It may come as something of a surprise that this month an independent Brighton gallery will play host to an exhibition featuring works by some of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s most iconic artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, L. S. Lowry and Amedeo Modigliani. It’s an astonishing list representing an eclectic range of styles and movements, but the paintings being displayed all have one thing in common: they’re copies.
Opening at Brighton’s No Walls gallery, Church Street, on 23 May, The Art of Copying brings together over 40 works, painstakingly recreated by master copyist David Henty. David, who has more than 25 years’ experience replicating great works of art, is an expert at convincing the viewer, having mastered the techniques and individual quirks of some of history’s most celebrated painters.
David explains that his is a very different discipline to producing original artwork, and it is no mean feat; copying is notoriously difficult. But he relishes the technical challenge of mastering an artist’s style. David was inspired to start painting by a passion for art and was quickly seduced by the technicality of copying. He describes his process as one of deconstruction: studying the original painting, trying to understand how the artist worked and, wherever possible, sourcing materials true to the period, before analysing how to lay down each stroke and mix the perfect colours. His solo exhibition at No Walls is a chance for him to present to the public a body of work featuring some of his most accomplished copies.
Until the nineteenth century and the advent of photography, copying artworks was an
accepted practice. Since then, however, the copyist profession has been both glamourized in films and vilified by the press. Branded as copycats, tricksters and criminals, copyist artists have faced a struggle to legitimize their art. This is gradually changing, and talents such as David’s are coming to be respected, his pieces appreciated as skillful works of art in their own right.
Copyist art has a surprisingly broad appeal. It is esteemed by mega-rich collectors, who may own an original piece but be prevented from displaying it because of insurance restrictions. Equally, it attracts those who could never afford to stump up six-figure sums to purchase their favourite works. (David’s reproduction paintings offer the opportunity to own a near perfect replica of a Picasso or a Modigliani at a fraction of the cost of the original.) Others simply marvel at the level of skill involved.
Whether collector, art lover or just curious, the ability of an artist to faithfully recreate master works holds a fascination for many. As David himself reminds me, it was Pablo Picasso who asserted, ‘Good artists borrow; great artists steal.’
The Art of Copying runs at No Walls gallery, Church Street, from 24 to 28 May, with a private viewing on Tuesday 23 May. For guest list enquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org