The Wapping Group of Artists - Est 1939
David Penny

David Penny

I was brought up in Southampton (I have a distant memory of the record breaking SS United States arriving at the Docks) and then Guildford, and loved drawing from an early age.
I studied and worked in Architecture using free drawing as part of my work from the mid 60s till the early 1990s, and was based for some time in County Hall on the South Bank. I took relatively little notice of the rich variety of subject matter nearby, often being glad to get out of London at the end of the working day.

The 90s recession led to redundancy, a blessing in disguise. Almost by chance I started sketching, painting mainly in watercolour and sometimes oils, and became an active outdoor participant and exhibiting member with Farnham Art Society, learning to see and discovering the pleasure of working outside. I met Paul Banning whose generous and perceptive advice helped me develop my watercolour work.

Strangely, a demand for architectural illustrations started in the mid 90s and I maintained my contact with architecture by producing artist’s impressions for architects and their clients until recently.

I became familiar with the Wapping Group and its work by the Thames, realising what I had missed for all those years in County Hall. My year as a candidate was a delight and a source of stimulation and motivation, working in wonderful locations in the company of established and very able painters, all most companionable. I was honoured to become a full member in 2000.

One of the principal aims of the Group is to record the life and spirit of the River – I do try to look for ‘moments in time’ when selecting subjects, though I will be tempted by the more timeless subject matter still available. It doesn’t matter too much to me if people are around when painting (though the South Bank can be impossible if the tide is up) but I am wary of conversations starting with “I’m an artist too”………

I try for structured compositions, probably due to my architectural background, and buildings are often present. Much of the development now going on is pretty awful but I feel the need to at least consider if it can be used. I paint with transparent watercolour on unstretched heavy paper usually at 20”x16”. The vagaries of the weather and working by water mean that glazes can take time to dry so my target is to draw fast, get the feel and mood down and finish off in the studio if necessary. I particularly enjoy the subtlety of watercolour, and sometimes the more direct impact of oils on board which can be more practical on damp days.

At the end of the day there is the welcome prospect of an hour or two in a nearby pub when you can find out just where some of the Group have been hiding and perhaps what they’ve found to paint. A bonus has been to be part of Group trips to the Loire, St Malo, Honfleur, Ile de Re, Bruges and so on – excellent painting locations combined with good company.

It is an eagerly anticipated privilege to exhibit with the Group in the close season and see that its principles hold true even in these commercial times. My work has been hung and sold in many exhibitions in London, the South East and Midlands and has found its way into private collections as far afield as Australia, Russia, Israel and the USA. I am proud to have had a large watercolour in British Embassy in Budapest and another is in the collection of The Cutty Sark Trust.