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Camberwell

Image of Squares (Detail) by David Troostwyk

Paintings and Other Works by David Troostwyk

Written by Hannah Alton
Published date 31 January 2019

Daniel Sturgis, Reader in Painting and Fine Art Programme Director at Camberwell, has curated an exhibition of the work of David Troostwyk (1926-2009) for Camberwell Space. The exhibition aims to introduce Troostwyk’s work to a new audience, underlining its originality and vitality in a contemporary context.

Troostwyk was a leading British conceptual artist who worked with painting and text. He studied at St Albans Art School and the Royal College of Art, then became Head of Painting at Winchester Art School before later teaching at various London art schools, most notably at Camberwell College of Arts (1965-89). The artist’s work is held in many collections including the Tate Gallery, Arts Council Collection, and at Southampton City Art Gallery.

Troostwyk’s work with text, objects and painting displays a reduced elegance and focus on the way art communicates ideas. Although pared-back, his work was moral. His succinct pictorial and linguistic vocabulary was in part indebted to his youthful employment in advertising for the London Display Company, and as a coach-painter. As a childhood evacuee from war-torn Europe, his work drew on the deep, and sometimes troubling, responses he had to 20th century history and his inner emotional life.

Image of Doss Box by David Troostwyk
David Troostwyk, Doss Box, courtesy of Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk - Credit: Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk

The exhibition includes art works from throughout Troostwyk’s career. There will be examples of his early clear polythene wall hangings which were awarded a prize in the John Moores Painting Exhibition Liverpool (1969), subsequently shown in an important solo exhibition at Kasmin Gallery London (1970) and later exhibited at the ICA (1974). Examples of his text based lithographic posters and prints will also be displayed. These works in clear bold type draw on Troostwyk’s interest in advertising and linguistic systems, exploring the slippages and gaps between words.

The exhibition will also incorporate one of the artist’s conceptual radio works, the groundbreaking Advertisement of an Idea (1976) a 15 second commercial advertisement that was originally broadcast across London on Capital Radio. Finally, the gallery has managed to include one of Troostwyk’s rare sculptures The Stones of Passchendaele. This work is comprised of stones gathered form the first world war battlefield in Flanders, which he ritualistically collected and simply displayed in a box-file and bag, alongside a text explaining how they had been washed in English water.

Image of Plastic Work by David Troostwyk
David Troostwyk, Plastic work, courtesy of Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk - Credit: Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk

We asked Daniel Sturgis why he thought Troostwyk’s work was relevant to our current cohort of students and members of the public.

“I think this exhibition will be very exciting for students as it shows how an artist engaged with ideas and theory of painting throughout his career. He did so with conventional paintings as well as extraordinary plastic works, text pieces, conceptual works and sculpture. The artist’s range is in itself exciting – but I think it always has painting as its root.

This was a medium he returned to in earnest at the end of his career, when painting became a means for the artist to convey emotional and ethical questions. He had lived through the second world war and was haunted by the tragedy he saw on the streets of London, in his reading, and in his family’s experiences of European and Jewish history.

“I am thrilled that we will be showing Troostwyk’s extraordinary monochromatic paintings. The series Letters from a British Soldier (1997) depicts simple white forms – each a silhouette or shadow – from specific letters from the First World War trenches. Although at times melancholic, Troostwyk’s art is one that is above all deeply thoughtful and socially or politically connected.

”A new publication will accompany this exhibition with a text by Daniel Sturgis, who will also take part in a conversation with Robin Klassnik OBE, the director of Matt’s Gallery on 7 February. Klassnik opened his gallery with a show of Troostwyk’s work in 1979, with the remit of exploring the exhibition as a discursive space. He still represents the artist, and the works are in the Camberwell show courtesy of the Trustees of the David Troostwyk estate.

In the 40 years since that inaugural show, Klassnik has worked with many of the country’s most significant contemporary artists, facilitating the creation of major new works like Richard Wilson’s vast oil-filled tank 20:50 (1987); Mike Nelson’s fifteen-room installation The Coral Reef (2000) and Leah Capaldi’s multiscreen sculptural installation Lay Down (2016).

Stones of Passchendaele by David Toostwyk
David Toostwyk, Stones of Passchendaele, courtesy of Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk - Credit: Matt's Gallery and the trustees of the estate of David Troostwyk

In June 2018, Matt’s Gallery and Camberwell College of Arts formalised their working relationship as the David Troostwyk/ Matt’s Gallery Studio Prize was awarded to one of our graduating students for the first time at UAL.

Hannah Skinner, a graduate of Camberwell’s BA Sculpture course, received a year’s rent-free studio, mentoring from Robin Klassnik and Camberwell lecturer Leah Capaldi, 100 hours of Camberwell workshop access and a solo show in Camberwell Space in November 2019.

The award is named after David Troostwyk in recognition of the intellectual rigour and emotional honesty present in his working practice, with the intention of recognising, supporting and developing these qualities in early-career artists from Camberwell.

The David Troostwyk exhibition at Camberwell Space is on until 22 February.

Find out more about Camberwell's undergraduate fine art courses.