Critics don't matter to Bromley
HE is what is often referred to, sometimes haughtily, as a popular artist or even criticised for his ‘commercialism’.
But David Bromley is an artist of the people, not an artist whose work is designed to show off his cleverness or appease the critics.
“I’ve always thought the very essence of an artist is to walk your own path,” he says.
Certainly that belief and his dogged pursuit of his own view of what comprises art has done his career no financial harm.
Bromley has had more than 30 solo shows across Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia; his work is held in corporate and private collections in both hemispheres; and he has been listed as one of the ‘50 Most Collectible Artists in Australia’ by Australian Art Collector Magazine
His eye-pleasing nudes appear at Raes at Wategos and his painted surfboards, priced around $9500, at Unplugged in Lawson Street, Byron Bay.
“David is passionate about surfing and about life,” says owner Oliver Certa, who met the artist six months ago.
For many years a sometime local – he divides his time between Melbourne and Byron Bay – Bromley, who turned 50 this week, has recently bought a large studio in Jonson Street.
It’s a place where he says he feels most relaxed. In fact, it may be the only place he feels relaxed, he laughs.
“I’ve always been captured by the heart and soul of Byron Bay. When I am here I feel a phenomenal sense of connectedness,” he says.
Of course the fact that he increasingly chooses to call the Northern Rivers home – he regularly travels between here and Melbourne (by car because of a fear of flying) – is a tall compliment from a man who is feted by galleries and fans in Osaka, London, Sydney, Johannesburg and New York.
Bromley was born in 1960 in Sheffield, England, and came to South Australia at the age of four. He lived what he describes as a troubled childhood and a wild adolescence.
“In my 20s, I was wandering the earth, wondering what the hell to do with myself,” he says. “I was starving, lost and confused.”
He moved to Noosa and developed a passion for both surfing and art.
“I decided to do everything in my power to reinvent my life. Surfing was a way to look after myself more and to engage in the physical,” he says.
“Art was about the heady stuff – finding ways of expressing myself.”
Bromley originally started learning how to throw clay on a wheel and, shortly after, decided he had found his calling as an artist.
“One medium led to another, although it did take a few years to turn to painting, which was very well received.”
There’s touches of Andy Warhol about some of Bromley’s work – his own biography describes that flavour as a ‘pop sensibility’.
He tends to focus on nudes and images of childhood adapted from the world of 1950s book illustrations. These are combined with an inventive relish for the effects of paint.
The ‘boyhood’ series typically draws on imagery from Boy’s Own annuals and old magazines, exploring themes of childhood innocence, lost and found.
But ask Bromley if they are his way of working through his own childhood issues and he is adamant that they are not.
“As a creator of images or a purveyor of stories you tend at first to look for something you can associate with,” he agrees.
“But it is self indulgent to make your work about you and it’s also a lot less fun.”
Rather, says Bromley, his choice of images is about engaging with a broad section of the community – ‘giving them a key to the door; helping them with an (art) vocabulary’.
“I find that the veiled stories being told by a lot of paintings are only for the art literate,” he says.
Or perhaps the arterati.
Art, he believes, should be a medium accessible by all although the current price of his work – $5000 to $45,000 for a canvas – means many may get to look but not own.
“There has been a great deal of criticism that my images weren’t that clever,” he says of his popular approach.
“But I see myself as a storyteller, or a town crier, even though I continue to believe that other forms of (art) have their value.”
Like his ‘boyhood’ paintings, his nude series uses layering and texturing techniques to explore the female figure.
Meanwhile Bromley is increasingly in demand as a portraitist – he’s been a finalist four times in the Archibald Prize and painted some famous visages, including filmmaker Scott Hicks, actor Hugo Weaving and pop star Kylie Minogue.
He says he has been talking to Barry Humphries about sitting for the Archibald next time around.
He’s also been busy diversifying into furniture and interiors – more of that ‘commercialism’ for which he is criticised by some in the arts community.
“I have been working on gigantic wallpaper murals, embroidered materials and (customised) classical French and industrial antiques for an interior design gallery in Melbourne that will be called Bromley and Cappochie,” he says.
With his new, expanded studio and his brush in many artistic pies, Bromley describes his schedule as crazy but he continues his passionate pursuit of whiograat he loves.
“Success if a funny old word,” he muses.
“You still go through marital problems, great disappointments, loss of loved ones.
“But you fight your way through things and you become stronger and you hang on to what you are passionate about no matter what comes along.”
Everyone has their critics, he adds sagely.
“A recent article in Adelaide was very derogatory about my work and then the New York Times spoke highly of my talents,” he says.
“Put the two together and you just laugh. There are always going to be different points of view.
“My work is not for everyone but I have become a contributor towards a cultural element of society.”