David Remfrey shares the secrets of his sketchbook with Anna McNay at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art
David Remfry’s work has focused largely on the figure. In the mid-1960s he became fixated on painting the American girl trios, the Shirelles and the Ronettes. A burgeoning reputation in America from 1980 onwards led him to move to New York in 1995, where he lived and worked at the Chelsea Hotel until 2016. Remfry’s models are drawn from a pool of friends and acquaintances he meets in clubs and bars, and many of his neighbours at the hotel have also sat for him.
Since 1980, Remfry has often worked in watercolour and has said: “I use the same gestures in watercolour as I use when working in oil. I use a large brush, loaded with pigment, over a flat surface. Watercolour can be pale and translucent, or the pigment can be dense and saturated into the paper, far from the polite little interiors or landscapes which are often thought to be the province of watercolour.”
His sketchbooks are full of couples dancing, people with tattoos, people with their dogs and, more recently, landscapes. His large-scale paintings of dancers can stretch to 10 foot by 3 foot and his long-established reputation has earned him more than 50 international solo exhibitions and an MBE for services to British Art in America. Remfry has also painted numerous portraits of such notable sitters as Sir John Gielgud, Susan Sarandon and Ethan Hawke.
In conversation with Anna McNay, Remfry will discuss his fascination with watercolour, his attraction to painting dancers, and some memorable encounters in both the Chelsea Arts Club and the Chelsea Hotel.