Strawberries in Batley

illustrated: from the front cover of ‘February in Yorkshire’ magazine (adapted from one of the Strawberry paintings)

Art and symbols of the soul of modern man‘ by Stephen Chaplin – ‘February in Yorkshire’ – Your guide to what’s on. Vol4 No.6 published by the Yorkshire Arts Association

David Platts (New Gallery, College of Art, Batley – 27 February 1974) has been teaching three years and has become fascinated by the way he can share ideas of discipline with his textile design students. As you speak with him you have a strong feeling that his art lies very close to his exacting dialogue with matters of technique. But before I say more, I must say that he doesn’t feel ready to put his ideas into verbal format. What comes now is very much an informal record of a conversation – as he would talk with friends and students.

We looked through photographs of his work. I said I thought his considerations (simplified imagery, painting in series, theme and variation, commercial paints) were shared by any artists today. He said he felt this to be so, that he was happy to have plugged in to the history of art so happily. He hopes to have a show at the Serpentine next year.

This slotting in to tradition interests me a great deal. In Platts’ case it is unusual. His style did not emerge as a fine art attitude of a gifted young student. On the contrary, he worked as a graphic designer in Sheffield and London, not going to art school until he was twenty-five (first York, then the Royal College). His clear-cut shapes remind one of Lichtenstein and pop. But he knew how to draw technical information for advertising first. And now he feels ready to paint, and the years he has been at Batley have seen the creation of a remarkably convinced series of works.

Platts speaks of ‘stretching the technique to its limits, until it collapses’. For instance, he spoke to me of the Strawberry Series which will be the centrepiece of his show. There will be thirty variations, all five feet square. The whole idea started with drawing a strawberry from a press advertisement. The image took on significance in its isolation. Then the transformation began. I became the symbol of frutification, the essence of fruit… all heart no core. And heart as a concept applied to man: it refers to his sol, his spiritual life. The image of the berry then undergoes its variations in colour, texture, field – in colours of or age, polymers, fluorescents, flats. And although the thought comes to me how much one should value such a long-sustained endeavour in a world where life seems to change so rapidly. The work is both contemporary and timeless, related to commonplace imagery, yet spiritual.

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