Neil Hennessy-Vass takes a look at the new exhibition of David Remfry: Watercolour now showing at the Royal Watercolour Society in London.
David Remfry is in his 80th year, I mention it not just because it’s a great achievement, but there is a superb exhibition just opened at the Royal Watercolour Society’s new premises in Whitcomb Street to celebrate his life in pigment. When I met him at the opening it was hard to believe he is an octogenarian.
Famous for capturing movement on large format watercolour paper that he described as “So thick it stands up on its own,” Remfry is disarmingly charming, calm, has wise eyes and is light on his feet. Those eyes have probably seen more than most of us ever will. Once a regular in the late-night murky world of 1990s New York armed initially with pencil and paper then latterly his trademark watercolour palette he set about capturing not only a culture but a feeling, the zeitgeist if you will.
David Remfy Paintings
The large collection of his works that span many decades is quite simply brilliant. The free flowing, cool, at times sublime and occasionally challenging Remfry has carved out a niche in the art world that straddles much that makes up our visualisation of the last 50 years. His work is like a familiar LP cover, a famous postcard, or that image that has always been in the back of your mind, but you can’t quite place it.
As well as dipping a toe into the world of celebrity for inspiration – he has painted, Quentin Crisp, Stella McCartney, and Dame Zandra Rhodes – it’s often his less famous subjects that grab the eye and enable you to see more.
As I talked to him about some of the larger works on display, he pointed to two portraits of women placed next to each other. While living in the notorious Chelsea Hotel in New York for over 20 years he painted Leslie Harris in 1996, who worked on the day reception desk at the hotel. Not to be outdone her counterpart, Amy Graphite who worked the same job at night also had hers done the following year. They offer an insight to that vibrant late 90s New York scene that’s long gone, way before Insta culture tried to grab the ordinary, Remfry was ahead of the game.
Remfry is probably most famous for his uncanny ability to capture true movement with a few strokes of his brush. Visitors will not be disappointed, there are plenty of great offerings to satisfy, such as The Dancers from 2001, a large scale almost mono landscape of five couples and one solo danseur. This is a beautiful exhibition of certain quality, offering a glimpse into the thinking and workings of an important living artist, I urge you to see it.
David Remfry: Watercolour
Showing until 30 July
Royal Watercolour Society, 3 Whitcomb Street, WC2H 7HA, www.royalwatercoloursociety.co.uk.