(Blogpost) Artist in Focus: A conversation with David Bent

David Bent, Mr and Mrs Aerobot and Babybot, c.2006

In 2017 Swindon Museum and Art Gallery acquired three pieces by Swindon-based artist David Bent through the National Lottery Heritage Funded Creative Wiltshire project. As part of Art on Tour, Mr and Mrs Aerobot and Babybot is currently on display at the Civic Offices. Meanwhile Beach House West of Looe is due to go on display at Pinetrees Community Centre. But with plans delayed as we keep safe during lockdown, we asked David if he’d tell us a bit more about these wonderful pieces, which we’re sadly missing out on at the moment…

Art on Tour: Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to become an artist? Where did it all begin?

David Bent: As a young person I was naturally gifted at drawing and anything from the natural world drew my attention. I particularly liked watching birds and I still have a ‘David Bent book of bird drawings’ that I created when I was 6 years old. When I started at Dover Grammar School my art teacher spotted my natural talent and enthusiasm and introduced me to great historic art through gallery visits and interesting lessons. These inspired me to want to become an artist. He introduced me to life drawing at the local art college at the age of 13. This instilled a discipline for careful observation and technique which lasts with me to this day.

AoT: You’re now well known for driving a new movement in modern Aviation Art. What was it that drove you toward aviation?

DB: My Dad was an aviation enthusiast of his generation. His fist job was at Croydon Airport with Sir Alan Cobham, one of our great aviation pioneers. My father was a committed and skilful model maker who started the Dover model aeroplane club. They flew their aircraft from the historic flying fields behind Dover Castle. My older brother and I spent many happy hours chasing and fetching the models as they circled around the White Cliffs of Dover.

At school we had a Combined Cadet Force and I followed my brother into the Air Cadet section and experienced flight for the first time. My brother joined the Royal Air Force. We went to many air shows throughout the 1960’s, watching dazzling displays by courageous pilots in their amazing flying machines. I saw the very first display by the famous RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team with my dad at Biggin Hill in 1965.

My interest has always been there but didn’t show itself for a long time in my art until I was invited by a friend to the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2003 and the tap suddenly turned itself on.

AoT: The aviation influence is clear in your recent Aerobot Series, though this is quite different to some of your other work. Can you tell us a bit more about these human/robot hybrids?

DB: My art practice over the years has always included painting and drawing, graphic printmaking, photography and collage and I am often running these methods of production alongside each other as I go. I always try to be as inventive and skilful as I can be.

The Aerobots which date from 2006 are linked to photo collage work I was doing at that time (About Looking 1 and 2 , davidbentstudio.com, photography section). I had been sitting on a large database of photo imagery from my past and was experimenting with doubling, turning and juxtaposing them to create new “transformed” images.

When I applied this method to the images I had taken directly at the noses of various aircraft, the Aerobots revealed themselves. They clearly have an anthropomorphic quality with appealing character traits of their own, suggesting that we create machines in our own image within the laws of nature.

AoT: Of course, not all of your work is about aviation. Another work in Swindon’s collection is Beach House West of Looe from your Geometry Series. Can you tell us more about where this was painted?

DB: Some years ago, Carole and I discovered Talland Bay House Hotel and for some years it became our Cornish bolthole escape every now and then. Talland Bay sits between Looe to the East and Polperro to the West. I did sketch book drawings of the coastline, fitting with the work I was doing back in the studio creating my Landscape Geometry collection.

In the languid Cornish atmosphere, I was also dreaming of building a modernist Beach House by the sea where we would live out a Bohemian existence and so quickly designed one in my mind. I married the Landscape Geometry with my modern Beach House fantasy to create the painting.

David Bent, Beach House West of Looe, 2004-8

AoT: What is the significance of geometry for you?

DB: Since it was standardised by the Greek Euclid in about 300 BC geometry has underpinned our understanding of shape, form and the physical laws of nature. Images, which are important for our understanding of things are primarily made from a few basic shapes – triangles, circles and rectangles in various combinations. These are the building blocks of visual language. The ancients knew about this stuff. The belief that God created the Universe according to a Geometric plan has ancient origins and many churches, temples, mosques and pagan sites are built using the principles of sacred geometry.

AoT: It’s great see your work represented by these pieces in Swindon’s collection. Not so long ago, in 2019, you also had an exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Can you tell us a bit about what was on show and why it was important for you to have this exhibition?

DB: My Out of the Box exhibition provided me with an opportunity to accomplish two things.

  1. Address the perception of me as only having an interest in aviation and aerospace and
  2. Showcasing my work in my adopted town of Swindon, where we have lived and worked happily now for 25 years.

Artists rarely label themselves but they often get labelled by others. In my case, Aviation Artist. This is a convenient description but one that rarely sums up the whole. I make no excuses for using aviation as subject matter, it has had a major impact on our civilisation since we took to the skies 100 odd years ago.

Other interests that appear in my work, and which featured in Out of the Box, mostly concern some of the Big Issues that plague our world today, such as inequality, civil rights, War, and the Human condition. Movement 2000 is a good example of this. Over the years I have created “response” works to a number of globally significant  incidents such as 9/11, Chernobyl, Tsunamis etc and these were included too.

I was proud to show my work at the Swindon Art Gallery and to have my work represented in the Swindon collection in perpetuity.

David Bent with Movement 2000 at the opening of Out of the Box, 2019
Movement 2000, in Out of the Box at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

AoT: What are you working on at the moment?

DB: Like most of the rest of the world I’m in Lockdown. We have plans for exhibitions at The Tetbury Goodshed and the Battle of Britian Memorial on the south coast. We remain hopeful that both of these will go ahead. Although this is a difficult time I am treating it like a sabbatical and taking the opportunity to shift my focus closer to home for a change.

I have just painted a self portrait, the first in about 25years and a personal painting of Carole and our two cats Danny and Maisy. I am using this pause to think and reflect about the state of the world , my place in it and how I might respond soon, God willing, with a profound and meaningful piece of art to add to my body of work, maybe titled, “lets get back to Abnormal as soon as possible!”

AoT: Thank you David!

We’ll end this one with a quick plug of our exciting David Bent-inspired Art Burst, which can be found under the Art Burst Creative Activities tab! If you’re trying to keep young minds occupied, why not take a look at these fun and informative creative beauties…

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