Cornish Artist Takes National Prize
Born in Cornwall in 1964, David Whittaker has spent over 20 years honing his craft as an artist. After taking the first prize in the National Open Art 2011, he is finally achieving recognition for his work.
His painting, The Hovering was chosen from more than 2000 entries to be awarded the £10,000 prize fund but for David, the monetary value of the award is far less important than the increase of confidence in his own work it has given him.
“I had no thought about winning I just knew I had to get in,” says David “not for the money, but for the sake of my soul and of my work, I just felt like I had to get in so I was part of the race, in the running almost. I felt I was capable just to achieve that.”
David’s work in recent years has projected a feeling of duality, his paintings usually featuring a detailed landscape within a head-shaped form that give the viewer a feeling of viewing the world through a portal. As David puts it: “I try to create a sense of romanticism, an echo of real life that we see through our own eyes every day but often miss or take for granted.”
This feeling of duality reflected in David’s work echoes not just the way he views the world around him but the challenges he has faced in his personal life too. In 2009 he was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, a condition in which a person feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
Alongside the beautiful paintings that hang in David’s studio is a collection of small mirrors. They feature a tiny landscape that can only be viewed in the mirror’s reflection and a pair of female shoes at the bottom of the plinth upon which each one stands. The piece, ‘When Trains Kill Poems’ was inspired by the death of a young girl but also feel like a reference to David’s Gender Dysphoria. David agrees: “They come from a feeling of being trapped I guess, trapped in the wrong body.”
As David has adapted to the diagnosis he feels like he is starting to feel as confident as a person as he is as an artist: “I have always been a late developer as a human being,” he says “my art has always been racing ahead of me a little bit and I’ve often shocked myself. I’m constantly trying to catch up with my art, the person itself has always been lagging behind a bit but that’s changed now. Although it has taken me until the age of 47, which is a bit sad in a way.”
Despite being encouraged by a family friend to seek a place at Art College from an early age, David is completely self-taught and has never received any formal training. “As a teenager I was shy and insecure, with very low self-confidence and it just wasn’t for me,” David recalls.
But he has no regrets: “For me I feel like the way things have happened have been right for me and my journey, to remain untouched by any of the college set-up. I have been able to evolve and discover myself, finding out what works for me along the way.”
Discovery and evolution seem to be common themes that run through David’s work and in a way represent his own battle with coming to terms with his Gender Dysphoria and finding himself as an artist.
“It’s my balance really,” he says “to all the trauma in my life, my personal situation and whatever else is going on in the world. You’ve got the mess and the chaos, and then the order and the beauty. I like to think it all balances itself out.”