Daniel Preece ‘Paintings about Everything and Nothing’

Essay by Andrew Gwilliams

‘Paintings about everything and nothing’ includes the Shop Front series derived from Preece’s recurring interest in painting the urban landscape from direct observation.

Preece’s strength in composition is influenced by his early studies at the Slade School of Art but by taking a straight-on view of a building façade, in the Shop Front series, Preece has found his composition. A number of paintings are set at night- time with illuminated interiors and signage, or reflected streetlight heightening the contrast between the darkness and bold flat plains of colour.

The paintings are typically unpopulated, excluding the painting ‘Mannequins’ (2014), of course. The empty and static scenes, once busy with pedestrians, might suggest, to some, a narrative that has continued off stage. Whether the story be violent, tragic or banal – the now empty scenes might suggest a foreboding, purely because of the sense of the unknown. However, the titles ‘Take away’, ‘DIY’ and ‘Shopaholic’ suggest little that is psychologically dark. The viewer may see the scene quite differently – accepting the subject matter as a handle at the service of the composition or as a familiar structure on which to hold the paint and engender a calming response for its stillness and balance of colour.

Preece is often drawn to the everyday, elevating the familiar as a subject matter worthy of painting. Subjects include gasometers, dump trucks and graffiti. Gasometer towers have been an early and recurring motif, of interest for their structural form as well as the atmosphere that these ubiquitous and utilitarian industrial buildings possess. From Preece’s American Paintings (2010-13) dump trucks and graffiti are as valid as the skyscraper skyline. The graphic marks of graffiti are re-explored on canvas and works on paper. In this sense, the Shop Front series has as much to do with Pop Art’s found image celebrating the culture of their day, as with everyday London of the Camden Town School (which draws on the Slade School for half of its group) at the turn of the last century.

In Preece’s Shed series (2013) he appears to reduce, to a minimum, the plains of colour and mark making necessary for our mind to read the subject as a building. The paintings revel in colour and the stuff of paint by painting entire wall faces in apparently monochrome colours of blue or orange. The first impression is of a flat colour, however, the paint is heavily layered to create the depth of colour and to balance each plain against the next.

Different singular forms re-appear through Preece’s work – whether a gasometer, a shed or a solitary mountain. Equally, the cityscape as a panorama (2006) and a topographical landscape (2012) are explored in all their complexity from the top of tower blocks (and more recently, in London, from skyscrapers). In 2005, Preece painted a Window series from tower blocks, framing the panoramic view with the letterbox format of the windows from which he was painting; a precursor to the view into the interior of the shop fronts and a continuing investigation into the subjects of the urban landscape as a means of exploring picture making itself.

Daniel Preece was born in 1970, and lives and works in London. He studied at Chelsea School of Art, Slade School of Fine Art & The Royal Drawing School (London). Selected solo exhibitions: Project Gallery, West Sussex (2015); Canary Wharf Windows Gallery, London (2013). Selected group exhibitions: The First International Invited Exhibition of Emei Contemporary Art, China (2016), The Lynn Painter Stainers Painting Prize Exhibition, London (2015) and From David Bomberg to Paula Rego (The London Group in Southampton), Southampton City Art Gallery (2014). Selected residencies: Level 39, Canary Wharf, London (2015-16), IIFA, Modinigar, India (2011), Kensington Palace (2008/9).

Text by Andrew Gwilliams