Damian Elwes at Unit London

Recreating legendary artist studios...

Santa Monica-based, British artist Damian Elwes has been recreating the studios of other artists since he began painting. His paintings transport us into the worlds of artistic geniuses and capture the sublimity of creative experience.

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Santa Monica-based, British artist Damian Elwes has been recreating the studios of other artists since he began painting. His paintings transport us into the worlds of artistic geniuses and capture the sublimity of creative experience.

Born in 1960 Elwes was raised and schooled in London, he cycled from from Bordeaux to Italy at age sixteen and in 1979 he backpacked across South America before attending Harvard. His physical connection to artists and their studios substantiated in 1982 when he met and was photographed by Andy Warhol, at graduation when his play writing professor gave him a palette knife that had once belonged to Henri Matisse and later that year when Elwes met Keith Haring who encouraged him to start painting. His first paintings were exhibited alongside those of Basquiat by London dealer Robert Fraser. In 2018 his solo exhibition at the Musée en Herbe in Paris attracted over 100,000 visitors.

Elwes lived in Paris from 1986-87, and he recalls, “Instead of going to art school, I spent two years searching all over Paris for artist studios and asking artists if I could make paintings of their workplaces. They’d let me sit quietly in a corner.  I could barely speak French, and so everything I knew about those artists was from studying their belongings and how they placed them.”

Elwes then built a home in Colombia where he lived from 1992-2000 creating installations of rain forests. On his return to Los Angeles Elwes bought a computer and Googled the Bateau Lavoir. It had burned down in the seventies, but now he discovered 7 photographs of Picasso’s first studio. He noticed a hand of a Demoiselle in one of the photos and the arm of another Demoiselle in another photo. He printed out “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" and suddenly, he could complete the puzzle and see Picasso’s studio.

“I spend a lot of time researching the studios that I want to paint and then I visit those places. Sometimes I have been lucky enough to discover studios that have been lost to history. The painting, “Matisse’s Studio in Collioure,” describes a studio where the current occupants had no idea that this was the place where Matisse and Derain explored Fauvism in 1905.”

Some studios still exist while others have to be to be recreated solely from research. Elwes has gathered an extraordinary amount of lost information while unearthing these stories. “I choose to focus on creativity and visionary people because it helps me to feel better about who we are and how we might overcome our problems. I’m not saying that artists will save us. For me, the studio is a metaphor for all human creativity.”  

In the studio with Damian Elwes, 2019

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