Enrico David (b. 1966, Ancona, Italy) was born into a family of artisans in the dormant Italian countryside. After studying modern languages in Bologna, David made the decision to leave Ancona in 1988 for London at an exciting moment in the city’s new wave scene that was in full-swing. As he settled into his new surroundings, David worked off-beat jobs to make ends meet. His first job was at a McDonald’s located in Kensington High Street, which he specifically chose so he could immerse himself in the trendy neighbourhood and observe new fashion trends unfold. He eventually relocated and settled in Brixton and started painting at home. By 1994 he graduated with a BA in Sculpture from Central St. Martins, a school more popularly known for its fashion department with contemporaries including designers Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Practicing as a sculptor and not a designer, David often felt like an artistic outsider not belonging to any specific group, nor did he align himself with the popular Freeze Generation art movement organized by artist Damien Hirst.

“The creative act is one of the most empowering sovereign gestures you can make.”[1]

Untitled, 2011
acrylic on canvas

Alongside his close friend, Thomas Houseago, David did not follow a strict artistic narrative. Both artists felt liberated to experiment with art without artistic scrutiny or commercial pressure to produce artworks for others. In the past, Houseago has reflected on his mutual influence with David by remarking that, “I think it is really key to our relationship that we both embrace, and are fearless about vulnerability, failure, the cracks… of never quite buying into the idea that you have to give someone a pleasurable, successful experience.”[2] David’s fearless approach to art-making enabled him to use the knowledge from observing his working class artisan family to quickly adapt to varying materials. He intuitively chose a medium that would be best suited for his message and his resourcefulness allowed him to oscillate from 2D to 3D media. A constant from his early career days to currently, David fundamentally begins with a drawing to illustrate the vision that he later expands onto the material world. For David, a material introduces new elements and, depending on its treatment, the material can express the same phrase through a different language. Despite working with varying media, David is most well-known for his sculptures that tether between the personal and the art historical quoted in his work. The latter includes surrealist concepts, as well as having affinities to artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore. When viewing David’s sculptures, it is not uncommon to think of them as dark, twisted objects. David often refers to his artworks as toys: dark playthings that evoke a sense of the uncanny.

Since his early artistic days, David’s process of fearlessly experimenting with art has remained formative in his current practice. David still rejects creating works solely for the commerciality of art and allows himself to be vulnerable towards criticism. To achieve this, he retains a sense of personal attachment to his works through the intimate process he undergoes in creating his art in his studio-home. When describing his practice, David notes a sense of domestication: the manner in which he manipulates industrial materials is not through processes of mass production, rather handmade slowly over time, toiling away like an artisan at his studio-home. This results in a majority of David’s works measuring at a domestic scale that enables his sculptures to co-inhabit the room of a home. The sculptures are then actively engaged with their surroundings and often need support from spatial substances, such as sculptures that lean against the wall or those that are hung from ceilings. To note an anomaly, David’s painting, Untitled (2011) measures a larger-than-human scale, but still expresses slow and monotonous labour as he painted the patterns on the canvas.

“The body is a pulsating unknown, always a new vehicle of transformation. Sometimes it feels like a fresh ruin in need of maintenance, sometimes an instrument of magic that rubs against a world upon which it tries to establish possibilities.”[3]

Life Sentences, 2014

Another major theme to David’s oeuvre revolves around notions of the body and its various states of being. To express this, David’s recent practice has adopted an interest in an antiquated medium, jesmonite, a mixture of gypsum-based materials mixed with acrylic resin. Other traditional materials, such as bronze, are also often used by the artist. David’s Life Sentences (2014) is a bronze humanoid figure of a woman reading as it rests on the floor. Despite the domestic theme of reading, David makes this common practice uncanny: although realizing that the figure is a female, one cannot deny the comically insect-like form of her body that makes viewers second-guess their assumption, thereby making the familiar an unsettling experience. It is also worth noting how David often thinks of materials in relation to thought: how can thought be translated onto the tactile realm? David’s sculptures are not classical depictions of the Platonic ideal, but are thoughts disfigured into forms of androgynous figures suspended between a grotesque moment of metamorphosis.

“My sculptures try to somehow represent the drawings and the drawings end up being the representation of something that cannot quite be described.”[4]

As part of rennie collection’s lending program, David’s Untitled (2011) and Life Sentences (2014) are currently on view at the Hirshhorn Museum for David’s retrospective, Gradations of Slow Release, on view from April 16– September 2, 2019. The exhibition is the largest US museum survey of David’s work to date and features approximately twenty years of artistic transformations traced in the artist’s oeuvre exploring David’s inquiry into human physicality and its different manners of figurations and echoes. There is something personal, biographical, and even dream-like reflected in David’s work, yet his work is also curiously devoid of a definitive narrative as it renders itself into the complex forms and states of human existence.

Written by Fiorela Argueta

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/40c73cda-c27f-11e8-84cd-9e601db069b8

[2] http://michaelwerner.com/artist/enrico-david/news-item/1807

[3] https://elephant.art/5-questions-with-enrico-david/

[4] https://www.apollo-magazine.com/enrico-david-interview/