David Bromley is one of the most famous artists in Australia today. Originally born in England, he moved out to Australia at the age of 3 and a half. Bromley worked for many years in Adelaide and all over the world; however, he now resides in Melbourne. His work explores two main genres, the “Boys Own” or children’s/adolescents adventure series books and the female nude, interspersed with these two themes are birds and skulls. He is a greatly influenced by Andy Warhol and his work is of a similar ilk; reproducing artworks based on popular culture in acrylic and oil.
I first noticed David’s work in the most unlikely places, moving past me on a float in the Christmas pageant it was at this point that I thought, this guy is pretty well-known.
I met him at the opening of his exhibition for the Cabaret; he is certainly a personality in his own right, even though this was not his intention. I was interested in writing about him, not only because he is one of the most successful contemporary artists’ in Australia today, but also because he was is an ex-Adelaide boy. He began his career as a potter but eventually turned to painting.
As I looked through Bromley’s work I was amazed at what I saw. I could easily see why his work is so popular. The exhibition contains a variety of works but is weighted towards the display of his “Boy’s own annual” works and a selection of pottery and sculpture.
His work can be found at the “Bromley” Gallery (Lyrics, adjacent Festival Theatre Foyer).
When I asked Bromley why he painted birds and he said because they are beautiful. They certainly are, as Bromley paints them. In this painting simply titled “Birds” the birds are depicted in a variety of poses. They flip and dart about the silver negative space. They are distinctly outlined with black line. Colour is a feature of these birds, their bright reds and vibrant blues drag your eye about. Cream streaks and splattered colour provide an interesting break for the eye. This work was initially a painted canvas background that was painted with bright colours. The negative space was filled with deep black and finally embossed with silver leaf. In many ways it reminds me of the old illustrations that might appear in children’s books. The line work is reminiscent of the graphic style of that era; undulating and bold, it is weighted to support the dynamic subject matter.
The real strength to this work is the flawless balance and brilliant composition that leads the viewer’s eye about the work. Bromley is a true pop artist, more often than not the pop artist leaves the viewer to decided their own interpretation of the work rather than explicitly provide it. For many that is its appeal. “Birds” is one such work. A bird is an object that symbolises so much; ideas of freedom, sexuality and fragility. The viewer is left to construct their own meaning, making this work quite versatile for display.
“Bubble Boy” is an Acrylic and Oil on Canvas work spanning three panels. It is an excellent example of his 1950’ boy’s annual style. The images have, seemingly been lifted from the pages, with their colours intact and placed on the canvas. In the first panel we see three children; two boys and a girl. The girl is kneeling, dressed in red, her hands folded in a relaxed posture. The two boys are engaged in play; one in s sailor suit with a boat in his hands and the other is blowing bubbles which drift across the remaining panels. In the second panel there are 4 children, two boys and two girls paddling a home-made boat created from an upturned table with a blanquette as a sail. They have homemade oars and are sitting on small wooden stools. A girl at the back is waving a pirate flag, the group is engaged in joyous play. In The final panel there is a girl in a golden bird suit, its head as a cap. She is looking outward, away from the other panels. Two animals are also placed in the scene; the lower is a kitten involved in an old style hoop game while the other is a duck, playing its own game of “boats”. This character is looking through a telescope with a red bed sheet at the rear of them. The negative space on all three panels is filled with blue while the edges of the canvas appear rustic and worn. The colours of this piece have been; once again, beautifully balanced, and the figures positioned in such a way as to engage with the viewer yet not detract from the flow of the work. Overlap has also been utilised to create interest and unite the characters in this work. Again, with this work the Pop elements are apparent, the viewer is largely left to decide the work’s meaning for themselves. The most appealing aspect of this Bromley genre is that he has selected characters that evoke a sense of nostalgia. I have seen this type of imagery before, maybe it was on my parent’s lap feeling warm and protected as a story was read to me. Maybe I remember blowing bubbles as a child or pretending to be pirates. There is an innocence with Bromley’s images that evokes with the viewer a kind of reverie where I am transported to a time and place that was wonderful, where imagination was cherished and where creativity flourished. Bromley gives us that gift through his work and it is no wonder that it has such a wide appeal.
As I researched Bromley it is apparent that he also has his critics, because of his mechanical working methodology he has produced a plethora of work. It is almost as if his working style is mimicking Warhol and his factory. Like Warhol, the main criticism of his work is that it has become rather predictable and geared for sale. Still, I wouldn’t mind a Warhol on my wall and I feel the same about Bromley.