Collage, Printmaking and Photomontage – The Art of David Ferry
Tourists and hobbyists rely on helpful guides. Picture books on travel, history, gardening, cooking, knitting and DIY have provided David Ferry with material for his collages that explore our national heritage. Here we take a look at the life and work of this extraordinary artist and reveal the vision and motivation behind his work.View all Works
EARLY YEARS & INSPIRATION
David Ferry (b 1957) in Blackpool is not your average, conventional artist. The backdrop of the ‘fun and frivolity’ of this famous seaside town contrasted sharply to his school education, where he was taught by dreary ‘non-enthusiasts’ and was trained ‘by ruler, slipper and cane’. Eventually being expelled, he found that escape via his bicycle was better than another detention or humiliation. Leaving school at sixteen and after a succession of worthless seasonal jobs on the famous Promenade, or Golden Mile as it is referred, he says; “ I was working selling glass fish, vibrators and marking bingo cards to people on holiday, I had no idea what I wanted to do”. David finally found solace at his local technical college where, in remarkable contrast, the staff were truly enthusiastic about subject and context and restored his faith in education and he set off on the art Foundation course.
By the 1970’s, David Ferry couldn’t wait to escape his Blackpool roots and headed for London. As a student at the Camberwell School of Art he found himself in a hall of residence in Battersea with a number of other ‘disgruntled Northern lads’ and soon became heavily influenced by the radical nature of the emerging punk movement. During a visit to the Fulham Greyhound to see the first incarnation of ‘The Police’, the band’s ‘astonishingly crude’ red and purple poster struck David, which was in complete contrast to the prevalent aesthetic which was being taught at Camberwell. This sudden inspiration led him to reject the ‘grimy, clunky’ art of the ‘London School’ which was dominant in art education at the time and to follow ‘where the heart wanted to go’. David found one particular ‘life class’ inspirational. The artist and gay rights activist Mario Dubsky taught this particular class and it married well with the ideas that the printmaking teaching team at Camberwell were advocating. It was in this merging of ideas and content through process and experiment that David found a key to development. So beginning with drawing and painting, David soon moved into photomontage through the process of printmaking and the influence of the radical gay movement as personified by Dubsky, Derek Jarman and others. A Peter Kennard post card, ‘Nuclear (weapons/energy)’, sent to David by his mentor Mario Dubsky on the eve of his Master’s postgraduate show at the Slade, was also to have a long-lasting effect on his work.
Soon after leaving college, David Ferry secured an artist residency in Dusseldorf, which he found to be a somewhat lonely experience. Looking for inspiration in a local flea market, he discovered a book from the 1950s entitled ‘The Country Life of the West Country’. The publication was illustrated with bleak black and white photographs from around 1890 to 1957 and featured views of the West Country from ‘the other side of Coronation Street’, notably quaint Cotswold villages ‘with no people in sight, rarely a car and very occasionally a cow or a horse’. About the same time, David discovered another book, this time an ‘austerity cookbook for the poorer person’ featuring black and white illustrations of simple home cooking. It was at this point that David first played with the concept of ‘donor and host’, whereby two worlds could come together visually in the ‘oddness of juxtaposition’ to create a third dimension.
Back in the UK, David Ferry began to develop his photomontage work, inspired by an exhibition of ‘altered books’ by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. Orton and his boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell went to jail for 6 months for adding surreal gags to dustjackets of library books from Essex Road Library in Islington. This fuelled David’s imagination and he proceeded to extend the concept by creating a series of works, which brought together the surreal and the unexpected to form a glorious partnership. In David’s creative imagination nothing is sacred, including the ‘Stately Homes of England’ where splendid, historical interiors are transformed into aquariums, complete with giant goldfish. His ‘Monument’ series is a reflection of the often rather safe 1970’s cornucopia of British and European sculpture in the form of ‘public art’. In response, David decided to place his own monuments in front of stately homes, using classical names such as ‘Torso of a Young Man’, ‘Connected Forms’ and ‘The Burghers of Kelsey’.
Further photomontage projects followed in swift succession, including a body of work inspired by a walkers and mountaineers guide to the Western Highlands and a book about baking. In this series, the joys of walking in the Scottish Highlands are synonymous with ‘The Great British Bake Off’, where Smythe’s black and white photography is embellished with glitter and all manner of confectionery. In David’s world, everything is potentially a source of inspiration and ‘fuel’ for his photomontage, from classic cars to country houses and everything in between.
THE INVADER’S GUIDE TO THE MUSEUM
In 2019 David Ferry was invited by the Grosvenor Museum and Art Gallery in Chester to exhibit his photomontage work and at the same time, create an installation around the existing museum displays. Museums, both large and small, serve as repositories of a shared culture, in this case a historical record of the local community. Arranged and re-arranged, the contents can tell different stories and David transformed the real-life tabloids of Georgian, Edwardian, Regency, Victorian and Jacobean times into 3D montages. The Edwardian Parlour was given a ‘Blackpool Rocks, Club 18-30’ makeover, complete with souvenirs and tourist regalia and the Jacobean dining room was retitled ‘Mid Life Crisis’ featuring the sole occupant wired up to various juxtaposed modern devices, slumped in front of a 26″ TV with empty ready meal cartons scattered on the floor. The exhibition attracted good media coverage but needless to say, it was met with mixed response, some suggesting avoiding the museum altogether, much to David’s amusement.
HUMOUR AND ARTS IN HEALING
David Ferry considers himself fortunate to have had a career making, teaching and talking about Art. Humour has always been an important element of his work, something that he feels is often lacking in Academia. From his early art school days to his many years teaching in art colleges and institutions, David worked with numerous ‘academics’ that had ‘totally lost the ability to be self-deprecating’, a quality that he feels important to maintain as an artist. “These caricatures were trying too hard to be serious academics, forgetting that they were actually artists, and without the ability to laugh at themselves, meant that they lost their footing in every ego lead tutorial or lecture they professed” he is quoted as saying.
His academic and artistic career was interrupted twice by serious cycling accidents that left him hospitalised for many months, and eventually resulting in him being invalided out of his daytime job. During this testing time he became acutely aware of the power of art as an aid to healing and despite circumstance, humour continued to feature heavily in his work. David found that making art and collecting it was an important part of his recovery and believes that healing is not only about drugs and surgery. Since then, David has maintained a close association with the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and contributed to their recent publication ‘The Healing Arts’, a collection of essays that discuss the impact of their arts programme on patients’ recovery, in some cases shortening their stay or reducing their need for pain medication.
David lives and works from his studio in Canterbury and continues to make and exhibit both in the UK and internationally. He travels extensively, giving lectures and promoting the arts at every opportunity. He has collected many prizes and plaudits along the way, and it is difficult not to be inspired by his considerable creative output, his eloquent delivery and his infectious sense of humour.