DAVID BROMLEY: The Colours of Innocence and Liberty

David Bromley portrait - photo by Widewalls

David Bromley was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England in 1960. His parents, Sonja and Gerald and older brother Paul emigrated to Australia when he was four years old, where they settled in Torrensville, Adelaide.

Bromley dropped out of school after suffering from age 14 with phobias including acrophobia (fear of heights), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), as well as fears of flying and sailing. Bromley has never recovered from these conditions and will take extended road trips rather than board an aeroplane.

David Bromley Original Pottery, 1987, a very early piece from his Noosa day – photo by eBay

His demons saw him spiral into a period of instability and had no direction in his life. He managed to secure unskilled work as a sign-writer in an ice-cream factory where he painted the delivery trucks, as well as a postman and a landscaper. At age 25 he found himself living in a caravan at Noosa Heads where he spent his days surfing. After a trip to the local Eumundi artisan market, he took up pottery and was able to sell goods he had made, incorporating found objects like plastic that he salvaged from the beach.

His pottery developed into painting and he was offered an exhibition at Queensland’s Caloundra Gallery. His career blossomed and in 1989, he held a solo exhibition at the Coventry Gallery in Sydney and was part of a group exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery.

Further regular solo and group exhibitions throughout major cities in Australia followed, including in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Hobart. Bromley also had international exhibitions including in Japan, Massachusetts in the USA, the United Kingdom, the Atelier de Cyrille Varet, Viaduc des Arts in Paris, Germany and South Africa.

Louise Olsen by David Bromley – photo by Art Gallery of New South Wales | NSW Government

In 1999, he was a finalist for the coveted Archibald Prize for his portrait of film director Scott Hicks. Bromley was again a finalist for the next three consecutive years; in 2000 for his painting of Australian weightlifter Dean Lukin, in 2001 for Long Tom (Aboriginal artist Long Tom Tjapanangka) and in 2002 for fellow Australian artist Charles Blackman. He was again a finalist in 2004 for McLean and Friends (artist McLean Edwards) and in 2008 for fashion designer Louise Olsen. This last is a rare portrait of his subject wearing a blouse, rather than being bare-breasted as portrayed in his Female Nudes series.

Bromley’s work comprises three main topics; Boys Own adventure series and Female Nudes, and the more recent Butterflies. The former was inspired by American pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and English cartoonist Glen Baxter. The Boys Own series portray children as they appeared in British children’s magazines in the 1950’s – stylised youngsters experiencing life at possibly its most intense but in an idealistic environment. Bromley’s Boys sold for A$ 13 800 in April 2007, Kids at the Fence sold for A$19400 in June 2008, Childhood Memories for A$15 000 in October 2015. Belinda with Butterflies sold for A$23 000 in December 2007, his acrylic and metal leaf on canvas Butterflies (2005) sold for A$18 000 in June 2010 and his diptych in acrylic and silver leaf on canvas Butterflies sold for A$10 000 in November 2012.

Nancy by David Bromley – photo by Australian Art Auction Records

Bromley’s Female Nudes are generally head-and-torso women with exposed breasts, painted using black outlines over strong colours then layered and textured with metallic paint and metallic leaf; Nancy sold for A$26 000 in December 2007, Amelia for A$23 000 in March 2007 and Selina for A$ 20 000 in July 2003. Other works include subjects Kate Fischer, Lily Allen for a cover of the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, Miranda Kerr, Kylie Minogue, Megan Gale and Kate Waterhouse. Portrait of Kate Fischer sold for A$11 000 in August 2016.

Bromley is also known for his sculptures; his bronze Leapfrog sold for A$19 000 in September 2015. He would often transform paintings from his Boys Own series to sculpture. His cast bronze Celebration Monumental sold for $A45 000 in November 2012. The Muscle Boy made in mixed media with resin and iron filings sold for A$12 200 in June 2008.

Long Board with Nude and Skull Motif – photo by Australian Art Auction Records

Bromley is also known for painting surfboards; he has had a lifetime passion for the sport. Referring to his early troublesome days in Noosa he is quoted as saying “I decided to do everything in my power to reinvent my life. Surfing was a way to look after myself more and to engage in the physical.” His fibreglass Long Board with Nude and Skull Motif sold for $A4 300 in November 2012.

The Australian Art Collector Magazine included Bromley in their ‘50 most collectible artists’ list in 2001, 2002 and 2009.

David had two failed marriages behind him when he and Tori Dixon-Whittle began their relationship. David had a son, Dale, born in 1984, who like his father, for a period battled with drug addiction. David and Tori married in 1993 and had a daughter Holly born in 2004. Their first son Willem arrived in 2007 and Arlo in 2009.

In 2008, the couple signed a twelve-year lease on a Victorian-era house, built in 1890, in Windsor, Melbourne. It was called the Prahran Arcade and the 20-room dwelling was designed primarily as a hotel and shopping arcade. It was later used as a clothing factory and Turkish bathhouse and was the original location of the Dan Murphy’s liquor chain. Melbourne artist Howard Arkley had briefly lived there in the 1970s. Having been vacant for years when the Bromley family acquired it, the house was a refuge for pigeons and David said that the dust was so thick he could not see the floorboards. Neither was there any wiring or plumbing and the walls were cracked and peeling. However, David and Tori were veterans of house renovations, having previously completed some 30 remodellings. Despite the enormous amount of work to make it habitable, they did not live in the house but used it as a base to entertain dealers and curate exhibitions.

Kids at the Fence – photo by Australian Art Sales Digest

They chose to live in another historical house in Chapel Street, St Kilda’s that David had bought in June 2008, that artist Albert Ticker had previously lived in. The practicality of its garden, timber floors and high ceilings appealed as a family home for David, Tori and their then two toddlers. The studio became known as A Day on Earth, which not only sold Bromley’s art but a mix of eclectic oddities.

The marriage lasted 17 years before breaking down in 2010. In November 2018, Tori held a ‘fire-sale’, putting 60 of David’s works up for auction, including a bronze sculpture alongside his paintings. Dixon-Whittle and the three children had been living in Hanoi, Vietnam since their divorce. In a column by Nic White for Daily Mail Australia published on 3rd November 2018, Tori is quoted as saying “In planning our recent move back to Australia, I decided it was time to let a whole lot of things go – new beginnings!” Not only did the auction of over 200 items include her ex-husband’s work, but her own art as well as furniture and art accumulated in Vietnam.

In 2009, Bromley, Matthew Sturgis and Ashely Crawford published a three-volume work of David’s art. The first volume concentrates on his Boys Own art and the second on his nudes. The final volume incorporates his studio, models and influences on his work.

Leapfrog by David Bromley – photo by Menzies Art Brands

The ‘A Day on Earth’ property, as well as Bromley’s other studio in Daylesford in Victoria, were auctioned complete with their contents in November 2011. He then relocated to a studio that Tori has bought in 2007 in Jonson Street, Byron Bay for A$1.15 million. He sold it in January 2013 prior to his marriage to fashion designer Yuge Yu in May 2013. They formed the company Bromley & Co. in Melbourne where they lived with their two children Wen and Bei Bel.

David and Yuge then moved to what was previously the Wyuna Guest House in Hepburn Springs, near Daylesford. The property, built in the late 1880s, was originally a Victoria spa before its later reincarnation as a nursing home. They did not see the house before purchasing it as an internet sale, but Yuge Bromley is quoted as saying “we loved it – we’re tinkerers and we knew we could add our touches to it”. They renovated the house, adding their own eccentric flair but without destroying the original character. They sold the house in 2017 as they felt they had nothing more to add.

In April that year, Bromley signed a twelve-month agreement as artist-in-residence at the old Peter’s Ice Cream Factory in West End, Brisbane. The complex was being converted into the mixed-use retail and residential West Village development. Bromley was commissioned to paint a series of large-scale murals, including what David said was “the largest single mural we’ve ever done”.

In early 2018, David and Yuge bought the Old Castlemaine Gaol in Victoria as their new home and which they plan to utilise as an arts precinct.

David Bromley, Belinda with Butterflies – photo by MutualArt

David’s career was not always successful; in 2010, galleries representing Bromley in both Sydney and Melbourne declined to continue featuring his work. Tim Olsen of Olsen Gallery felt that he had lost exclusivity of Bromley’s work as it was too readily available at other outlets, including shops and other galleries.

Street artist Peter Drew in his blog titled ‘Too Many Bromleys’ posted on 25th May 2010, said: “While David himself was apparently unable to account for how this market situation came about it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks if you take a closer look at his studio practice. We say ‘studio’ because David Bromley is an artist, but the term ‘factory’ is a more truthful description of the production line of workers who do the majority of Bromley’s actual painting. If you’re lucky the artist himself might have flicked the switch on the projector and traced out the actual design of any given nude but why should he even bother? With such a mechanical process why not just pay someone else to do the actual work? Warhol did it so why can’t Bromley?”

Bromley had been criticised for his ‘pop-art commercialism’ but his point of view was “I’ve always thought the very essence of an artist is to walk your own path.” An article by Helen Hawkes featured in the Northern Star newspaper on 20th October 2010, quotes Bromley “There has been a great deal of criticism that my images weren’t that clever. But I see myself as a storyteller, or a town crier, even though I continue to believe that other forms of (art) have their value.”

The article continues “Success is a funny old word,” he muses. “You still go through marital problems, great disappointments, loss of loved ones. But you fight your way through things and you become stronger and you hang on to what you are passionate about no matter what comes along. Everyone has their critics, he adds sagely. A recent article in Adelaide was very derogatory about my work and then the New York Times spoke highly of my talents,” he says. “Put the two together and you just laugh. There are always going to be different points of view. My work is not for everyone but I have become a contributor towards a cultural element of society.”

Bromley by Wolf Blass – photo by WBM Online

Bromley has completed commercial commissions including bottle labels for celebrated winemaker Wolf Blass, artwork for British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant Crown Melbourne and murals for paint company Dulux.

His most recent exhibition was with Jah Roc Galleries in November 2018 called ‘Tales from within the studio’ featuring his well-known Boys, Nudes and bronze sculptures as well as new works from his recent ‘Food Glorious Food’ series.

Despite some critical disdain of his work, he can currently be seen in various prestigious galleries including the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth and the National Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.

David and Yuge’s work can also be found in their four Bromley & Co. outlets; the Windsor Gallery in Chapel Street, the Block Arcade Gallery in Melbourne, the Daylesford Gallery in Vincent Street, Daylesford and the East Street Warehouse, also in Daylesford.