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Derek Davis


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Derek Davis: A Retrospective at the Zimmer Stewart Gallery

with thanks to Ruth and Josse Davis.


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Drinks on the Terrace - acrylic on canvas - 50 x 50 cm

Cover: Reading at the Pool - acrylic on canvas 50 x 50 cm Opposite left: At the Pool - acrylic on canvas 40 x 30 cm Opposite right: Maze (1970’s) - slab build stoneware dish 27 cm diameter Derek Davis: A Retrospective | 3


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Two Figures 1950

Derek Davis in his studio 4 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective

Foreword I first met Derek Davis shortly after opening the Zimmer Stewart Gallery in May 2003, although I was aware of him and his work before this. Derek Davis was a great source of support for me, he came to almost every opening and was one of my first customers. He would also come in at quiet times during the week and talk about his work, the work on show or another artist who he thought I might be interested in. These visits were an important part of my development as a gallery owner, especially since my starting point was as an art appreciating accountant having no experience of either working with artists, putting on shows or dealing with the general public. He would share his vision for Arundel, which he repeated to me over the years. Derek Davis thought the town had the potential to become the “St Ives of the South�. In the fifty or so years that he lived here, his support and encouragement


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for artists helped this dream get closer to being achieved. In the late 1970’s Derek opened Arundel’s first contemporary gallery in his studio on Tarrant Street. This was called the Duff Gallery after the house he lived in with his wife, also a painter Ruth and son, ceramicist Josse. With Ann Sutton, Oliver Hawkins and Renee Bodimeade he founded the Arundel Gallery Trail in 1988, now a mainstay of the annual Arundel Festival. It attracts new artists each year, as well as providing a platform for developing “home grown” artists, who then go on to do well nationally. His Monday night Life Drawing classes took place in the studio without fail. Here artists could gather to do quick life drawings; poses were held for just a short time, sometimes as little as five minutes to improve drafting skills. Derek Davis saw life drawing as the basis of all art and fundamental to creativity. Although he trained as a painter, Derek Davis worked with clay for most of his career, experimenting with form; creating turned pots with altered shapes, abstract pieces and hammock moulded dishes. We at Zimmer Stewart Gallery were privileged to have known and worked with Derek Davis for a short time, but his career spanned sixty years. This exhibition, marking our tenth year anniversary, will just be able to show a small selection of works from this ground breaking, innovative and thought provoking artist described in one of his obituaries as “one of the pioneers of postwar ceramics, internationally respected for his stoneware and porcelain” James Stewart, Gallery Director, Zimmer Stewart Gallery

Looks Like Rain Today - acrylic on canvas - 90 x 60 cm Derek Davis: A Retrospective | 5


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Abstract I - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 25 cm diameter

Abstract II - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 25 cm diameter

Abstract III - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 24 x 21 cm

Abstract IV - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 25 cm diameter

All 1990’s 6 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective


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Abstract I - acrylic on canvas - 30 x 30 cm

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Derek Davis – His Life and Career Born in London, Derek Davis came from a long line of craftsmen. His father and grandfather both owned umbrella shops in south London (in Peckham, London Bridge and Clapham Junction). He grew up in a musical household: His father was a talented musician who played the cello and the piano, and together with his mother, who played the violin, his sister Jean on piano and two uncles, they formed something of a family orchestra. Derek inherited the family's love of music and was passionate and knowledgeable about jazz, particularly the blues. His education was interrupted by the second world war and he went to several schools: first Emmanuel school, Wandsworth, and then to schools in Caterham and Oxted, Surrey. On leaving school in 1943, he joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps. Derek had known from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. After the war and encouraged by a cousin who went to the Slade School of Art, he qualified for a grant to the Central School of Arts and Crafts. This enabled him to study painting and sculpture with fashion drawing for three years from 1945. There he met the potter Eric James Mellon, who was to become a lifelong friend and fellow resident of West Sussex. In 1947 Derek Davis and Eric Mellon visited Paris where they saw many exhibitions, in particular the work of Matisse and Picasso. Both of these artists bridged the art/craft divide, an influence that would stay with Derek for the rest of his career. On leaving the Central, he had brief teaching jobs, but Britain in 1950 was 8 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective

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Birds - acrylic on canvas - 30 x 30 cm

Pills II - acrylic on canvas - 30 x 30 cm


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Abstract Trees - acrylic on board - 60 x 60 cm

Apples I - acrylic on board - 75 x 75 cm

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not conducive to the arts and both he and Mellon felt they needed a more constructive way of making a living than painting. Pottery seemed to be a viable proposition, but having no technical knowledge of ceramics, they engaged the help of a friend, John Clarke, a painter who had studied ceramics. Together they bought a kiln and rented a vicarage in the hamlet of Hillesden, Buckinghamshire. Here, along with three talented young women artists - Ruth Lambert, Martina Thomas and Mary Mansfield, who later became their wives - they started to make pots, calling themselves the Hillesden Group. The setting up of the Crafts Centre of Great Britain in 1948, followed 10 years later by the Craftsmen Potters Association, did much at this time to promote the work of studio potters such as Derek. The early 1950s heralded a renaissance of crafts, and new craft shops and galleries sold their works. In 1953 Derek began to do work for the gallery Primavera, London, owned and run by Henry Rothschild. The Hillesden Group disbanded in 1955 when Derek and Ruth, and Eric and Martina, moved to Sussex. It was about this time that Derek met the sculptor John Warren-Davis. A contemporary and acquaintance of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Warren-Davis told Derek that during the liberation of Paris in 1945, he had met the sculptor Brancusi, and that this meeting changed his life. WarrenDavis's influence on Derek in turn affected a change in direction, allowing him to see things from a new perspective. Derek Davis: A Retrospective | 9


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During the 1940’s and 50’s Derek pushed the boundaries of clay. At this time most potters followed the teachings of Bernard Leach, for whom form was determined as much by function as aesthetics. Not so for Derek, his imagination and inquisitiveness for materials, led to concepts and ideas not usually associated with clay, but more clearly aligned with fine art. He did also produce many functional pieces for craft shops, like Primavera, Heals and Liberty. The 1960s were a fruitful and successful time for Derek. In 1960 he joined the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and showed for the first time at the Victoria and Albert Museum, exhibiting some of his last terracotta pieces. Thereafter he concentrated on making stoneware and by 1963 had developed the sang de boeuf and aubergine glazes for which he is renowned. The development of his signature, vivid turquoise-blue barium glaze, followed in 1970 and is closely associated with his work of this period. Alongside these, Derek produced great sculptural pieces – objects, reliefs and murals. It was at this time he also created a ceramic floor for the architect John Lacey. During the autumn of 1967 Derek was artist in residence at Sussex University, an experimental time culminating in a lecture and two exhibitions. Exhibitions worldwide followed as his reputation grew, and in 1976 Sir Roy Strong selected Derek and his fellow potter Mary Rogers to represent the "Spirit of the 70s" for an exhibition at the V&A. Exhibiting in 10 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective

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Abstract dish (1970’s) - slab build stoneware dish - 28 x 21 x 5 cm

Vase (1980’s) - narrow based stoneware cylinder - X x X cm

Abstract Bottle (1980’s) - stoneware bottle 26 cm high


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At the Dressing Table (1980’s) - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 28 x 21 cm

Harmony - acrylic on canvas - 30 x 30 cm

Woman in the Yellow Dress (1990’s) Hammock moulded porcelain dish - 34 x 34 cm

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prestigious galleries such as Peter Dingley in Stratford-upon-Avon and Amalgam in London assured Derek a place alongside the likes of Lucie Rie and Ruth Duckworth as one of the most prominent potters of the decade. By the late 1970s he had ceased to throw and concentrated on hand-built pieces, sophisticated shapes developed from studying modern sculpture, decorated with themes of social comment. Moving from clay back to paper and canvas seemed a natural progression, and in 1991 he finally stopped working in clay to concentrate on his painting. Released from the uncertainty of opening the kiln, Derek enjoyed the spontaneity of colour and paint and the freedom of immediate expression. As with his ceramics Derek’s paintings were both abstract and figurative. The latter often being on the subject of love and relationships, his paintings often invite the viewer to consider the "story" being portrayed in the figurative works. Derek exhibited widely including two further times at the V&A, throughout the UK, Europe, the USA and Japan. His work is in a number of public and private collections including the V&A. For much of this text I am indebted to Carolyn Genders, without whose book we would not have a record of many of Derek’s own words on his work covering a long and fruitful career. Those who knew him will miss his warmth, enthusiasm and support. Derek Davis: A Retrospective | 11


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Beach Club - acrylic on canvas - 70 x 70 cm

Celia Getting Healthy acrylic on canvas 86 x 76 cm

12 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective


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The Chase - acrylic on canvas - 50 x 50 cm

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Derek Davis – His Work The ceramics in this exhibition span nearly 50 years from the abstract slip moulded rubbed iron stoneware pieces through porcelain decorative ware to figurative hammock moulded porcelain dishes. The paintings are more recent, covering the period from the mid1990’s when he stopped making ceramics. The works demonstrate how the same subjects/compositions were presented on both pots and paintings: Swimming, abstract forms and relationships. As always blurring the line between fine art and craft. Derek Davis was a keen swimmer and swam most days often with lifelong friend Celia Henderson. The abstract designs, and some figurative works, play with the concepts of positive and negative space, light and dark, black and white. A full list of all works to be included in this Retrospective is available on request.

Snakes - acrylic on canvas - 40 x 30 cm

Apples II - acrylic on canvas - 30 x 30 cm Derek Davis: A Retrospective | 13


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Abstract V - large hammock moulded porcelain dish - 46 cm diameter

Mixed Bathing - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 30 x 40 cm

Swimming Pool - hammock moulded porcelain dish - 37 x 34 cm All 1980’s 14 | Derek Davis: A Retrospective


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Forbidden Lovers (1990’s) - large hammock moulded porcelain dish - 40 x 48 cm

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Derek Davis: A Retrospective Zimmer Stewart Gallery 29 Tarrant St Arundel West Sussex BN18 9DG 01903 885867 james@zimmerstewart.co.uk www.zimmerstewart.co.uk

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Derek Davis: A Retrospective – March 2013  

This exhibition, marking our tenth year anniversary, will just be able to show a small selection of works from this ground breaking, innovat...

Derek Davis: A Retrospective – March 2013  

This exhibition, marking our tenth year anniversary, will just be able to show a small selection of works from this ground breaking, innovat...

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