David Simmons

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Talented local artist David Simmons shares his passion for seascapes and portraiture …

How long have you lived on the Coffs Coast, and what do you like about it?

My father was a flight controller with the DCA (Dept of Civil Aviation), as it was known then. He was transferred to Coffs Harbour from Sydney when I was around four. So I’ve lived here fifty years, give or take some years living away.

I lived in Macksville three years and Coolum, Queensland for a similar time. I always returned, as my family live here, and I guess that’s where the heart is. If a person is to live anywhere, what better place is there?

The reason I like the area? The beaches are on your doorstep, and within a few minutes you can be in the country or the mountains.

> Where did your artistic passion come from?

As a child growing up, I’d sit and watch my father paint, as he was an artist also. I remember when I was about twelve, being ill and away from school. I sat posing for him while he painted my portrait – which, by the way, I still have. It didn’t seem like posing; it was more like hours of, “Just sit still son. Do you have ants in your pants?”

My first painting was probably in Kindy, as it is for everyone, but the first real attempt at painting I remember was Ned Kelly on the railway tracks. I thought it was great and couldn’t wait to show my dad. He took one look and said, “That’s crap, son.” I never painted much after that until I reached high school. I took art as an elective subject, and I have painted and drawn ever since. I think it was probably that first painting that gave me the drive; maybe I needed to prove something.

> Describe your style of art.

I am pretty much a realist painter; I paint what I see in life. I started out a copier of other artists’ work in the early days. I figured if I could copy something, that would make me an artist, but I soon found out there is a lot more to it. There is mood, atmosphere, perspective, composition, shadows, lighting, reflection, colour, form, shape and a whole bunch of other things that need to be understood to create an artwork.

I have never understood abstract, and in my opinion some of it could be painted by a monkey. That’s not the point, though. As long as you enjoy creating it, it doesn’t matter how it’s done. As long as people enjoy viewing it, you’ve done your job.

> Tell us about your studio / gallery.

My studio is a converted garage on my home that the previous owner had used for a teenager’s bedroom. There are many hours spent there, and I even thought I should put a kitchenette in. That hasn’t happened yet, because I get so engrossed in my work, I wouldn’t have time to use it.

My gallery is my house, with paintings in almost every room. I haven’t opened it to the public as yet, but I plan to soon. It seems silly to just keep painting and not show them. I paint for the love of painting, and to paint full time I need to sell them; to sell them I need people to buy them; to buy them people need to see them – that’s how it works.

> Do you exhibit your work locally? Tell us about some of the exhibitions you have been / will be a part of …

I have exhibited locally in various art shows – even back when we had a Civic Centre and the Council supplied the prize, which was acquisitive; this became the Advocate Prize and now the Lilli Pilli. Recently I’ve exhibited in the Coffs Council portrait exhibition at the Bunker Gallery; there is, however, a limit to the number of works a person can enter, so a lot of my work goes unseen. A good friend has offered me space in a new shop she has opened in Coffs town centre called Antipode. That will be good for some exposure.

My passion is seascapes and portraits, and I have entered in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize twice, which carries the richest prize in the country. I intend to enter these shows again when they come up.

> Where does the inspiration for your work come from?

Some things come from an idea or my imagination; others come from photographs I have taken. I have painted out in the field, as it’s called, but there are too many variables when you are trying to capture a moment; light changes, colours change, so it’s out with the camera.

Sometimes, though, the picture is best left as a photo than an intended painting. Sometimes there is no inspiration and work will stop until inspired again – artist’s block.

> Aside from your art, what keeps you busy?

As much as I would love to paint paintings every day, it isn’t possible at the moment; so I have a self employed job. I do home maintenance as my main income. I have been, of all things, a painter – as in houses – most of my life. I did a TAFE course in home maintenance and find the variation more fulfilling. In my other spare time, I play guitar and dabble in song writing and recording.

> We hear you also have an impressive guitar collection …

I’m not sure if it’s that impressive, but yes, I have a small collection. When I was younger, so much younger than today … hey, there’s a song there! My father came home with this old banjo that was his father’s – no skin or strings. I cleaned it up, bought a pig skin and strings and learned some basic chords.

My first guitar was bought for five dollars from Walton’s when they first came to town and occupied the old Tasma Theatre in High Street, next to Jack Simmons. I never learned to play it. The next guitar I bought second hand for three hundred and fifty dollars when I was 14 – an Italian Eko 12 string, which I still have. I have my father’s Maton, which he left me, and six other guitars I picked up along the way, a banjo and a ukulele.

> What projects are you working on at the moment?

At present I have an unfinished portrait of my mate Rossco sitting on a stool with a guitar in hand. He is quite a good muso and has this ‘lost in the sixties’ hairstyle, which is his trademark. It’s a work I will probably show in the next Council portrait show.

I’ll never sign my work if I think there is something not right or that can be improved, so I have a few projects on the go at any one time. I can go back and fine tune them when the mistakes or improvements become more obvious.

> What are your goals for 2011?

With each painting I do, I do the best I can, and with each painting I do, I learn a little more. One of my goals is to open up my gallery and to share my art and what I have learned with others – wether it be a chat about a technique, or giving a private lesson. To go on entering art exhibitions and to keep painting.

> Any final words?

Yes, if you need an artwork, better get in now while it’s cheap. No seriously, I’m available for commissions, lessons – or if you just want to see my work, call me or have a look on my Facebook page; some works are displayed there.

> Thank you David.

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