London Art Spot: David Breuer-Weil

DBW with Emergence in Hanover SqPhoto: David with “Emergence” in Hanover Square

Deep in the Vaults, the tunnels under Waterloo, painter and sculptor David Breuer-Weil welcomes us into the creative world of his imagination. Down there, you’ll find a labyrinth of sculptures and large paintings produced for Project 4, the lastest of a series of projects that have spanned the last 12 years – a serious voyage of artistic discovery. With a family history that includes big topics like immigration and war as well as an an artist as a father and a mother who grew up surrounded by the Danish landscape, David has plenty to inspire his work. He’s been painting on canvas for decades and is currently working on a massive new sculpture called Alien which is soon to be released into the urban wilds of London.

Read on to find out why David chose The Vaults for his latest exhibition venue, how politics and history play a large role in his work and where you can find his favourite London discovery.

Translation, 2008, oil on canvasPhoto: Translation, 2008, oil on canvas

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist. What lead you to a career of visual creativity? Are you self taught or formally trained and how long have you been painting? 
DB-W: I grew up with art from an early age and was very much a studio child, as my father is an artist and I have painted on canvas since the age of ten. I went to Central Saint Martin’s School of Art where I was taught by Shelley Fausset, Henry Moore’s assistant sculptor. Afterwards, I studied at Clare College Cambridge.

Milky-Way, 2012, acrylic on canvasPhoto: Milky Way, 2012, acrylic on canvas 

LLO: There is a gap of about 12 years between the exhibition of The Project and Project 4. When you look back at the whole series of four different London shows, in what ways has your style, motivation or purpose changed, if at all?
DB-W: The Project is a voyage of discovery. Project 1 was a bit of a shock to the system – both for me and the viewers – in that I wanted to stare into the heart of darkness of modern man, confronting some of his darkest issues. These have remained with me but the Project has moved from using raw, underground colours to images of great light, such as the solar system. The Project explores history, belonging and our place in the universe. Recently, I have started to think a lot about the fact that humanity exists on a small rock, one of billions in infinite space. The Project confronts the human condition and puts it in the context of a vast universe with infinite possibilities. When I started The Project, I thought that we were at the end of history but now I think we are at the beginning. My painting has become increasingly textured and varied in colour which reflects my search for new physical and psychological worlds. Art gives me the opportunity to explore internal worlds of the imagination as well and, because of this, I have also started making more sculpture.

Individuals, 2009, oil on canvasPhoto: Individuals, 2009, oil on canvas

LLO: You’re exhibiting Project 4 in the dark Vaults off of Leake Street, a well known designated graffiti area, with trains running overhead. Talk about the choice of venue and atmosphere of your latest show.
DB-W: All of the Projects have been held in vast raw urban spaces. I like the idea of the exhibition space as a metaphor for the human mind. By this I mean that the viewer walks into the tunnels and enters an inner world of the imagination – like taking a stroll in the artist’s mind. I also believe that the art establishment often presents the public with relatively sterile or facile works and environments and I try to strike a deeper note, to excavate into the darker depths of the soul (if this is possible). Our art world has become densely materialistic but I am trying to say that art can offer more; it can plumb the depths, it can be more than a fashion accessory or interior decoration and it can be more than an investment vehicle.  For me, art is a way for an individual to express his or her feelings about the absurd mystery of life.

David Breuer-Weil, Suburb 2 (Secret), 2008, 200 x 344 cmPhoto: Suburb 2 (Secret), 2008

LLO: You start with the paint rather than drawing, resulting in an underpainting full of creative energy. Tell us about your approach to the canvas and your method of painting, from the conception of an idea to completion of a project.
DB-W: I believe that for a painting to be really successful it must speak through the language of paint.  Although my work is very conceptual, in the sense that my images are filled with concepts and ideas, these ideas are given physical and psychological impact by the physical power of the paint. I usually paint the first layer with great violence, attacking the canvas with brute force, but I usually have an image in my mind based on an idea that I have developed in multiple sketches and drawings, and this image comes to life in the paint, almost like the painful or traumatic birth of an idea. I let that layer dry and then work up the canvas in several layers. I like the idea that the process of painting mirrors the fact that a painting can have several levels of meaning as well as several physical levels. For me, a great painting should work simultaneously on the intellect and the emotions. Otherwise, it is merely a concept or a decoration. In addition to painting in my studio, I spend a lot of time travelling when I draw a great deal in pencil. I still believe in drawing and what I look for in other artists is their draughtsmanship. There are thousands of artists, but only a small handful of great draughtsmen in any generation.

David Breuer-Weil, Life Line, 2007, 198 x 394cmPhoto: Life Line, 2007

LLO: Sculpture is another medium you work with regularly and you’ve had installations in Hanover Square and Golders Hill Park. The sculptures have a sort of primal look about them. Tell us about the concept behind some of your latest pieces.
DB-W: I exhibited two large bronze pieces with Sotheby’s at Chatsworth House in 2010 and 2011 and was encouraged by the response to develop sculpture further in public spaces.  One of the Chatsworth pieces was of two feet sticking out the ground (Visitor 2), as if a large person had fallen to earth from a great height. In this and other works I wanted to combine the monumentality of Stonehenge with the imagery of my two-dimensional works. I love the idea that a city like London can be a vast canvas on which to exhibit public sculptures and that the public does not need to go to a museum to engage with an artwork.

The sculptures are very primal and instinctive. I have always been inspired by the idea written in Genesis that humanity was literally born from the ground. When I make a figure in clay it reminds me of this concept, like building a man from the earth. Many of the new sculptures carry ideas from my paintings into three dimensions. My latest sculpture, 18 feet tall, is of an alien that has crash-landed on earth, the very opposite of a man born from the earth. But other than being a lot bigger, this alien is the same as all of us. I like to think that aliens are versions of ourselves but this piece is very ambiguous. My grandfather was a refugee from Nazi-occupied Vienna and when he arrived in England he was branded as an “enemy alien”. We’ll be installing this piece in London soon so do watch out – Alien isn’t easy to miss.

Emergence, which you may have seen in Hanover Square, has been included in Project 4, rising from a murky pool of water in one of the wet brick tunnels.

DBW working on AlienPhoto: David working on his latest sculpture, Alien

LLO: In a video about your show, when talking about your sculptures, you said: “Somehow just a straight portrait is no long as true as a deconstructed portrait.” Tell us a bit more about what you mean by that and how this statement relates to your own work.
DB-W: It has been said that there cannot be poetry after Auschwitz. I think that is a difficult but crucial statement because the world retains its beauty and artists want to celebrate that beauty. However, I take from Adorno’s famous statement the thought that it is no longer convincing to create a straightforward representation of a face or an object and have it speak powerfully as a modern icon. Contemporary art or poetry has to convince the viewer that it is relevant to the condition of modernity because as a species we have lost our innocence. There can still be poetry but a kind of skewed or distorted poetry. Rather, we must discover the beauty of the world by fighting through our knowledge of what our fellow human beings are capable of doing. It is a hard-won process for a contemporary artist to paint something both beautiful and relevant. Perhaps it is partly for this reason that I am thinking of other, not yet tainted, worlds like Franz Marc looked to the innocence of the animal kingdom to regenerate the art of his time.

David Breuer-Weil, Infinity, 2009, 205 x 351cmPhoto: Infinity, 2009

LLO: You often work on a very large scale. Why this preference? What significance does it have for your body of work?
DB-W: I often feel the need to work on a large scale because I need to enter the world of the object I am making, as does the viewer, especially with the Project works. The compositions can be very complex and disorienting and require scale and a vast array of textures and differing emotional scales, almost like a piece of music. However, in other bodies of works I work on a far smaller scale. When I started the Project the idea was to create this massive series of large works to be installed permanently together, a kind of massive cave painting for the modern soul. I have not abandoned that idea and am still looking to install Projects 1-4 together.

David Breuer-Weil, Constellation, 2012, oil on canvas, 200 x 325 cmPhoto: Constellation, 2012, oil on canvas

LLO: What is the artist’s role in daily life, politics, history? What do you hope, on a general scale, to communicate through your body of work?
DB-W: We may not realise it at the time but art that reflects its moment in history often becomes the most significant in the long term.  The best art paradoxically tends to be universal and timeless whilst being specific and of its time. For that reason, the artist often unconsciously avoids being a direct political commentator or historian but rather somebody who may reflect the strength of his or her feelings about these matters in a way that becomes symbolic. In other words, rather than being illustrative, I find it important to create archetypal images that will reflect some aspect of human nature even when times have changed. So, for example, whilst it might be possible to interpret some of my works as reflective of a historical moment, or a comment on politics, they are really about the things that lie behind. I want to show that issues such as belonging, homeland, territory, possessiveness, ancestry, the passage of the generations and of time, the difficulty of communicating with one another accurately are all major subjects. But, these are subjects that have always been and always will be there. Essentially my aim is to make people think through images.

David Breuer-Weil, Blessing 3, 2007, 194 x 369cmPhoto: Blessing, 2007

LLO: How has your own family history influenced your work?
DB-W: The fact that both my parents were immigrants to England and have since left England is a major influence because my imagination is freed by a sense of insecurity. My mother’s father was killed by the Nazis and my father also lost many family members during World War II. Some of my earlier Project works reflect the traumas of that generation. My mother’s Danish background has been an inspiration for a lot of the landscape elements in my work. My father is from Vienna and there is an Austrian Expressionist tendency in some of my work, especially my earlier paintings. Many of the School of London painters had a similar background and sense of having come from elsewhere but having matured in this magisterial town of London, for example Auerbach and Freud.

David Breuer-Weil, Ascent, 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 204 x 344cmPhoto: Ascent, 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas

LLO: On a different, more light-hearted topic, what is the best hidden gem you’ve discovered in London?
DB-W: I wouldn’t necessarily call it light-hearted but probably Michelangelo’s marble tondo sculpture hidden away on the top floor of the Royal Academy.

Birth, 2008, oil on canvasPhoto: Birth, 2008, oil on canvas

Thanks David!

To read more about David, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @davidbreuerweil

David’s work is currently on exhibition:  

Venue: The Vaults, Arch 233, Leake Street, London SE1 7NN
Dates: Now through March 24, 2013
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am – 6pm; Sunday, 12 – 4pm
Admission: Free

23 Photographs: Creative London

Without a doubt, London’s unfailing ability to inspire its artistic population is one of the main reasons I can’t seem to stay away from this grand old city. It’s the street art plastered all over the East End, the high end galleries and the quirkier tiny galleries and the sculptures placed at random, little bursts of colour or unusual forms that make me look twice that continually grasp my attention.

Some old, some new, here are 23 photos of London creativity that have recently been contributed to the LLO Flickr pool.

Graffiti, Hanbury Street, East London, England.Photo: New Bom.K & Lillewenn mural on Hanbury Street by Joseph O’Malley

Photo: TRP by Lee102

Spot the irony !, Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Spot the Irony in Shoreditch by Joseph O’Malley

Lorenzo Quinn sculpture
Photo: Lorenzo Quinn sculpture: La Dolce Vita in Park Lane London by Where The Art Is

Graffiti (Lister), Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Lister and ROA in Shoreditch by Joseph O’Malley

Photo: Stinkfish in East London by Alex Ellison

Photo: Sometimes by Karva Javi

Graffiti, Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Shoreditch street art by Joseph O’Malley

Lucas & Malarky
Photo: Lucas and Malarky by Alex Ellison

United Enemies
Photo: United Enemies: Sculpture by Thomas Schutte at Serpentine Gallery by Where The Art Is

Cranio & Sweet Toof
Photo: Cranio and Sweet Toof by Alex Ellison

Photo: Afghan by Teddy Baden by Steve Reed

Graffiti, Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Shoreditch street art by Joseph O’Malley

Photo: Cranio by Alex Ellison

The Hearts of Brixton
Photo: The hearts of Brixton by Karva Javi

Malarky & Gold Peg
Photo: Malarky and Gold Peg in South London by Alex Ellison

Slightly menacing panda
Photo: Slightly menacing panda beneath the railway lines of Fenchurch Street by Andy Worthington

Photo: Stik at Amnesty International headquarters, East London by Alex Ellison

Graffiti (Unga & Broken Fingaz), Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Unga and Broken Fingaz by Joseph O’Malley

Cranio, Aeon Fly, Stinkfish & Dscreet
Photo: Cranio, Aeon Fly, Stinkfish and Dscreet by Alex Ellison

You're walking sideways on this earth.
Photo: You’re Walking Sideways on this Earth by Dennis Owen

Graffiti (616), Shoreditch, East London, England.
Photo: Never Forget – 616 by Joseph O’Malley

Jimmy C. (in progress)
Photo: Jimmy C in progress by Alex Ellison

Any favourites? Have you spotted any interesting bits of creativity around London lately? 

30 Pieces of London Art

While I was away on holiday this month, quite a few new pieces of street art, sculptures and the like have popped up in the Flickr pool (some new and some old but newly photographed) so I want to share them with you.

RunPhoto: Run – Finsbury Park by Alex Ellison

Kelso Cochrane
Photo: Kelso Cochrane in Kensal Green Cemetery  by Steve Reed
Read about the murder of Cochrane here.

Banksy & Don
Photo: Don and Banksy by Steve Reed

Graffiti (Masai), Hanbury Street, London, England.
Photo: Masai on Hanbury Street by Joseph O’Malley

Mystical graffiti figure ignored by Hackney employee.
Photo: Mystical graffiti ignored by Hackney employee  on the corner of Scrutton Street and Curtain Road by Maggie Jones

Sculpture / Street Art, Spitalfields Market, London, England.
Photo: Scaffold poles and knuckles sculpture in Spitalfields Market by Joseph O’Malley

Graffiti (iCON), Shoreditch, London, England.
Photo: ICON in Shoreditch by Joseph O’Malley

Graffiti, off Brick Lane, London, England.
Photo: Street Art off of Brick Lane by Joseph O’Malley

Graffiti (Jimmy C), Shoreditch, London, England.
Photo: Jimmy C in Shoreditch by Joseph O’Malley

Graffiti (Dscreet), Spitalfields, London, England.
Photo: DScreet in Shoreditch by Joseph O’Malley

Shepard Fairey – Stolen Space Gallery
Photo: Shepard Fairey at Stolen Space Gallery by Mickyh2011

Obey - Back to Work
Photo: Obey – Back to Work by Micky2011

Photo: Stik in East London by Alex Ellison

Puce Fungal Growth.
Photo: Puce Fungal Growth by Dennis Owen

Photo: Stik in Shoreditch by Alex Ellison

Shepard Fairey - Obey
Photo: Shepard Fairey – “It Takes The Sedation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” – Ebor Street by Alex Ellison

Photo: Ludo in East London by Alex Ellison

Photo: Run in East London by Delete08

Walking Amongst Heroes
Photo: Walking Amongst Heros in Trafalgar Square by John Kortland

Thought I Knew It All
Photo: Thought I knew It All by Mrdamcgowan

Photo: Ludo in East London by Alex Ellison

Photo: C215 by Hookedblog

Ben Wilson Chewing Gum Art
Photo: Ben Wilson chewing gum art by r3cycl3r
See more of Ben’s work here.

Mr Penfold
Photo: Mr Penfold mural in East London by Alex Ellison

Photo: Colombian artist Stinkfish at work by Hookedblog

Frieze Art Fair 2012
Photo: Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow by Yayoi Kusama. In the Frieze sculpture park, Regents Park London, by Where The Art Is
Read more about the artist Yayoi Kusama, with photos and video, here.

Photo: Ludo in East London by Alex Ellison

ANTI SLAVERY - Crying Queen and others
Photo: Don in East London by Mickyh2011

Nylon / Sweet Toof
Photo: Nylon and Sweet Toof in East London by Alex Ellison

Photo: Olek, Village Underground by Alex Ellison

It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I love the Masai piece with the fox, the colourful C215 kissing piece, the shot of Stinkfish at work because he’s always been a favourite of mine and the Olek knitting piece at the bottom. How awesome is she?

How about you? Can you choose just one?

If you’ve spotted any cool art pieces around London this month, show us!

London Art Spot: David A Smith

I met David briefly at the Trafalgar Hotel last month where his work was on show as part of a jottaContemporary exhibition called Into the Wilde which featured pieces that drew inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s work. He was hanging about like any normal graduate, drinking a beer with friends, happy to chat about his work. It’s surreal, perverse, playful, sometimes disturbing and full of energy.

And it’s been given quite a lot of attention lately, particularly due to his position as a finalist for the Catlin Prize this year. With an MA from Chelsea College of Art on his already impressive CV, David’s sculptures have been featured in Art Review,, The Independent, Elle, The Guardian and BBC, among others. Perhaps it’s the bizarre materials he chooses or the narrative popping out of each piece or how quickly his mind churns out intriguing new ideas. Whatever it is, props to David for his long list of gallery exhibitions, commissions, awards and relentless ambition.

For this week’s London Art Spot, David talks us about experimenting with shark teeth and treacle, digs into his experience to reveal a bit of advice to recent art graduates and shares a story about his grandfather’s cane.


LLO: This being a London blog, which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
It’s an obvious answer but the Galleries and exhibitions that, if you were so inclined, could keep you busy with show openings and visits all week long. Although I do love, that even in this city, you’re never too far from a bit of greenery, a park or something similar to wander into. I need a little bit of nature close by as it helps me work and London has plenty of these wonderful areas a stone’s throw from the busy streets.


LLO: What’s the most unusual material you’ve used so far to create a piece of art? Is there a story behind it?
I would say Shark teeth have been the most unusual material although I did do a project with a fellow student at Chelsea where we created a pool on the floor out of black treacle. We projected an image against it of two studious looking men and made it look as though they were sinking in the pool. It took 16 cans of treacle!

I have also just completed a piece which used a resin foetus skull. I re-worked the skull so that the jaw could hold a machete in its mouth then the whole piece was covered with a rich purple flock.


LLO: Anything particular objects you have in mind to experiment with in the near future?
I have just acquired a resin bust form of a black bear. It’s going to be another light piece and a lot of work but I’ve been excited about starting on it since I drew the plan out in my sketchbook. I also have a resin cat skeleton that I’ve had in my studio for a while and I think now is the time to progress with this piece too.

LLO: It’s been said your work shows a “macabre sense of humour”. Would you agree? If so, give us a good example of a piece that best represents this part of your personality.
I would agree there is something slightly humorous about some of the works I make. Shuck was piece that had a dark streak to it yet kept some humour around it. It was a skeletal dog form I had finished with black gloss paint. I positioned the piece in the corner of a room, and inside its rib cage leading out of its mouth I had threaded electroluminescent wire that piled up on the floor beneath. It really grabbed the viewers’ attention when they entered the space, despite its small stature. It was an irradiated guard dog for my exhibition space, happily ingesting this radioactive looking wire in spite of it leading to its current appearance as nothing more than blackened bones. It became somewhat disturbing but also endearing as a creature that really shouldn’t be there, and wasn’t alive, but still had something life like and charged about its presence.


LLO: Share a piece of work with the most interesting story behind it and tell us about it.
It’s perhaps not really an interesting story but it means a lot to me. After my Grandfather died I got hold of one of his walking sticks. I wanted to do something with it as it was such a beautiful wooden form but I also wanted to preserve the memory I had of him, protect it in some way. After much decision making I used the piece, and placed human teeth made from resin all around the handle of the cane. It made the Cane obsolete to any other potential user as the teeth defended the cane from the grasp of another. It’s a very personal piece and I don’t think I’ll ever let it go.


LLO: Animals (including skulls of dead animals) and neon lights both play a huge role in your work. Where does your fascination with these two elements stem from?
I grew up always being encouraged to look at and understand nature. There is always something new to learn and that’s the interesting part. Growing up in a more rural setting you get a firm grasp of the fragility of creatures in their natural habitat, and that death is something very close by. I use skulls because they show the fragile form of a creature. There seems to be a something divine about these forms, be it the way antlers have developed on roe deer skull or the way the teeth in a tiger skull are designed specifically for its hunting prowess. Light is something I came to late in my MA so I feel I’ve got a lot of experimenting to do. I like using light as it makes you work harder when creating sculpture; there’s a lot more to consider in relation to reflection and shadow. Importantly, the effects I can get from it are precisely what I am looking for particularly when I use Electroluminescent Wire.

LLO: Each piece seems to hint at a story. How important is narrative to you and do you think about this before you begin or does it unfold as you work?
Narrative is quite important in my work but my practice has begun to steer further away from a deep reliance on it and more towards referencing specific areas of animals as omens and their apparitions as bearers of news. I have a way of working that begins with one idea and soon gathers pace including other areas of my research quite quickly. It’s always nice to see what ideas and thoughts you can have when you start working but some ideas tend to be quite tenacious and once I begin with them I get a little obsessive about seeing them through to a specific conclusion I have in my mind.


LLO: Having recently graduated with your MA, you’ve been exhibiting constantly, getting a good amount of press attention and positive feedback. Do you have any solid practical advice for other artists about to face the real world?
I have been more than pleasantly surprised at all the interest my work has generated; it’s been fantastic. The best piece of advice I can give is keep in touch with your fellow graduates if you can, and if you got on with them! Moving out of your college studio space is one thing but when you leave you also lose you peer group and these people are the ones that have been around you and know your work well. Keep these friendships and opportunities for mutual feedback strong. It’s always good to know what others are up to. It can keep you going, help keep things positive. Also if you sell any work from your degree show to collectors, then keep them in the loop about what you do next, what work you make next.


LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
There are quite a few, so, in no particular order: Alex Virji, Sîan Hislop, Blue Curry, Jeremy Willett, Sam Zealey, Aidan Doherty, Matt Clark, Amy Moffatt, Luke Drozd, David Cochrane, Abigail Box, Adam Dix, Lindsey Bull, James Capper, Tianzhuo Chen, Tim Ellis, this list could go on and on…

LLO: What are you working on now and where can we next see your work?
I currently have two commissions that I am working on at the moment that will keep my summer fairly busy but unfortunately both pieces are going into private collections so won’t be seen too widely. The next shows being mooted are in September after that I have a solo show in November, at the Yarrow Gallery, which has been pencilled in for a while now. I have also been approached by a gallery in Los Angeles but that’s a future possibility at the moment and still needs some discussion. I always try and keep something in my diary to work towards, it helps keep me motivated and dedicated to improving.


Thanks David!

For more about David and his work, see his website:

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.