Champagne, oysters, pearls, a beautiful woman: who better to capture the opulence – and decadence – suggested by these than Edinburgh-based artist Davy Macdonald.
I caught up with Davy in the Ship on the Shore in Leith, where his latest portrait paintings – the Champagne Club – adorn the walls. He told me how the works came about; their inspiration and influences; and what he has planned for the future.
“It was all about the champagne,” Davy explains. “The owner of the Ship on the Shore wants to launch his own label, and he approached me to come up with a design to grace the bottles.”
With Davy’s striking and sensual style, he was a natural choice to represent the grace and luxury his client was after.
“The brief was simple,” he says. “Besides the champagne, he was after seafood; and simple, classy elegance.”
“I found a suitable model and started work on some small studies, such as that one over there.” He nods towards the smallest work on display, a graphic-style miniature of his subject posing provocatively with a champagne bottle in one hand.
“From there, I moved on to some head studies, then onto the larger pieces.”
“This whole series allowed me to experiment with various portraiture styles. I worked on impressionistic studies of light in some; in others I was interested in the effects I got building up layer upon layer of paint.”
As he talks, he points out the paintings in question. The head studies are intimate and arresting, with effective use of natural light and natural poses and expressions. The larger pieces understandably dominate the series, two in particular standing out.
The first, which greets you as you enter the bar, is a bold and dynamic work depicting his model dramatically pouring a glass from a bottle, standing in front of the Ship on the Shore’s bar.
“I was interested in the nature of reflections,” explains Davy, indicating the mirrored doppleganger in the painting. “The likes of Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère was an inspiration, and I find the juxtaposition of the reflected figure, the fact that it could almost be a different person, fascinating.”
The second highlight large piece, which will hang permanently in the Ship’s restaurant are after the rest of the works are removed, has an immediate, dramatic impact. Virtually monochrome, save for a splash of red from the flowers in the composition, it depicts his model in profile, lit from the back. It at once echoes old chapmagne advertisements from the 19th and early 20th centuries; as well as more modern graphic or photographic work.
“Take a look at the label in the painting,” says Davy. On closer inspection, it transpires the label is in fact a picture-in-picture miniature of the whole piece; a visual pun that adds depth and interest to an already impressive work.
Although several of the pieces on display are available for purchase, at least one will grace the chateau of a French champagne producer.
“The Comte’s right-hand man is coming over soon to select one,” explains Davy. “It’s exciting how these things play out – you never know what might happen or where things may lead.”
Indeed, even after a few days of his works being displayed, he already has one potential portrait commission, and is hoping for even more interest.
“I’m pleased with the results of these,” he smiles. “But now they’re up on display, it feels like the end of a chapter.”
Talk naturally turns to what Davy has planned next. His head’s bursting with inspiration. Unsurprisingly, the female figure theme runs through all of them.
“I’d like to do a barmaid series,” he says, glancing at the painting by the door. “Then I have some ideas for some more fantasy-styled works featuring Celtic warrior women; this may end up as a ‘women with weapons’ series, who knows?” He becomes increasingly animated as his ideas spill out.
“Next up though, I’m really wanting to do another large piece. Of a mermaid.”
We discuss fantasy art, symbolism and the merits of personal work as opposed to commissioned pieces, then time catches up with us and we go our separate ways: Davy straight to the art shop to pick up some hard-to-find white impasto paint (“the kind Lucian Freud uses, I’m dying to try it out”); me to my next appointment, but fired up by this talented, motivated and prolific artist and with my head full of visions of mermaids, elegant muses and warrior princesses.
Keep up to date with Davy’s work at his website.
The Champagne Club series is on show at the Ship on the Shore until the end of February.