearing on a range of Paul Smith t-shirts.
But it has been the totality of his practice, his uniqueness, his consistency, his sensibility, his technical skills and the quality of his art that has earned him respect among his peers and in the creative world. And, on top of that, he is a really nice, down-to-earth person.
Band’s first major body of work – which the artist undertook over a six-year period from 1991–97 – comprised semi-figurative abstractions of teardrops, flowers and heads, laying the foundation for his personal iconography.
His next, highly regarded series, Asper (a Scottish word for “squeeze”), expanded this lexicon and depicted flattened blobs and stretched ellipses floating in fields of colour. These works flowed and resonated in a way that evoked and paraphrased music. The emblematic floral patterns made by a Spirograph drawing toy served as inspiration for Band’s next group of prints and paintings, but his soft-edged, linear motifs sat atop black backgrounds, effectively reversing and humanising the gadget’s designs.
Following in the tradition of Paul Klee, the next series took a line for a walk. These paintings and prints were made by dipping wool in paint and laying the wet strands on sparsely coloured and textured grounds. This technique produced paths that enticed the eye to trace them and the mind to follow in search of the familiar.
Band’s recent paintings, exhibited with the Hill Smith Gallery at the 2008 Melbourne Art Fair, continue this celebration of beauty. These paintings depict stacks of colours, sitting in corners or floating on high, but the shapes remain unstable – moving back and forth, shifting and sliding. Colours converse with space, depth and rhythm to create shimmering surfaces. Like much of his most evocative work, Band’s recent paintings communicate without recourse to symbolic or associative meanings. In a world devoid of representational cues, Band uses the elements of art to communicate directly to the senses and evoke memories of exquisite timeless and wordless experiences.
David Band has two studios. For the past three years he has worked in a purpose-built structure located on the outskirts of Melton (a rural township west of Melbourne) on a property owned by his brother-in-law. Despite being surrounded by land and with an expansive view to the horizon, Band denies any environmental influences on his work. A cavernous “shed”, the Melton studio houses Band’s printing press and allows him room to make his monoprints and, when time allows, the space to contemplate his finished work. Although more modest in size, Band’s other studio – located on a busy street in the Melbourne suburb of Balaclava – is home base for both his art practice and his design company, Mahon & Band. Identified only by a strip of masking tape stuck to the front door, the three-by-eight metre room is where Band does most of his painting.
Visiting Band in his Melton studio, one is met with an array of visual stimuli – half-finished paintings, drawings tacked to the walls, design plans, paint pots – all of which provide impetus for many questions:
Photography and computers are integral aspects of the design process for many artists these days. What role do they play in the creation of your art?
I use the computer as a tool; a means for scanning drawings and playing with colour.
So drawing is important to you?
Drawing was hammered into us at Glasgow School of Art; it was a major part of the curriculum back in the ’70s. Fraser Taylor, a friend and colleague from then, and from my Royal College of Art [London] days has been coming to Melbourne every couple of years to work on collaborations. He altered my approach to drawing, switching me to cheap papers and markers, resulting in a less precious approach. Without drawing, where does the creative process begin? You lapse into pillaging and plagiarism – which in itself can be interesting, but not to me.
When looking at your art, do viewers need to know something about it in order to “get” it?
No, not really, but sometimes the title can alter their initial view.
Your latest works are essentially abstract, although some include shapes – such as heads, glasses and bottles. Do you use these shapes in a purely formal sense, or is their symbolic value important to you?
There is a symbolic quality to many of the new works, which are, as you say, more representative. Bottles and glasses have made a welcome appearance, possibly as a result of my continued enjoyment of the food and wine industry through my design practice. [Band’s many design clients have included the well-known Sydney restaurants Rockpool, Icebergs and North Bondi Italian Food.]
When I saw one of your recent paintings I thought of Philip Guston, particularly in terms of your use of colour. Was Guston or any other artist on your mind when you began this series?
Comparisons are found in all creative pursuits. Influences are continual. Guston’s colour scheme of the ’70s certainly influenced my painting Dancing (2008). But I wasn’t conscious of his forms being an influence. The wool series can easily be traced to Ellsworth Kelly, although the drawings of Matisse have certainly influenced those. Like any artist interested in the creative world, I read art magazines and artist monographs and I’d be kidding myself to think there wouldn’t be influences [on my work], conscious or subconscious.
You’ve recently been making some striking black paintings. They seem to me to be as much about surfaces as emotions or ideas.
Basically they were backgrounds that proved more successful as foregrounds.
Do you find that your prints inform your paintings or vice versa?
One would walk the other. They are such different mediums. I always approach the print medium as a different tool, with a different end result. You shouldn’t hammer a nail with a saw.
There is a long tradition of artists approaching their art with the intention of improving the quality of domestic and commercial environments. You operate a successful design business. Is there a relationship between your art and design practices?
My design practice was born out of necessity and a need for artistic control. Various designers had been interested in using my imagery for commercial projects and, as an artist, I didn’t like giving up control of the end result. But I do rely on an assistant in the design practice, as my knowledge of computer programs is nonexistent! Although it’s rare these days that the content of my paintings is related to the content of my design work, I wouldn’t rule it out, given the rightproject. I no longer separate my art from my design practice – they’re equally important.Thankfully we live in an era where Marc Newson exhibits his furniture with Larry Gagosian; Tracey Emin creates handbags for Longchamp; and Takashi Murakami runs an art and design empire. Why divorce one from the other?
Exhibition: Same Difference, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 3–22 March 2009.
David Band is represented by Australian Galleries, Melbourne; Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney; Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane; and Hill Smith Gallery, Adelaide.