The British illustrator brings his strokes of genius to the West Coast
“I’m trying to capture the essence, the sense of a memory, as if they’ve just floated onto the surface of the paper,” says portraitist David Downton from his suite at Claridge’s in London. “I want it to look as if something just happened, something was left unsaid.” With his elegant brushstrokes, the British artist has created portraits of some of the world’s most recognizable and beautiful women, including Cate Blanchett, Catherine Deneuve, Diane von Furstenberg and Dita Von Teese. Downton has just arrived in Los Angeles to launch his latest venture: a one-year exhibition of his “Icon Series” at Mary Ta’s Minotti Los Angeles and Mass Beverly showrooms, featuring large-scale portraits on paper of celebrated women, small drawings, medium-format works and a limited number of exclusive portrait commissions that start at $15,000.
When Downton sits to sketch his subjects, often he has only an hour or two with each. “I get to know the person as much as I can in the sitting. What I look for above everything is a sense of self,” he says. “A classic beauty isn’t of much interest to draw. I love that great charm, individuality and intelligence; all of this comes together. I translate and respond.” He sketches page after page while talking to subjects, collecting what he calls “the raw material,” but it’s back at the studio that he does the heavy lifting with the lightest of brushstrokes—elegantly overlapping and measured—that crystallize the unique spirit of each subject.
“David’s talent is that he really enjoys people, and he actually listens and looks at you walking across the room,” says Ta. “These days we are so busy we don’t stop. He stops. He listens. He perceives. His portraits are almost like reflections.”
Downton began as a fashion illustrator more than 20 years ago, sketching for houses like Chanel and Valentino, and his work has been featured everywhere from Vogue to Vanity Fair. Since 2011, he has been artist in residence at Claridge’s, rendering some of the hotel’s most well-reputed guests, from Sarah Jessica Parker to Christian Louboutin. Bringing his art to Los Angeles comes as part of a broader initiative by his U.S. agent Lauren Gurvich to introduce British artists to the American market, with a concentration on California in particular. For Downton, it marks the next step in a storied career. “Engaging with a new audience, there’s a reminder that there is always further to go,” he says. “It feels like a new beginning, like I’ve begun a new dance.” minotti-la.com; massbeverly.com; daviddownton.com
Written by HEATHER JOHN FOGARTY.