Faded is the latest exhibition from David Speed. Self hosted out of his studio close to Hoxton Station. It once again makes good use of his favourite bright pink neon paint. It’s a colour that the artist has started to make his own.
Speed plays with contrasts. Where there is a bright pink there will also be a dark black. The darkest he can find so that the effect can be more striking. Illuminated within the concave walls of his studio the space is just bright enough so that the paintings pop out. His portraits once again taking a central role but this time added to with a series of still lifes.
Faded by David Speed
It’s these more unfamiliar paintings that give Faded a very different feel. They are front and centre in the exhibition, everyday items that could be seen as disposable. All positioned around a central painting of flowers. They were he says one of his most significant challenges as an artist. Formerly better known as a commercial painter, he would ask to be kept away from jobs where flowers needed to be painted.
But there they are as a centrepiece. A challenge completed though in some ways he seems reticent to look at or even talk too much about them. The energy of creation still possibly weighing heavily. More unexpected items surround them. Apples, scissors, water bottles, old toys and disposable lighters. All created with the same care as the flowers and all with the same neon pink glow.
Transforming the Disposable
These more inanimate objects are often uncelebrated. Yet here they are taking centre stage. The act of painting having given them a newfound life and meaning. As David Speed describes in Faded’s literature it is about “transforming the disposable into the ornate”. The water bottle that is often thrown or the old toy that was once loved but then discarded and soon forgotten.
Portraits are also still prominent in David Speed’s work and line the exhibition. Each image intricately painted prior to adding the final layer of pink neon. The effect gives Faded its unique look and feel. All the works have been finished in a similar way. The colour seeping up from the bottom to eventually fade half way up the piece. Compared to the rest of the image the act is a quick one. Fairly instinctive, he doesn’t necessarily plan where the fade will finish as he creates that layer. He describes having a bit of “heart in mouth” every time it happens.
It was during the UK lockdown that David Speed really started to explore his portrait work. Had it never happened it’s doubtful that he would have started. Based in Shoreditch at the time, his work as a commercial painter dried up overnight. With added time and empty streets he thought he’d go out and paint for himself for a bit. Exploring colours such as reds and blues each wall was both an experiment and a release.
At first using models and references from instagram photographers, the style took off and soon became noticed. People on their daily walks around the area would spot them. Some would even arrange their daily activities around them. For David it was a golden time or at least one with a pinkish red hue. A painter for many years it was also the first time that he’d painted under his own name. A background in graffiti and then in murals for companies meant that he’d always kept his real identity behind the scenes.
Talking to an invited audience at his Faded exhibition, David Speed hits on the topic of setting goals. At this time one of them was to get up to ten thousand instagram followers. Something that when he first started seemed out of reach but now seems like a distant memory. He describes how he wasn’t sure how well his work would be received. Questions abounding as to the reaction. Not only from the person on the street but also from how peers from the graffiti world might react.
This graffiti background seems to be formative in Speed’s work. He won’t say what he used to write possibly on account of the fact that much if not all would have been illegal. Even now many of his outside portraits are not permissioned. His approach to painting on the street still very much taking influence from those former days. Finding a spot, getting up early and painting his piece. All the while navigating early morning workers and late evening revellers either travelling to or from their homes.
Faded is a body of work that David reveals took a year to produce. For every piece in the exhibition, many others didn’t. He confesses to feeling fortunate. That the positive reaction to his work has allowed him to spend so much time creating. It’s a just reward for an artist whose style has so become so well known in the East End. A journey started during lockdown which won’t be fading any time soon.
Faded by David Speed took place at his studio in Hoxton between 6 and 15 October 2023. We visited the exhibition twice and attended a Q&A with the artist on the evening of 11 October. Find out more about David’s work by visiting his website and instagram.