In the eye of the beholder

PUBLISHED: 12:52 16 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:56 20 February 2013

David Embry

David Embry

Chairman of the Kent Art Society and a former art teacher, David Embry matches a prolific output with a desire to project his vision of the world

At the time I visit David Embry, he is set up in the lounge with a large array of his work around him. This is not his usual studio. He has a broken leg and is being held back from tidying up the large building, originally from Dungeness Power Station, which had been dismantled and re-erected in the back of his capacious garden near Ashford.

For an obviously active man - he has been Chairman of Ashford (Kent) Art Society for 28 years - David deals with his current temporary disablement with good humour and there is a twinkle in his eye as he tells me of his passion for painting.

David has always drawn and painted. His parents encouraged drawing and an ex-Battle of Britain pilot, Joe Auty, was an enthusiastic teacher, firing up the boy students at the Simon Langton school with stories and model aeroplanes.

He attended Trent Park College, now Middlesex University, where, he recalls: "Mr Richmond, the tutor, encouraged still-life painting and the use of the beautiful grounds for landscape." David also studied at Hornsey (before the years of turmoil!) and also visited Italy, studying at Naples University, thanks to the help of a "dear patron", Charles Chitty.

In Italy, he discovered the art of Bernini, Caravaggio, Michelangelo and visited Rome, a true Grand Tour.

As a career, David taught art and was head of department at the North Boys' School and Folkestone Girls' Grammar, years he recalls as "happy, productive times." He still meets up with ex-colleagues and old pupils.

So why paint, I ask him? "I'm a compulsive painter. I have been unable to walk for four and a half weeks, and I have done 15 pastels and some 20 odd watercolours of plants and flowers that Maureen (his wife) has brought in", David tells me. "But it's too awkward to bring the oils into the lounge!"

Painting is important, he adds, "not just for me, but also you're showing other people your vision of the world and how things are. All artists want to communicate. I'm not quite convinced about the poor artist in the garret. My theory was I would spent time sorting the studio as well as painting.

"I'm drawn to the landscape and to people, and have been from early on. Sometimes there's a Wordsworthian feeling, a sort of pantheistic feeling that here is something wonderful. It's the same with people, who are beautiful and interesting.

"A lady doesn't have to be 18 and Miss World: there's beauty in old age, old velvet, old tree stumps. I like to reveal what you think is beautiful in a structure."

David's working processes are rigorous and complex. He shows me
a series of sketches carried out for a painting. There is a crayon sketch, a pen and ink before the final watercolour, which includes a dramatic tree stump.

David also spent about 15 years working on illustrations and has contributed drawings for supporting Willesborough Church and for the Paula Carr Trust. He proudly shows me some large illustrations and we talk of his inspirations. Our discussion comes round to the Pre-Raphaelites, who were not popular at the time of his studies - "but look at their technique!" he enthuses.

He also enjoys the work of Rembrandt, Velazquez and Vermeer, the great 17th-century painters, and you can see the deliberate and crafted air of the 'Pre-Raphs' in David's own work.

He has a good reputation and was influenced by the late John Ward, whose studio he worked in. I notice David's cage of exotic birds, recalling John Ward with his canaries left free to range around the artist's studio.

Of David, John wrote: "All his pictures are drive by his love of the job and his pleasure in exercising his skill. They are always 'full' pictures - no 'airy-fairy' waving of a brush and hoping for an effect easily achieved. Each picture is a real effort, to be looked at and discovered over and over again."

Widely exhibited, for instance in the Ashford Civic Centre and the William Harvey Hospital, who both retain works, John's subjects include flowers, still life, landscapes, seascapes, building, imagination, illustration, figures and portraits. His media are pen and ink, watercolour, oils and acrylics, pastels and prints.

The enthusiasm David brings to bear on this prolific activity is continued in his resident tutoring at Dedham Hall, near Colchester, a two-week stint each year, and on the various lectures he has made at universities and colleges, including Oxford and Cambridge. David makes me feel I would like to paint, and that I would like to be tutored by him.

David Embry will be having an Open Studio at his house and studio on 7, 8 and 9 August from 11am to 6pm. You can also see his work at a later date by appointment. His address is Lindhurst Farm, High Halden, near Ashford, tel: 01233 850384.

You can also see his nature paintings on the National Heritage Days, 12 and 13 September, from 10am to 4pm at the Unitarian Church, Adrian Street, Dover. Please telephone David in advance for directions.

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