Artist David Shillinglaw unveiled a revamped version of Samson and Delilah last Thursday after the original was tagged and defaced.
Three years ago, David Shillinglaw was asked to reinterpret a painting from the Dulwich Picture Gallery in his “own groovy style”. The commission was part of an ongoing project that is bringing the art that hangs on the walls of the Picture Gallery onto the street. Shillinglaw, who was going through a breakup at the time, chose to reinvent Van Dyke’s Samson and Delilah.
“I think it’s an amazing project because, in a way, it sort of validates people working in the street if it has the context of being directly inspired and linked to a master’s work from somewhere like Dulwich Picture Gallery… it’s like a dialogue between me, the street, the museum and the artist who died hundreds of years ago.” David said.
David was given permission to paint his mural on the side of the Florence Pub in Herne Hill. The wall, which lies between two major roads, receives a lot of foot traffic and is a prime location for street art. Over the years, David’s original piece was tagged and graffitied over. David initially resisted requests to clean it, believing the defacements were a natural part of the evolution of his and other street artists’ work.
He jumped, though, at the opportunity to redo the work and was interested to see how it would be different from the original. In the three years since David painted his original mural, he has evolved personally and artistically.
“I have what I did three years before to go on, so it’s nice in a way because I can kind of copy my own work.” David said, “But it won’t look the same- it will be different because three years have passed and I’m better than I was… am I better? I’m more experienced than I was, definitely. A lot’s happened in three years… I’m a different person now.”
As a person, David is a force. He has floppy brown hair and paint splattered clothing and a distinctive energy that seems to be composed of equal parts nerve and passion. He is as bold and vibrant as the art he creates, which is composed of vivid colors, geometric patterns and shapes and an overwhelming amount of almond shaped eyes. He danced and sang along to the Rolling Stones- music, he says, is essential- as he painted and chatted, half to himself, half to observers, as he finessed paint from his cans and brushes. You could see the cogs working in his brain as he stepped back to evaluate the wall before painting, and sometimes repainting, sections.
He is disarmingly humble and his articulate speech is generously peppered with expletives. He goes on tangents and jumps from topic to topic but eventually talks himself into revelations and insights that he seems to surprise himself with. He sometimes speaks with a quasi-childlike wonder and is excitable and distractible. His art too, with its bright, opaque colors, easily recognizable forms and literal wide eyes, is reminiscent of childhood, albeit in a mature and nuanced way.
“I think all children are artists and then they decide to do other things. And I just didn’t.” David said.
David has been creating art since before he could remember. This, he thinks, probably started because his mother used to “cello tape pencils and paintbrushes to [his] hands”. He paints masterfully and with apparent ease. Figures spring up and are eased out of the paint in surprising ways. David completed the mural in less than a day- a testament to his ability.
His reimagining of Samson and Delilah is simultaneously bold and languid; Delilah, with her four eyes, looms over the crazed Samson, scissors on the precipice of snipping his hair. Eyes and hands consume a large portion of the space, giving the piece a rather voyeuristic quality.
David hopes that his painting will intrigue passersby and inspire them to think about the images they see on a day to day basis. He likes that his work “contributes to the visual landscape” in a non-commercial or corporate way. The work is just there to be enjoyed and, hopefully, to start conversations.
“When you’re walking down the street and you think you know what you expect to see and you see something else. That makes me feel good, like in a way I’m having a conversation with someone I’m never gonna meet.” David said. “That’s the nicest thing about painting: you can say loads of things, and you don’t have to open your mouth.”
David’s Samson and Delilah mural is located in Herne Hill on the side of The Florence.