David Remfry RA’s watercolours at Fortnum & Mason

Published 15 July 2014

Painter Mick Rooney RA gives his own inimitable take on David Remfry RA’s witty watercolours, a new installation in the department store’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

  • Occasionally one might nibble on a bouche macedoine, a panier en genoise or pop a morsel of gâteau St Honoré into the amused mouth, whilst simultaneously bearing witness to an art installation of the new counterculture kind, as rare as a zero calorie Bateau Imperial. Eat your hearts out white cube galleries, you will not be able to match the deliciously honed visual manifestation on the fourth floor of that cathedral of de luxe comestibles that is Fortnum & Mason.

    David Remfry RA has nipped across Piccadilly from Burlington House, so to speak, to install twenty two brilliantly draughted images depicting moments of life caught mostly with line and enriched with colour. If you understand the unforgiving graphite mark, and I’m sure you do, you will gasp at the apparent ease with which Remfry nurses it around the ethers of plain white paper.

    Paul Klee said – and perhaps we old hands wince slightly at it – to paraphrase, “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”. That’s a laugh. When I take a line for a walk it either breaks free of its leash, loses its way or is decimated at the crossroads. No, it ain’t easy! Shall we use the swan image to describe Mr Remfry’s twenty-two understated but exact representations? You know: the swan serene above and desperate paddling below. No, I don’t think so. It’s a case of ‘start them young’, drawing daily from cockcrow, developing the retentive memory and understanding the subtle inventiveness within the composition. Composition! Ahh! I go all goose-bumpy when I hear that old-fashioned word.

  • There is more than a hint of East meets West in Remfry’s work. One sits beneath the pines. Before one the landscape: snow-capped mountains, the silhouette of a knurled forest and the forbidding, unclimbable crags, etc. Sit for some years and then take pen and parchment, and in one Zen motion record not what one sees but what one knows. I told David to stop doing that as he was in danger of catching double pneumonia.

    Nonetheless his sureness of mark-making allows the subject its own moment of time and space. Humour and wit abound throughout his work – two rare qualities in a visual art world riddled with mired platitudes and mock gravitas. You may note in one of his works a dog with its head in a Fortnum’s bag. This is a perfect example of what the Japanese call ‘The Floating World’ – the world of the everyday. The joke for me is that David has found a solution of NOT having to draw the blessed animal’s head. Caught you Mr Remfry! But en revenge he has made a detailed watercolour of two (not just one but two) accordionists.

    Mr Stephen Fry who hangs (excuse the phrase) a few drawings away is caught in an unguarded moment in the guise of Malvolio. One thinks of Mr Fry – though we know he has a darker side – more of a Benvolio, but he can tell us who came out with the epithet, if it is one, “A gentleman is someone who knows how to play (tick the box) the Bagpipes, The Jaws Harp, The Nose Flute and, wait for it, The Accordion – but refrains from doing so.” David Remfry is a gentleman from his hat from Locks to his shoes from Lobbs, and he has portrayed TWO accordionists. So, forget the lack of a canine head. He could do a hundred if required. But wonder at the dogged determination to draw two fully operational squeeze machines strapped to bodies. Alright! Alright! But Mr Remfry, that road leads to madness.

    Once in a while the perfect commission is given to the most appropriate artist. And it does make me smile that these twenty-two works have a permanent place in Fortnum and Mason. These works of the artist’s joyous imagination, powerful and insouciant, are just there, surrounding the salon de thé dansant and the trolleys of petit fours. The room and the work slowly waltz together in perfect harmony.

    See more of Remfry’s work on the blog of Charles Saumarez-Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive of the RA.