Under the Surface: David West at Dorset County Museum

DORSET artist David West is the subject of a major exhibition at the county museum in Dorchester, spanning 60 years of his work as a painter, sculptor and craftsman.

Under The Surface, on at the museum until 6th January 2018, brings together 70 of David’s most important works from both private and public collections.  It reflects the different strands of his development, illustrating the progression and interaction between his use of paint and wood.

Born in 1939, David West went to Sutton and Cheam School of Art (1956 – 1958) and Camberwell School of Art (1958 – 1960) where he studied painting and printmaking. He found the emphasis on accuracy which was a feature of his student days too restrictive, and on leaving Camberwell he began to explore his love of decoration and strong pattern.

In the 1960s his work took an unexpected direction as he began to explore flexible ways to construct paintings within a three dimensional framework, which led naturally on to painting on wood.  Initially, wood was a substitute for canvas, but he soon became interested in its possibilities, and gradually there was more constructing and carving and less painting.

His carved wooden models are full of acute observation and humour, and reflect his strong interest in architecture, and the self-contained world within buildings.  His dolls houses were inspired by watching his daughter’s imaginative play, and the idea that within the basic structure of a house is a place where imagination can be released.

Some pieces portray actual houses, such as Parnham House and Forde Abbey, others are pure inventions.  Later models include a shop and theatre. Dorset County Museum is lucky to have The Spode Set, a miniature theatre carved in wood based on the ‘Spode Italian’ ceramic design.

West’s move from London to Lyme Regis in 1981 inspired in him a love of the Dorset landscape and coast, and a fascination with the ebb and flow of tides and water. This influence can be clearly seen in his work as he began to carve sculptures based on walks along the beach at Lyme Regis.

He has taken an active part in life in Lyme Regis, and in the 1990s had a significant role in the restoration of the Town Mill, where there is a room named after him.

It was the commission to carve and gild a set of organ pipe shades for St Michael’s Church in Lyme Regis which led to using gold leaf to develop the 200 drawings inspired by his trip to Japan in 2008. Variations of footpaths, waterfalls, fishponds and mountain streams are among the many gilded carvings and woodcut prints in the exhibition.  These were followed by works related to the Dorset landscape and coast, a series of gilded carvings, ‘Night Waves’ and ‘Moon’, combining influences from both Japan and Dorset.

Special events during the exhibition include guided tours on Tuesday 22nd August from 9am to 10am, and Friday 29th September from 9am to 10am

There are also a number of meet-the-artist events. Join David West for a private tour and hear the stories behind the objects – on Friday 11th August, 11am to 3pm, Wednesday 6th September, 11am to 3pm, and Friday 22nd September, 11am to 3pm.

Pictured: Artist David West, and Parnham House, photographs by Mark North; Big Fish, photograph by Maisie Hill.