Artist David Studwell on his inspiration
Artist David Studwell
On his inspiration, the cult of celebrity and his famous fans…
South west London artist David Studwell has received much acclaim for his distinctive style, which throws the spotlight on celebrities at their best and their worst. His most famous pieces include the ‘Elton John: Home Run-Dodger Stadium 1975’ screen print, which raised thousands at auction for Elton’s Aids charity, and his work has featured everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Bob Dylan to Amy Winehouse and Hugh Grant…
What inspires you?
The cult of celebrity, popular culture and Americana. My work tracks the legacy of Warhol and photographers of the twentieth century, and harks back to the golden age of Hollywood, the sixties and the seventies. I transport yesteryear stars into the present using advances in technologies and a modern approach, adding my own unique contemporary stamp to each piece. It’s important I maintain some of the original characteristics of those bygone eras. Each celebrity goes through a kind of metamorphosis as I turn the old into the new, creating a kind of modern hybrid.
What have you learnt about the cult of celebrity and how is that reflected in your work?
Celebrity is a word that held a very different meaning in the sixties and the seventies. There was no social media back then to raise an actor’s profile; they used hard graft and persistence to succeed. The word had real currency back then; it feels like it’s become more diluted now, the celebrity landscape has changed. Today, unknowns are catapulted into the spotlight via reality TV, the word has lost its meaning somehow. The world of the modern-day celebrity is less private, less discreet. In those classic eras it wasn’t unusual for the likes of Marilyn Monroe to walk down the street, unaccompanied by the unwanted presence of the paparazzi. Things seemed more dignified back then; more civilised somehow.
These yesteryear stars had grace and dignity, and a certain mystique. My aim is to try and capture some of those qualities in my work.
My mugshot series focuses on the dark side of fame. I capture the private moments of stars and make them graphically public, exposing the cracks and the flaws. There are some fabulous stories behind some of those mugshot prints. Dennis Hopper was arrested for shooting a pistol at an imaginary bear in New Mexico. He had taken LSD and mistook a tree for a bear and started shooting at said tree. He ended up in the same jail cell that they used in Easy Rider for the jail scene with Jack Nicholson. You couldn’t make it up.
Do you have a favourite image?
The ‘Elton John: Home Run-Dodger Stadium 1975’ screen print that I created is certainly one of my favourite pieces of work. It’s a six-colour screen print with diamond dust.
I collaborated with Sir Elton John and Terry O’Neill to create the print. I created a special edition which was co-signed by Terry and Elton, they sold out immediately and one was auctioned through the London Evening Standard, raising over £12k for Elton John’s Aids Foundation.
Which celebrity in your work fascinates you most?
Probably Marilyn Monroe. She was beautiful and tragic at the same time, an interesting juxtaposition. She was also quite misunderstood. Portrayed and viewed as a dumb-blonde, she was in fact very intelligent and quite shy. She was incredibly photogenic and had star quality, your eye will always find her in the room.
Your work is in several high-profile celebrity art collections – what do you think is the secret of your popularity?
I’ve sold work to Kate Moss, Sheryl Crow and Nile Rogers among others.
I feel that people want to be transported back to the glamorous days of the golden age of Hollywood and the sixties and seventies. It’s nostalgic; people remember those times with affection. They want to be swept up in the romance of those classic eras. It’s a kind of escapism; who wouldn’t want to be transported to the premiere night of Some Like It Hot and see Marilyn strutting down the red carpet!?
You’re working on Emma Swift’s new album cover – tell us more…
Emma Swift saw some posts of my artwork on social media, she said she really liked the feel of the Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn images I had done. Emma has an incredible voice and covers classics like Bob Dylan, which is right up my street. After exchanging a few messages, Emma said that she wanted me to do the cover for her next album which will have a Velvet Underground sound and vibe. I love the Velvet Underground and Dylan so it feels like the perfect fit.
What do you like about where you live? Favourite places?
I live in Teddington, about 10 minutes’ walk from Bushy Park. I feel very lucky to have such a beautiful green space right on my doorstep. There’s also Richmond Park nearby so I’m surrounded by incredible natural surroundings. There are plenty of good restaurants and bars interspersed with good local shops and there’s a real feeling of community.
See David’s work at…
Old Bank Vault Gallery, Hackney, from May 11 to June 13.
The Saatchi Gallery as part of Start Art Fair, October 13 to 17.