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David Gardner

“We should have learned from the grass, humble in its abundance, offering food and shelter wherever it spread. Instead, we stamped our feet like gods, marvelling at the life we made, imagining all of it to be ours.” Tishani Doshi - Species

David Gardner (b. 1987) is a British artist whose hyper-saturated delicate artworks reference sexuality, spirituality, and a deep understanding of what it is to be human. The sun is a prominent feature of this body of work, its presence felt through the glow on flesh and the tips of leaves and stems. It radiates a warm, heavy saturated light throughout the images, an inner glow that shines through everything. The sun appears to have traversed each image, capturing at the zenith of its cycle before dipping toward the horizon. A passing of time is felt through each frame, the journey approaching its ultimate end. This sun seems as if it is about to explode, setting everything alight. A destructive boiling point is imminent, one that might reset the balance of the Earth and engender a new beginning. The eye is overwhelmed, the colours bold but never heavy-handed or excessive. Febrile, as if vibrating with explosive potential. The work is vibrant in both colour and form, and everything depicted glows as if lit from within. Using traditional mediums such as watercolour, gouache and egg tempera, Gardner lavishly paints these vibrant environments, in which the constricted human form is shown enveloped in lush wildness. Many of the works are painted on Taroni Silk which gives the works a smoothness and a slight translucence, and an evanescent feel to the works. The silk echoes the tenderness, vulnerability, and strength of human flesh. Many of these works feature a solitary figure, surrounded by flora that exists both symbiotically and at odds to the presence of the human form. The figure is often cropped so closely that it is only one body part that is presented, and the surrounding plants grow over and through the statuesque flesh. The one single inspiration that gave birth to this entire body of work arose after David encountered the practice of the Modern Primitive performance artist, Fakir Musafar. Through intense body modifications Musafar seeks and encounters transcendental out-of-body states, recreating ancient rituals such as the Native American Indian Sun Dance where the flesh is pierced and suspended. This piercing of the flesh, a devotional ritual to something greater than oneself, is an ancient image that runs through many cultures in every part of the world - from the Hindu Kavadi processions to the image of Christ sacrificed and nailed to the cross. Whilst Gardner is not religious his religious schooling has imbued his work with certain iconography, both through the way the figures in his work are in a constant battle with the environment and in the way that their godlike beauty is not constrained by their turmoil. It is with delicacy and reverence that he handles these subjects, and the defiance of that beauty amidst the chaos imbues the work with a spiritual and otherworldly quality inherent in every gesture. The flesh, figures, and feet in the images are very present, and they occupy the full plane as if to escape (or transcend) beyond the perimeter of the canvas in search of liberation. They are also inexorably rooted to the Earth, albeit by seemingly violent means. On closer inspection however, the stem has grown slowly through the foot, the vines have wrapped and bound carefully around the form. The body and nature are recombining, entwining as if by divine necessity. Like a transformed Daphne trying to escape Apollo. The feet are the obedient humble underdog of the body, and are what root us to the Earth. We find ourselves in a world where we are becoming disconnected to the natural world with dire consequences - a slow sustained annihilation. Hermaphroditic flowers such as dandelions and sunflowers exist as recurring motifs, where explorations of masculine and feminine, apparent polarities that are fused together. The flowers are never shown in full bloom, wilting in their last beautiful twist towards the Sun. For Gardner, drawing and painting have been a way for him to explore his sexuality from an early age. Michelangelo’s David, John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Peter Hujar’s Daniel Schook Sucking Toe were early instigators as to how Gardner handled the human form in his work. The elegant beauty of David’s namesake towers above the viewer, whilst in his own work the intimate size invites closeness. In particular it’s how Hujar captures his sitters in an “empathetic pure moment of stillness” that captures Gardner’s attention, and his portrayals of “humans being beautifully human, and beautifully vulnerable”. The works initiate an act of looking. The penetration of a boundary; a threshold; a gateway. They aim to serve as a way towards healing this relationship between humanity and its relationship to the natural world through personal, cultural, and spiritual ways of looking. “It seems for a long time we have been living from the outside-in, instead of the inside-out. A personal and collective deep dive inward looking might just unleash a new super human power.”

“The show is a culmination of paintings that seek a reconnection between the human spirit and the natural world. The images are anchored in the idea of living from the inside out. An inner glow projects outwards towards the viewer, a solitary figure peers out towards the viewer's space and flowers grow and pierce through flesh. Something inside yearns to be liberated and everything tilts over the edge of a new threshold".
David Gardner


7 - 27 March 2024


David Gardner (b.1987 Newcastle upon Tyne, lives in London) is the recent winner of the ACS Studio Prize and spent time on residency at Palazzo Monti. Works are held in the Royal collection, the V&A, and private collections internationally. He completed a Drawing Year Postgraduate at the Royal Drawing School (2018-19) and studied Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins School of Art (2007-2011). Alongside his studio practice, he is part of the faculty at the Royal Drawing School and has taught there since 2020. Gardner was the 2022 winner of the Delphian Open Call, culminating in this collaborative exhibition.

Shipping Address / Group Show / Palazzo Monti, Brescia, Italy
Disrupted Harmony / Group Show / Stockholm, Sweden
Group Commission at Hauser & Wirth Somerset for the H&W Art Farm Shop opening in
Mayfair, London
Papier / Group Show / Delphian Gallery, France
ACS Winners Group Show / Gurr Johns / Pall Mall, London
Palazzo Monti Residency / Bercia, Italy
Ralph Lauren Group Show / Mayfair Flagship Store, London
Wild Things / Group Show/ Hexum Gallery / Vermont, USA
Winner of the ACS Studio Prize 2022
Paint Talk Group Show / VO Curations, Angel, London
Delphian Open Call Winner’s Show / Group Show / Unit1 Gallery, West London
African Fashion Exhibition / V&A, London and touring internationally
Emergence / Group Show / Hew Hood Gallery, Islington, London
Missing you / Group Show / Windsor Castle, Windsor
Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize / London and national tour
I’ll be your Mirror / Boisdale of Bishopsgate, Liverpool Street, London
Venus as a Boy / Solo Show / Maison Bertaux, Soho, London
Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize / Group Show / Online
Maison Bertaux / Group Show, Soho, London
Best of Drawing Year / Christies, Mayfair, London
End of the Drawing Year / Royal Drawing School, Hackney, London
RDS Drawing Year Open Studio Show / Space Studios, Hackney, London
Residency and Group Show / Borgo Pignano, Tuscany, Italy
Maison Bertaux / Summer Group Show, Soho, London
Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize / London and national tour
Colin Barnes Drawing Award / London
Graduate Show / Central Saint Martins, London

David Gardner
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