Tuesday, 10 September 2019

REVIEW : David Cobley "All By Himself"

David Cobley All By Himself
The Mall Gallery
10am to 5pm (closes at 1pm on final day)
10 September 2019 to 15 September 2019
Main Gallery 
Admission Free

All By Himself monograph cover
I first came across David Cobley back in 2011 watching Show me the Monet on  BBC 2 TV, its Guardian review was really withering, calling it ‘a format that looked tired after 10 minutes’ and referred to David not by name but as ‘an  unknown artist who values his paintings at £100,000’, that painting All By Myself  is now a play on the title of this major retrospective at the Mall Gallery All by Himself  to which I have the great pleasure of attending its Private View.

I was so looking forward to seeing more of that ‘unknown artist' who regularly exhibits  at the Royal Academy Summer school and has two portraits in the National Portrait Gallery: the celebrated Liverpool comedian, Sir Ken Dodd, (2005) and the Nobel prize winning developmental biologist,  Sir Martin John Evans (2011) , along with a host of other celebrated sitters his work, now selling for many tens of thousands.

It was that £100,000 piece  that stood out for me, it was captivating, ticking all the boxes the Show me the Monet hanging committee were looking for in a work namely ‘originality, technique and emotional impact’ for me David’s work had it all and more.

David’s work is special, particularly his portraits, he has a way with the human face not only extracting the personality but the emotions of the sitter. He looks into their soul quite, unlike any other painter I know,  he has the power of Velasquez, the stillness of Vermeer and the sympathy of Leonardo. He has reinvented portraiture for me.

Summer '71 oil on board 95 x 61.5 cm
Doubt oil on linen 168 x 168 cm
There were many delights on show at All By Myself  from its  very entrance with Summer 71  a very early three quarter length self-portrait in which a confident, 17 year old David looks out at the world, in an open neck white shirt with dark trousers,  his righthand in his trouser  pocket and left arm loosely at his side the epitomy of youthful self-assurance tinged with innocence  A telling contrast to the much later and larger Doubt (1995) self-portrait, completed when David would have been 41. Twenty-seven years after Summer 71 David is not looking out, he is look down, we are below looking up at him, that aura of youthful confidence has given way to a tired introspection that comes with age, perhaps hinted at in the works title.

Bandwagon To Oblivion oil on linen  117 x 213.5 cm
David knows how to capture the human condition be it in in portraiture or in the nude he knows how to capture emotions, feelings. On a purely personal basis I prefer the portraits to the nudes as the faces he portrays tell stories of lived lives, of their happiness, ambition, hope, despair, sadness the ups and downs of the human condition, David’s work expresses and exposes it all.

Two works really demonstrated this for me: How We All Are (2013) and Bandwagon to Oblivion (1992). Here we have Norman Rockwell graphic realism commenting on America life with its vivid colours and compositions colliding with the densely populated human dramas found in the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder or Hieronymus Bosch. Stunning!

Here We All Are [£59,000.00] (2013) oil on linen 200 x 225 cm

The standout work in the Exhbition was the work that which introduced me to David – All By Myself (1998) – still with its £100,000 price tag. Described in the exhibition's packed monograph as
a therapeutic and cathartic picture of a singular subject, himself, but in a plethora of styles by a multiplicity of celebrated artists.
All By Myself  [£100,000] (1995)  oil on linen 121 x 121
It is 80 self- portraits in styles of canonical artists and one self-portrait in his own idiosyncratic, enigmatic style at its centre making 81 portraits in total arranged in a square, 9 image by 9 image format. When I first saw the work I struggled to find: Durer, Chardin, Arcimboldo, Leonardo, de Kooning, Bacon, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Magritte, David, Dali, (12) with a glass  of wine and the assistance of two other Cobley enthusiasts I was able to identify a further eight: Bacon, Klimt, Hockney, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hokusai, Warhol, Escher, Munch. 20 out 80 ! Even then, there were a few we were not fully sure of and where was Rubens, Michelangelo, Rembrandt? Much debate without full agreement those old masters and others wait to be identified by the more knowledgeable. Be great to hear from you if you can name other artists,  please send me its co-ordinates  based on a 9 by 9 grid, bottom left hand corner (1,1)  top right hand is (9,9) so David at the centre is (5,5) and (I’ll give you one of mine!) Picasso (7,2). Look forward to hearing from you.

I thoroughly enjoyed David Cobley's All By Himself  this free exhibition , I recommend it unreservedly, but hurry it closes 15th Sept at 1pm!

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