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Spiller David

1942
“David Spiller's pictures are much more than simply messages. A lot of them are also, an art historian might say, complex colour-field abstractions. […] To make works of this type, Spiller uses a technique that is, as far as I know, unique. He 'floats' the pigment onto pieces of canvas that he then sews together with incredible neatness and precision, so the final work is a sort of combine, made not with glue, like a collage, but with needle and thread. […] no one has ever, as far as I know, fitted geometrically precise square and oblongs of colour together in this fashion, like a precision-engineered quilt.” from the catalogue essay by Martin Gayford for an exhibition at Beaux Arts, London, in 2008

As a small child David Spiller (b. 1942) drew as a form of escape, on the endpapers of old books bought from jumble sales. At the age of 15, keen to avoid following his brothers into the building trade, he went to his first art school, where he learnt the art of typography, and was taught by a young Frank Auerbach. Later, at Beckenham School of Art, he used to climb in through the windows so he could carry on painting out of hours. In 1962 he went to the Slade School of Art, where he won the Henry Tonks Prize for drawing. He recalls how tutor William Coldstream took him under his wing, giving him odd jobs so he could afford to buy sheets of paper to draw on.

Spiller, it seems, has always had an appetite for hard work. Today, drawing, and the hard graft of making, are at the core of his working methods, and the focus of the current show, which brings something of Spiller's studio practice to the gallery space. The drawings accompanying the paintings reveal Spiller's compulsive attention to detail – the measurements and sums exposing the hard-won perfectionism behind each of his paintings. This is the hidden side of Spiller's art, showing the methodical working-out of the patchwork of swatches he sews together to form each of his canvases. It is as key to the work as the more visible Pop-type elements, the cartoons, song lyrics and graffiti scribbles, which give the work its uniquely playful character.

All this hard graft belies the playful, unpretentious charm of Spiller's imagery. For Spiller knows how to have fun. He belongs to a generation for whom Pop Art, and the mixing of high and low art, were part of the urban Zeitgeist. As he says, “If you live in the countryside you'll paint trees but I didn't. Olive Oyl... Mickey... these were 'people' I knew. I was at home with them and could get on with painting them.” As critic Edward Lucie-Smith has pointed out, Spiller “is in no sense an orthodox Pop artist.” In drawing on different cultural associations he is opening up a conversation, letting us share in a narrative. “Everyone comes with their own history,” says Spiller, “so the words and images will mean whatever they do to them.” He has no grandiose expectations of what he's communicating. But he's clear on one thing: “Nothing is there for the sheer hell of it – everything has a meaning to me.”