Art of the unexpected

Emma Lee Happisburgh artist David Davies is holding a solo summer exhibition at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich this month. He tells EMMA LEE about his inspirations.

Emma Lee

David Davies describes his work as “happy accidents”. The Happisburgh-based artist currently has a solo exhibition at the Maddermarket Theatre, and will also be exhibiting at galleries in France, Italy and Bulgaria during the summer.

But when he sets about creating his pieces, he often has no idea how they will turn out.

“The underlying joy for me lies in the unexpected,” he says.

We meet as he's setting up his exhibition, which is at the theatre until the end of the month. The collection is made up of a mixture of light-boxes, which have a Japanese influence, etchings and collagraphs.

David, who originally studied engineering, says that his way in to becoming a fine artist was “a little bit unusual”.

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“I travelled a lot when I was very young. And at the end of the 70s I came back to live in Norwich and teamed up with an old friend and we decided to design one-off pieces of furniture,” he says. It was a partnership that enabled him to see some more of the world.

“We got picked up by the Craft Council in London and they sent us off to do exhibitions. We exhibited in the States, in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco,” he says.

In the early 1990s, David's career took a different path and he moved into fine art, experimenting with different artistic mediums and styles.

As he explains, he's long been interested in photography.

“For years I have taken lots of photographs. But photography is a bit precise for me. I like casual photography like Polaroid snaps. What I like is the mistakes, if they're under-exposed or over-exposed.”

He uses these “mistakes” as the backdrop of his light-boxes, contrasting with the precision of the Japanese-style line drawing motifs on the top layer.

His first light box was called Siamese Karaoke - the grid in the background is actually inspired by Sudoku puzzles, and the drawing shows the influence of the artist Hokusai.

Another light-box has more than a hint of Norfolk of it - its background is a poppy field. And if you look closely at another you'll see that the city skyline backdrop is actually a curtain.

David says that he also enjoys experimenting with printing.

“Peeling the paper off the plate always reveals something different from the expected - and, when I am lucky, something better,” he says.

The Maddermarket Theatre regularly holds exhibitions and David says that it's a little gem of a location to show work in.

This summer, David's pieces are also on show in the French exhibition Rencontres Des Arts at Mers sur Indre, at the Dedalo Centre for Contemporary Arts in Abruzzo, near Rome, at the end of this month and at the Lessedra Gallery at Sofia, in Bulgaria, until the end of August.

He also exhibited much closer to home this spring at an event called Troika, which is timed to coincide with the Norfolk Open Studios and is made up of work by artists in the Happisburgh area.

“This year, during the open studios, we had in excess of 1,000 people visit us. There has long been a connection with artists in Happisburgh. Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth used to go there and there were hopes it could be another St Ives. It never quite happened, but we keep the flame burning and there are lots of artists working out there. It's a lovely bit of the county.”

t David Davies's exhibition is at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, until the end of July.