Congratulations to artist David Wells on winning this year’s Pastel Journal Grand Prize Award in the 15th Annual Pastel 100 Competition for his exquisite pastel portrait, Cassandra. The finished prizewinning work is shown here, along with a photo of the work-in-progress and the preliminary sketch. You can read all about the story and technique behind the painting in the April 2014 issue of Pastel Journal (on sale at NorthLightShop.com). Meanwhile, here is a continuation of my conversation with the multi-faceted artist from MacCleay Island, near Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland in Australia:
Pastel Journal: Describe the atmosphere for pastel art in your part of the world? How unusual are you, as a pastel artist?
David Wells: Pastels artists are quite common in this part of the world, though not as common as artists working in oils or acrylic, and less highly regarded, as well as commanding a lower price point, generally speaking, which is unfair in my opinion. The other thing that gets my goat, is that pastel work is still considered drawing, which means it’s not eligible for a lot of the big painting prizes. I believe this is a worldwide issue, but it still frustrates me. I work a lot in oils and watercolours, and fully rendered, pastel feels like painting to me. The Australian Pastel Society is quite active and is based not far from here. They organize a lot of workshops.
Pastel Journal: Tell me about Macleay Island. And, would you say there is anything about your work that identifies you as an “Australian artist”?
David Wells: Macleay Island is a very pleasant environment. It’s swarming with artists of all kinds, as well as a lot of other very interesting people; a lot of salty old Sea Dogs who have washed up here. The local artists (including myself) are starting to organize and push to make the island an art destination with more group exhibitions, open studio days and the like. Certainly, it’s the only place anywhere near a capital city where I can afford to have a studio on the waterfront. Looking past my easel at the ocean, complete with passing boats, dolphins and bird life certainly doesn’t hurt the creative mood.
I don’t see myself as an Australian Artist, although maybe it’s more obvious in some way to an outside eye. Australia has the disadvantage of being so far away from everywhere, so we get a very limited chance to see key original works of art by the great masters from Europe or America. For example, there was a touring show from The Metropolitan Museum of Art with some Singer-Sargents, but not Portrait of Madame X. I understand the big galleries don’t want to part with the jewels in the crown, but it does limit the opportunity to learn by looking at the world’s great masterpieces.
Pastel Journal: What’s next for you? Do you have goals for your art-making or your career?
David Wells: I’ve been teaching pastels a lot this year, which I really enjoy and hope to do a lot more. It also has dawned on my that I am, as a street performer myself, in a unique position to make a series of portraits of the contemporary circus world. I know all the people involved very well, and they are fascinating subject matter—amazing collections of body art and jewelry, and lots of character.
I also want to experiment with doing pastel on a much larger scale, on primed panel maybe? I’m not sure how to go about it, but I’d love to do full figures, larger then life. My only career goal is to be successful enough that I can afford to travel the world and soak it up.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
• Get all six issues of Pastel Journal: The 2013 Annual CD is now on sale!