From Newquay to New York City, and many parts in between, there are fans and collectors of David Muddyman's abstract watercolours. His elegant studies of the Devon and Cornwall coastline captured in grids of colour have been a much admired part of the Byre Gallery since 2019. Dave's death in March 2022 was a huge loss to his wife Val, their families and many friends and also to all of us who so loved his work and were excited to see how it would evolve.
I'm very honoured to have been asked by Val to curate an exhibition of Dave's watercolours. We decided the ideal venue was Ocean Studios in Plymouth's Royal William Yard - not only did Dave have his studio there, but it proved a source of much inspiration to him: a short walk offered him views up the River Tamar, across to Mount Edgcumbe, or over to Mountbatten and Bovisand on the Devon coastline.
As Dave said,
The natural world has always been the subject of my work and these paintings try to capture an instant in time within the landscape – the colours, the light, textures and sounds. I like to paint from memory so I don’t paint in-situ but make notes of the how the scene makes me feel; what the weather is like; colours and pigment mixes I might use; and the sounds surrounding me, both real and imagined."
Before Dave pursued a career as an artist, he was a composer of electronic music for over 30 years: after playing and recording with the Transmitters and Trans-Global Underground he composed and produced 11 albums, eight Eps and five singles as part of the duo, Loop Guru. In addition, he composed music for 20 documentaries and created generative music installations for both the London School of Economics and the Shetland Museum in Lerwick.
On moving to Plymouth in 2007 he returned to his first love, which was drawing and pastel painting. In 2013 he became a “pioneer” on the new BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing and Printmaking course at Arts University Plymouth, (then Plymouth Collage of Art.) His tutor was Professor Stephen Felmingham, now Pro-Vice Chancellor, Arts University Plymouth. Stephen remembers music as a key part of his discussions with Dave:
"Dave’s practice as an artist, printmaker, drawer and painter was underpinned by a deep relationship to musical forms and harmonics.
"Dave was fascinated by repetition- the teaching on the course covered Johannes Itten's Colour Theories in the first year and the repeats of closely aligned tonal ranges of colour led to Dave to create a great number of experiments, always with an ear to the musical potential of visual research. We talked a great deal about the listening to the quiet voice of the work as it emerged, with the artist a facilitator rather than 'creator'. Dave understood this implicitly, and his practice flourished during his time with us. At the same time, his friendships with the diverse range of students on the course grew strong, and Dave was free with his advice and support to younger (and the more mature) members of the group which was given in a quiet and understated way. I am not sure we knew of how well known he was in the music scene for quite a while- possibly until an exhibition including sound and electronic music arrived at Plymouth City Museum and we realised with amazement that Dave knew everyone.
"For my part, having expressed one day an interest in Steve Reich's music, Dave came back with 12 CDs of specially home recorded tracks that I needed to listen to to widen my appreciation. I still have them regularly on my play list; a true artist he is much missed.
For Dave too, his two creative passions couldn't not be linked:
When thinking of a painting in location I often also think of the same subject in musical terms, there seems to be a synergy between painting and music, and yet they each have qualities that the other lacks in terms of our perception of expression.When working in two potentially abstract fields such as music and painting much is up to the interpreter – the viewer. I hope that these paintings can be viewed from a distance to give the overall pictorial form and the closer the viewer towards the pictorial plane the more the textural content comes to the fore and each element of the grid can become a miniature painting within itself.
Dave Muddyman: Composed is at Ocean Studios, Royal William Yard, Plymouth from Tuesday 7th until Saturday 18th March.