About David Woodings
Early Life and Art Education
David Woodings was born in Auckland New Zealand in 1956. His upbringing was ordinary or traditional in a 1960’s New Zealand first living in Sandringham before the family shifted to Laingholm, a (then) rural community on the coast of the Manukau Harbour.
The shift of schools resulted in him focusing more on art activities and making the acquaintance of Geoff Thornley who was tutoring painting part time at Kelston Boys High School at that time, and it was during this period (1972-4) that David was able to view international touring art shows and dealer gallery shows in Auckland through class organised trips by Thornley.
David was accepted into Elam School of Fine Art in 1975 finding that the painting tutors there included Don Binney, Robert Ellis and Garth Tapper. He completed a BFA in 1979 and an MFA (Hons) in 1981. He was awarded the Elam Painting Prize in 1979.
David Woodings connection to the Photo Realist painting style of the American East Coast artists had its genesis in seeing the exhibition American Photo Realism shown at the Barrington Gallery in Auckland in the early 1970’s, although the influence of the work was not reproduced by him until 1978 during his last years at the Elam School of Fine Art.
The years at art school had enabled him to generate a vast portfolio of photographs as during this time he was rarely without his camera on excursions throughout the city of Auckland, and the reflective surfaces began to seduce him. David’s first works in the photo-realist style were mostly of buildings and vehicles reflected in windows (see Bonaparte Restaurant and Barristers). From 1978 through to his first one person show Interiors in 1981 at the Denis Cohn Gallery in Auckland, David’s work was associated with the fast-food industry with numerous works depicting the McDonalds franchise as in the late 1970’s the introduction of the fast-food industry in some way accentuated the gloss and plastic so essential to the themes of the photo-realist painters Robert Bechtle, Ralph Goings and Tom Blackwell. Other works during this period acknowledge the franchising of New Zealand’s business both in the fast-food industry and outside it with works (see Homestead Fried Chicken and Oasis) depicting recent additions to the New Zealand fast-food industry and in New Zealand Drycleaners a company that re-branded in a glossy American style to capture new clientele.
The Interiors exhibition in some way captured the cityscape of a fast-developing Auckland in the late ‘70’s, and when the exhibition was toured to ten other venues in New Zealand thanks to the NZ Art Society touring arm, it was received with a level of indifference particularly outside the main city’s galleries.
The imagery may have changed somewhat over the past 40 years but still has a strong reliance on arcade machines, coin operated rides and carousel rides. The painting style today remains fundamentally the same as in the 80s. The latest exhibition of work ‘Merrily go around’ a suite of 6 works from 2017/18 featuring carousel animals was shown at Chambers Gallery in Christchurch and the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville.
Return to full time painting
David returned to full-time painting in 2005 where the new work has groundings in work done over the past 20 years with arcade machines an early focus, where earlier they appeared as part features, (as the cowboy horse in Walkway or the arcade donkey in Donkey Rides and Rooftop Restaurant), they were now in the forefront of a viewer’s relationship with the picture plane, connected both through scale and detail in such a way that you couldn’t help but consider the confrontational intrusion the object has into your personal space. The handling of the painting subjects invited active rapport and interchange between the spectator and the work. David exhibited at Ea Gallery and the Real Gallery in Auckland during this period and his work was also selected for the Wallace Art Award.
The photo-realist style has permeated other work since the 80s with underlying realist and social realist agendas affecting his work output. In 1990 his series Rangiaowhia one day in 150 years broke from the strong regimen of the photo-realist style with a series based on historical and social history story telling in word and image, and again in 1996 when his series Horizons: Landscape as a state of mind had a stronger traditional realist style of representation of skylines.
After a number of years when his production of art was limited by his commitment to his new roles within the museum sector and the activities related to the relocation of the Waikato Museum of Art and History to a new purpose-built facility, David exhibited Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends which included two connected series of works: Whakaatu i nga taonga o te iwi Maori and Decorative Arts in Hamilton and Auckland. Both series a reaction to having been so closeted within a museum art gallery environment without being able to paint and each highlighted his reactions to exhibitions in galleries, the first to the Te Māori exhibition specifically whilst Decorative Arts commented on several exhibitions both real and imaginary. The work Exxon Valdez Exhibition, an imaginary gallery exhibition (a reaction to the Exxon Valdez disaster, and his growing interest in environmentalism) featured oil-soaked birds in a gallery space, was selected for the Suter Biennale exhibition in Nelson about this time.
David became interested in the powerful effects of symbols and his Rangiaowhia (one day in 150 years) series in 1990 depicted the physical traces of New Zealand’s history, recording the gravesites and memorials of the bloody campaign by the Forest Rangers against the indigenous people of the area on the 21st of February 1864. The harsh urban babble of his earlier works was replaced by a sense of meditative silence.
During the 1990’s the primary focus of David’s work was the symbolic landscapes exhibited in Horizons and Beyond: Landscape as a state of mind at Waikato Museum of Art and History in 1996. They revealed an intense resolution of his earlier practice as a photorealist with the power to create quiet, brooding images charged with emotional content. David’s variations on a theme – the panoramic views from his (then) Cambridge studio – are sites of personal contemplation. An examination of the titles, wistful, melodramatic, allusive, reveal his concern with personal and cultural history. His unpopulated landscape with its dramatic tension between earth and sky, owed much to the tradition of metaphysical New Zealand landscape painting of Colin McCahon and Tony Fomison. Like these artists, he created settings for symbolic dramas of the human spirit.
Culture and heritage activities
In 1981 David took a position as an exhibitions assistant at the Waikato Art Museum, (now the Waikato Museum of Art and History) moving to Cambridge in the Waikato and his painting output diminished although works continued to focus on cityscapes and the activities of the fast-food industry, with more charged social agenda and titles. A series entitled The McDonalds works were exhibited at the Rotorua Museum of Art and History in the late 1980’s and then at Lopdell House Auckland.
David worked at Waikato Museum until 1994, was Director at Te Awamutu Museum for 5 tears and then Director of Southland Museum and Art Gallery until 2005.
From 2010-2014 David’s work found connections to the Christchurch earthquakes. David was painting ‘Drydock Devonport’ when the biggest quake hit and was thrown to the floor under the painting and easel as the quake quickly rearranged the building and his life. Having lived through both major (and a significant number of lesser) earthquakes in the house and connected studio there which motivated three separate but related series of works with the earthquakes at their core. In 2010/11 the series ‘Out of order’ featured relocated arcade machines within damaged Christchurch spaces, this was followed in 2012 by an entire year painting the same image of an arcade horse which eventuated in the exhibition ‘Winners/Losers’ and then in 2013 the series ‘Still Lives/Lives still’ which utilised broken one-off objects to take the guise of insurance photographs.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in which both of David’s grandfathers fought and were wounded, a suite of works Somme/Silk Road was exhibited at the National Army Museum and in Hamilton during 2016. The body of work (totalling 50 paintings) and painted as if silk greeting cards from the period, were broken into 4 suites representing cards that could have been sent to a family of Father, Mother, Sister, and girlfriend. Subsequent suites of 12 paintings in each suite in the same style include We’ll be home by Christmas, and Conscientious Objectors.
David now lives in Winchester and at his own gallery Woodings @ Winchester, a repurposed local church.
Winchester marks the southern end of the Inland Scenic Route 72, a delightful road trip that traces the eastern edge of the Southern Alps. There are good walks and picnic spots nearby at Peel Forest and Kakahu Forest.
Reach out to him, next time you are in the local area.