Ian Davenport's limited-edition Swatch

The Turner Prize-nominated artist on his amazing colourfalls


To coincide with the release of his Swatch Art Special watch in May this year at the Venice Biennale Arte, abstract painter Ian Davenport unveiled Giardini Colourfall, a 14m-long artwork featuring a cascade of vertical stripes painted in more than 1,000 colours poured onto an aluminium base, culminating in a pool of rainbow swirls.

First conceived in London, where Davenport, 51, lives and works, the giant painting travelled more than 1,100km to be reassembled in a garden-like setting amid Venice’s Giardini pavilions; an unusual step as most artists exhibit inside the exhibition spaces of commissioning nations.

"It’s really interesting how it’s being appreciated in a social space," the artist says, describing visitors striking poses for holiday snaps. "That wouldn’t be appropriate behaviour in a gallery, and I think people like that [difference]. I’m interested in how my artworks start to interact with architecture and spaces that aren’t necessarily art spaces."

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Giardini Colourfall isn’t Davenport’s first foray into public art: in 2006, he brightened a gloomy underpass on London’s Bankside with a 48m-long fluid enamel painting titled Poured Lines. Deceptively simple, high-gloss vertical stripes in a myriad of colours have become a signature of the Turner Prize-nominated artist. "It gives that sense of liquidity to an artwork," says Davenport, who has collaborated with a number of high-profile brands including Fabergé and Meissen porcelain. "In a way, it’s about transformation. I’m intrigued by certain natural phenomena; I love waterfalls."

Last year, he explored further the idea of moving art out of prescribed gallery space when he took part in the Dior Lady Art project. First presented at Art Basel Miami Beach, Davenport’s top-handle bags and matching accessories were later sold in Dior boutiques. "Every generation wants to break boundaries," he says, explaining his democratic approach to high culture. "We were part of punk. That’s what I remember growing up; it was all about breaking rules."

A key figure in the Young British Artists (YBA) movement, Davenport graduated from the prestigious Fine Art faculty of Goldsmiths College in 1988. That same year, he was chosen to present new work in the disused Port of London Authority building at Surrey Docks as part of Damien Hirst’s epochal Freeze exhibition. The show introduced Davenport to Leslie Waddington, who subsequently hosted the artist’s solo debut at his Mayfair gallery in 1990; a year later, Davenport became the youngest artist to be shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

"I never expected to be able to afford being an artist full time," says Davenport, unfazed by his success. "My expectations when I was at college were that if you got enough money to pay your studio rent for the next two, three months, you’d cracked it! To be in this sort of position later in life is just way beyond my wildest dreams."

Throughout his career, Davenport
 has experimented with novel ways of applying paint to canvas, boards and aluminium. "I did things with nails,
 big brushes, scraping things, watering cans," he remembers of his early days 
in the studio. "When paint is poured or dripped, the effect is sort of never-ending. It suggests so many possibilities." Surprisingly, his stripy style is the result of a studio accident. "A lot of the things I do tend to be from observations. I was making some beautiful dots, but the syringe kept jamming, so I tested it against the wall to see if I could make it work better. It made these beautiful straight lines."

Photo by Tori Ferenc

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