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Painting on the Sky with Danny Rolph


Painting on the Sky with Danny Rolph

Many times we meet new people through our previous connections. Such is the way I recently met London born and bred artist Danny Rolph. Danny graduated with an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London as part of the YBA generation of artists. He has many awards, is internationally represented, and his work is in museum and private collections around the world.

I met Danny’s dealer Barbara Davis in Houston, Texas and she put me in touch with Danny and boom– a brilliant first meeting at Tate Britain for the outstanding exhibition of paintings by Frank Auerbach. As a recent graduate Danny was studio assistant to Lucian Freud’s art dealer James Kirkman where Mr. Auerbach would visit occasionally.

Since then I have visited Danny at his studio and had a few outings with him to exhibitions and I highly recommend to any art enthusiast to research his work and get an appointment at his studio.


citizenDavid says: as a recent graduate Danny was studio assistant to Lucian Freud’s art dealer James Kirkman. Below is a quick interview I had with Danny Rolph recently while on a day out in London, gallery and pub hopping:

DS: How long have you been painting? 

DR: Over 30 years! I started painting at school when I was 15 and I was hooked straight away

DS: Your paintings have many subtle visual layers with passages and moments, or keys, to access them. This interaction, for the viewer, fits the act of  “seeing” when looking at a work of art. In other words it is beautifully complicated and goes far past the idea of creating a “pretty picture” for decoration. With this in mind, what drives you as an artist?

DR: My aim has always been to create questions and the answers are in the materials I choose to use. I'm excited everyday I enter the studio- the potential to see something I haven't seen before is a constant thrill. Surrounded by my books, the radio and my LP's I start working.

DS: How did you come to be working with spatial abstraction?

DR: I only ever set out to make a painting, representational or non-representational isn't important to me, and my only aim is to engage a viewer.

DS: You work with paint and collage on paper and canvas, but also within a 3d, almost sculptural medium of layering multiple transparent plastic “triple wall” panels. What brought you to the layered method and why have you continued to use the more traditional mediums along side this newer process?

DR: I started working on multiple triplewall plastic sheets as a Rome scholar in 1998 at the British School at Rome after feeling increasingly frustrated by the lack of spatial opportunities canvas was offering me at that time. I began to layer the work and incorporated collaged elements soon after. Around 2004 I felt ready to work on canvas again and have continued to develop both surfaces ever since. I don't have material hierarchies as each surface has it's own idiosyncrasies and potential.


DS: Many of the great artists we know have taken leaps through different bodies of work. You started out in a more minimal fashion. Do you have a projection of where your current work may take you, visually speaking? 

DR: As a student, and for a few years after, my work tightened up into a serious monochrome palette which was like wearing a heavy coat in a hot country. I started to slowly remove this coat to reveal my true self, full of doubt and curiosity. My time living in Rome gave me permission to burn the coat and locate my passion "In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer" -Camus. I work on my paintings instinctively and unplanned, so lots of editing goes on during the evolution of the work. I have no idea where it's heading.

DS: As a British artist of the YBA generation with artists such as Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville, what was your involvement within the scene in the early days and how do you associate within it now?

DR: I visited the now famous Freeze exhibition as a student and was aware of what was happening with Goldsmith's alumni early on. At the Royal College of Art our paths crossed quite a bit in shows as well as socially. My contemporaries at The RCA were artists such as Chris Ofili in Painting and David Adjaye in Architecture. Peter Doig had also recently graduated from the Chelsea MA. I felt more tuned in to what they were doing and still do.

DS: As an artist born in London who continues to live and work here, can you tell us how where you grew up may have influenced the images you create?

DR:  I grew up in a tower block in central London. The sky flooded through every window where famous and infamous buildings were silhouetted against it. I'm lucky to travel a lot and love looking out at the sky surrounding the airplane I'm in. The wonderful skies of west Texas and New Mexico fill me with wonder. Alexander McQueen said: "There is no better designer than nature".

DS: You have a one-person show coming up at Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston, opening 10th of September. You have had a great and long standing relationship with Barbara. How long has it been, how did you both meet, and how does having a long relationship with a dealer influence your work?  

DR: I've been working with Barbara for eleven years. My Milan art dealer Roberto Annicchiarico introduced her to my work. We've developed a strong bond that comes from our shared passions for art, discourse and innovation. She encourages me and trusts my judgments. I've made some great friends in Houston through showing with Barbara and they continue to be a great support.

Visit Danny’s website here.

All artwork images are credit Barbara Davis Gallery, and the portrait by Stuart Hartley.

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