David Hedderman’s new exhibition shows his fascination of the figurative form using freestyle movements and charcoal, chalk pastels and oil sticks to create large-scale spontaneous compositions …
What inspired the title of your exhibition “Fellow Prisoners”?
It comes from a hero of mine John Berger (author of Ways of Seeing). I loved the balance of his political mind with his creative, artistic mind. I’ve rarely come across such a finely tuned balance. I admit to being obsessed with his writings. His audio essay on YouTube of “Fellow Prisoners” is something that resonated with me when I first heard it, but with the pandemic, it makes a lot more sense. I’m very open to the process of making art that, if you don’t think about it too much, it connects with the collective.
With these drawings, the first lightbulb moment was when I exhibited a small drawing in Dublin three years ago called “Falling Man”, which was relevant at the time with all the talk of gender equality. I got the idea of drawing men falling apart. At the opening, two young men came up to me and asked me if the work was about anxiety and mental health, which got me thinking and my next show was called “Shaking Still” which resonates with these issues. I’m interested in being authentic and genuine about issues that are relevant.
I did my thesis in art college on Charlie Chaplin and Kandinsky. Kandinsky wrote about the spiritual side of art and the role of the artist which was quite romantic. He said that the job of the artist was to feed his audience with what was going on at the time. I was fascinated by the fact that Charlie Chaplin was a foreigner in America mocking Hitler when America was still politically working with Germany, with the result that when he left the US for a holiday, they didn’t let him back in. Then there was the madness of the situation where Hitler had copied Chaplin’s moustache because it was iconic at the time. I just think it’s a great example of how mad and ridiculous the world can be and how important it is to remain authentic. The title also refers to being a prisoner in your own body.
How do you approach a new work?
With life drawing when you’re using a model, you don’t have time to think about composition so it’s usually freestyle. Each drawing takes two or three sessions. I like going back to how I drew as a child with absolute freedom – you could describe it as playfulness. Generally, I work with very large canvases, so I need to be conscious of my movement. I’ve learnt a lot about that from dancers so for that reason keep myself very fit and light on my feet.
Can you explain the the process you used for this summer exhibition?
The drawings I am exhibiting at the Wilton Gallery are from a body of work, which I have been compiling since 2018. The drawings are made from a life drawing structure I have designed. It is a two-hour class where I draw directly from the model. Layering poses on top of each other and working them up on the same heavy paper. The poses in these drawings can be anything from one minute up to 30 minutes. The model is in charge and chooses the poses and the two-hour structure is constant and intense with me recording each of the poses. There is not much time for me to think about what I am doing – that is the feeling I hunt for when I am making these drawings. Turning up to the easel to see what comes out.
You also teach life drawing …
I’ve been teaching life drawing for eight years from my studio in Berlin with a maximum of 15 people in the space but once the pandemic hit, myself and Yuka, with whom I collaborate, shifted everything online. I wasn’t so sure it would work but it’s become this community which is lovely. I know there are limitations to drawing two dimensionally on a screen but it’s worked well and also it’s been a great means of survival. All the drawings in the exhibition are a result of what has come out of these drawing classes. I think there are two sides to me, I’m normally quite open and enjoy being with people. My artistic side is very monk-like but I feel I can give something back through my teaching.
How did you end up living in Berlin?
I was in a band The Immediate with Connor O’Brien [of Villagers], but I realised I didn’t like touring so much. I tend to like to stay in the same place and they were going on to bigger things. After the music stopped a few things happened: I was 27 and I came on holiday to Berlin and just fell in love with it, mainly because I was able to have my studio here. I’d had studios in Dublin but they were always transient so I felt I wouldn’t be able to build something up. I didn’t think I could do it here, but I’ve been in this studio since 2012. It’s in a beautiful building – over the years we’ve had to fight to keep it but it’s been worth it.
Need to Know: “Fellow Prisoners” by David Hedderman will open on June 22 – July 4 at Wilton Gallery, 55 Glasthule Road, Sandycove, Dublin; www.wiltongallery.ie.