Artfinder Meets: David Harper

“People who say that something is or isn’t art are just the worst.” Artfinder Meets: David Harper

This week we met BBC TV presenter, antiques dealer and recent Celebrity MasterChef contender David Harper. David runs a gallery in Barnard Castle, and has recently joined Artfinder, hoping to dedicate more time to his painting around his hectic filming schedule.

On becoming an artist

I started painting in 2008, although I’ve always had a love of modern art – and have been studying it since I was a boy. From the age of five I started collecting coins and stamps, and I bought my first antique at the age of nine. It was a Victorian silver sweet tray - I bought it from a market – and I just remember being completely blown away by it. I bought it for my mum and she still has it, which is nice!

The thing that kick-started my painting in 2008 was a reaction against the flouncy descriptions in auction catalogues. I’m an antiques dealer and TV presenter by trade, so I spend a lot of time in that world, and with most of them you just feel overwhelmed by flowery language. The big London auction rooms speak in such gobbledygook. So one day there was this second hand chest of drawers, just a regular, normal chest of drawers – and they were describing it so lavishly, that I decided I was going to try to paint their description of it. So I exaggerated it, made it too big, painted it green, with huge, overblown feet. It came out quite well, so that started me off on a journey.

On painting

I tend to go through phases with my painting which change very quickly. At the moment I’m working on a series of dancing figures, but if I see something that inspires me – a building, let’s say, or a bookshop – I store that idea and think about it for a long time. Eventually, I’m likely to want to paint a picture based on that particular bookshop, a wild scene of books and tables.

I usually paint from memory. I deal antique furniture, so I don’t need to paint from life; the images are ingrained in my head.

On the studio

I’ve recently moved my studio back from a business premises into my house: I’ve converted my conservatory, and the light is fantastic. Sometimes I use shadows cast on the canvas as draw lines. The way the light changes really energises me to paint.

I sometimes listen to Radio 4 or LBC in the background. But very often I paint in complete and utter silence. There’s an ancient Chinese saying – I think it was from Confucius – that we should all meditate for 20 minutes every day, and if we think we haven’t got time to meditate for 20 minutes then we need to meditate for an hour. My life is so packed with commitments that painting is the only time that I am totally present in what I’m doing. It’s my way of meditating.

The view from David's conservatory studio
The view from David's conservatory studio

On inspiration

To continue on the theme of meditation, I found myself filming in a Buddhist Samye Ling Centre in Dumfries, Scotland a couple of years ago. Whilst there I interviewed a Buddhist nun, who was the first person who taught me how to meditate. I didn’t do very well; I was too hyper. But I’ve since realised that what she was trying to get me to do, I can do myself just by painting. Painting, for me, is an instant way of meditating.

I asked the nun if she was happy, and without hesitation she said ‘Yes. Yes, totally.’

On challenges

I think the nun I met is very lucky, but also very unusual. I don’t think we ever achieve anything without having an element of doubt in ourselves – you always want to be achieving just that bit more. I certainly thrive on that, and I think that it’s okay to feel self-doubt and to embrace it.

People have said to me in the past, ‘David, no-one in their right mind paints or draws like you.’ And meant it in a negative way! That can either take you down a path where you don’t do what you really want to do, or it can fire you on. After all, if someone tells you that you’re a genius, you don’t need to prove that you are.

On other artists

I love the Fauvists; their work is very much an inspiration for me. They use very bright colours in all the wrong places, which I love! I also love Picasso, of course. He was such a maverick. Painting odd things using odd colours. All artists should be inspired by that. To be able to do just exactly what you feel.

On life

Life, like art, is all about expression. People who say that something is or isn’t art are just the worst. Anything or everything can be art – sticking a fork in a piece of plasticine is art – it’s about expression. The more abstract art is, the more interesting it is. You’re getting into the soul of that person – it’s the best way there is of getting to grips with anybody.

On Artfinder

I love the way Artfinder is very simple to use, it’s just lovely. The technology is obviously highly advanced and very easy to use. It’s such a joy to be able to reach a global audience in nanoseconds.

On the future

I’ve just finished filming a new series of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip (on BBC 2 this winter), so I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time on my painting. I currently have work on exhibition at the Darren Baker Gallery on Charlotte Street in London, and I’m taking part in the Buy Art Fair in Manchester in September.

Hero image courtesy of the BBC

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