What you do?
I’m a painter.
What is it which drives you to paint?
I think that is quite hard to answer. I don’t want to be romantic and, well I do want to be romantic, and talk about a calling or a vocation, but if people want to paint they will paint and that sits within being an artist, which can cover many genres and many spectrums. I think people don’t realise that this is a life possibility, that they persistently want to do something like painting, or writing or making music, until it hits them.
I think I am quite an articulate person, but I don’t necessarily like to shoot my mouth off about lots of things, partly because words can trap you, and they are immediate and once you have said something people take it and say “but you said this, it doesn’t fit with that.” Painting for me is a meditated and mediated processing of experience and I like that fact that it doesn’t have to be explicit, so you can put a lot into a painting that is not in your face.
You graduated from Central St Martin’s in 1996, how do you look back on your time there?
Like a long hard road I think, I’m grateful to it, I’m glad that I went there and glad that I did it, but my life is more complex than that sentence reveals. I didn’t actually start there. It was maybe my third art college, and I went there are a mature student. I had a completely different university and background before.
Was that a non-art background?
Yes, in languages actually, but looking back on my time at St Martin’s I wouldn’t say it was formative, because if you are a figurative painter it depends where you land on whether you are going to be encouraged or nurtured. I remember moving there from another art school, which was totally the wrong place for me, where I was failing modules. When I went to St Martin’s for an interview the tutor said, do you think you might be a portraitist? Which was an astonishing thing to says, so kind of little hints you experience like that I think have been very formative.
And was it that suggestion that brought to light your already existing passion for the figure?
No, I think it was doing figurative painting before, and I didn’t turn into a portraitist, and I still haven’t turned into a portraitist yet, but I am kind of snipping around it.
You do a lot of figurative painting. Is it fair to say that is the main bulk of your practice?
I think it is at the moment, I’m very cautious about saying I do certain kinds of art, but that’s what I am doing at the moment and is what I have been doing for the past few years.
What is it about the human form which captures your imagination?
I don’t know whether it is the human form, I mean, the human form is the vase, or pot, in which so much else is; your personality, your spirit, and the whole of your history are walking around inside your physical shape.
As a figurative painter you relate to painting the human form, because you are inside that yourself; you have hands, you have a back, you have fears, or whatever. I think that, without making explicit the connections, it connects with everything of being a human, so it connects with philosophy, religion, it connects to your thoughts about where we are in our culture, in history, about how society functions, about how you relate to other people, so all of that is bubbling around and I am painting people and that encompasses everything.
Your painting of the chess player really captured our attention, the perspective of the table in profile, the paper on the floor, the red carpet and curtains, did you orchestrate this scene or did it occur naturally.
A mix of those, I knew that I wanted to paint, how can I say, quite an imposing portrait, so I know I wanted to paint large, the friend that I was painting had been talking to me about chess, I don’t play chess, but I happened to have a chess board, so we tried that out. In retrospect I think these are always kind of strong or important things about a painting. I think you can choose things which accidentally are very significant. The chess board was laid out with a real game with an angle that invites you, as the viewer, to make your move.
It’s a very composed pose and I think that says something about the person. When I say there is a key, I mean the guy is Spanish, so there is red, yellow, red which is cliché, but it’s done subtly, so it’s jokey and you don’t necessarily notice it. The pomegranate refers to Grenada where he is originally from. I tried the scene out in a little study and it seemed to work.
The chess game would have been invisible if I had painted it in correct perspective, so I was mature enough to take license and tip the table down. The cycle helmet, there was an empty corner and I could see there there were spherical or circular shapes all over the canvas, so when I noticed that in the studio I decided to include it. It alludes to Spanish classical painting, a piece of paper with a signature and something about the sitter, so it’s not pastiche, but I’ve learnt painting both from living artists and past artists, and I want to show that I am part of a tradition, as well as putting my own ten pence worth in.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I can’t think of one particular person or artist. At the risk of sounding very mature, I think that as you do more and more art that you have to be rooted like a tree, you can’t be blown too much by influences of other artists. It’s enriching to know what people do and there are great artists that I am very interested in. For many decades I have been very interested in Titian when other people didn’t seem to have been interested in him. Recently, I have been looking at Spanish still life from the seventeen and eighteenth century, and I am very interested in abstract expressionism.
So, a single influence, no. I think I look at other artists to see how and if they can bring their work to fruition, not end up with little bits of work, rather a body of work that has coherence.
So, it’s recognising their process as opposed to their individual pieces. That’s the inspiring aspect.
Yes, I am interested in artists who have made it big; those who have made money, but I am also interested in artists who’ve changed. I’m interested in Richard Diebenkorn, his is an American painter of I guess the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s who was both abstract and very good at it, and figurative and very good at it. I don’t hold him up as a model for me, but I am interested in him because he didn’t sit in front of you and say I am a figurative artist and that is all I will ever be doing.
David Hopkins will be exhibiting his paintings in Focus LDN's Winter Exhibition, taking place this December 13th-17th at the Menier Gallery, London Bridge.