ref: 00v Until Nov 17 2007 VICTORIA ART GALLERY David Cobley - return to Galleries PR Index


Inside and Out: an exhibition of oil paintings by David Cobley at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath from 6 October until 18 November.

David Cobley lives and works in Bath and is best known as an accomplished portrait painter who works to commission. For this exhibition of 50 or so new works he has broadened his usual range to include still lifes, landscapes and nudes, besides adopting a more painterly style using a palette of rich colours.

All the works will be for sale and an illustrated catalogue will be available.

David was born in Northampton, England in 1954. He completed a year's foundation course in Art and Design there and studied briefly under Peter Prendergast at Liverpool College of Art before travelling around Europe and the Far East.

After completing a degree in comparative culture in Japan he began to draw and paint again, returning to England in 1985 as a freelance illustrator and visualiser while painting in his spare time. Gradually portrait commissions took the place of illustration work, and over recent years he been developing his interest in the human figure, participating in shows like NAKED at the Royal West of England Academy in 2004.

As well as being a Member of the Royal West of England Academy, David also belongs to the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. His sitters include HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, and in 2003 David was commissioned to paint the current President and Council of the RWA. In 2005 his portrait of Ken Dodd was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection.

He has won many awards including being short-listed for the BP Portrait Award in 1989 (then sponsored by the John Player group). He won both the Public Prize and the Daler-Rowney Prize at the RWA in 1999 and two years later won the Andrew Brownsword Prize here at the Victoria Gallery.

He exhibits annually at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the New English Art Club, and for several years has exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He has had solo exhibitions at Beaux Arts in Bath, and in 2005 held his first one-man show at Messum's in London.

You can see more of David Cobley's work at his website,


Like a composer, David Cobley explores themes and variations through his work. The preoccupation stems on the one hand from the artist’s insatiable appetite for visual form, his unflagging willingness to square up to the challenge of translating the 3D world of experiences into the 2D world of the canvas surface. This is not to say that he takes a scattergun approach; far from it, for Cobley is very selective in terms of his subject matter, besides being acutely attentive to principles of proportion and harmony. The picture has to work well in terms of it being both a convincing illusion of space and a coherent design. One way to describe this phenomenon would be as the product of a highly refined visual intelligence.

But a preoccupation with physical matter – with appearances and textures, with the colours and aromas of the paint box – is not sufficient in itself to sustain the urge to compose. There has to be something else, an added dimension if you like that is not visible to the naked eye, that makes David Cobley’s images so resonant and sets them apart from those of his fellow artists.

While acknowledging that we are dealing here in the realm of the intangible, I would hazard a guess that the vital spark that informs all Cobley’s work is the human presence, the human psychology, whether overt or implied, whether that of his models, himself, or reflected back at him by the objects that mean something to him. His nudes, for example, go much further than being mere anatomy lessons. There is a sense of dramas and relationships being played out, of things said and left unsaid, of the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings towards each other and towards the painter, and vice versa.

The undercurrents are never explicit, however; they remain sufficiently open-ended for us to be kept guessing, allowing us to bring our own imagination into play or perhaps interweave strands of our own personal histories. In After the Kiss we see the image of a young woman’s face with closed eyes and bright red lips transferred onto a jigsaw, but the picture is only a fragment, and one piece stands apart from the hole into which it is obviously waiting to be inserted. The fragmentation suggests that, notwithstanding the intimacy of the preceding moment, something remains unresolved. And the fact that we are looking at a fabricated image of another fabricated image, in other words dealing with three levels of reality, only serves to add to the mystery.

Ultimately Cobley challenges us to ponder our own relationships with people and with things. His paintings are thus articulate in ever sense of the word – exquisitely crafted and composed, as well as deliciously intriguing and thought-provoking.

Jon Benington, Gallery Manager