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An interview with... David Weller, artist and assistant gardener

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Friday, February 1, 2019

In this post we're finding out more about Christ Church's David Weller, who's not only an assistant gardener in our Gardens and Meadows team, but is also a talented artist! From his paintings inspired by the people and places at Christ Church, to the ways in which his background in art influences his gardening, discover more about the varied skills of one of our staff members...


Eleanor: So David – tell me a bit more about your background in art.

David: I started off at 26 and just went to the local college, which was Abingdon College, and took a diploma in art and design. I quite liked it, and applied to Brookes for their Art Foundation, which I took in ’93. And then went on to my degree in Yorkshire, at a place called Bretton Hall, an arts college which unfortunately is closed now, and studied sculpture and print making.

Eleanor: As you say, you’re a sculptor by training – how did you come to love sculpture so much?

David: At times before further education I worked in the building industry, so I just transferred those skills to sculpture, and I made quite large, industrial sculptures. I thought the skills were already there, so I just moved them across.

Eleanor: Always handy! So what did you tend to work with?

David: I used to work in sheet steel. So for my final year degree piece I took a kind of ribbon of steel, which varied in size from about a metre down to a centimetre. So I spent a year hammering sheet steel. And my fellow students hated me! They really did hate me, because it was all day, counting hammer blow. I don’t know why I don’t get called to the reunions!

Eleanor: Despite that, do you think sculpture is something you’d like to return to at some point?

David: Yeah, I’d like to. Because all of my ideas would normally be in three dimensions, and now it’s really difficult to have two dimensional ideas for paintings. With paintings it’s purely visual.

Eleanor: So after you finished your degree did you carry on with art professionally, or go down a different route?

David: No, I completely left art behind! My works were rather large, and to continue that work would have taken a lot of funds, so it just didn’t happen. I just had to work, and eventually I got into horticulture, which I did commercially for a few years, slowly teaching myself, and I then ended up here, which was great!

Eleanor: And you’ve been with us for about 3 years now!

David: Yeah, on and off – I started as a seasonal gardener, so I could paint for six months and work for six months, and then a vacancy came up and I was offered it and took it.

Eleanor: What would you say are the best things about the job, or about working at Christ Church in general?

David: It’s just being able to make it look nice. It really is. The Head Gardener thinks that I can use my skills as an artist to make things look better here. He thinks I’ve got a good eye for detail, which I suppose I have. I have a really critical eye – I can’t walk around a garden without seeing weeds or edging. But that’s why the detail’s important. Because a lot of people come here, but nobody even sees a lot of our gardens, except for staff or students.

Eleanor: And of course it’s all year round, in all weathers…

David: Yeah, it never stops. If it snows it might stop a bit, but not for very long!

Eleanor: Do you have a favourite part or a favourite garden, or have they all got different aspects that you like?

David: No, they all have different characters. Some have larger areas of grass, some are more flowers and plants. I quite like the high profile areas, so the Memorial Garden and Tom Quad are good to work in if you can ignore being snapped!

Eleanor: Do you find Christ Church quite inspirational when it comes to your painting?

David: Oh I do. I love the history of the buildings, and I’ve been looking into this with Judith [Curthoys], the Archivist.

Eleanor: I think one of the amazing things about Christ Church is that there are just so many different styles – you have pretty much everything from Gothic right through to modernist!

David: Exactly, and nothing lines up with anything else! It’s wonderful, and of course my portraits of the people here, that kind of comes with it – obviously it’s got to be more contemporary, I’ve got to have people that work and even live here. Hence the latest works! There was a painting of the Meadow Building which was a leaving present for a worker that had been here for 40 odd years, and also the portrait of Richard Morin, which was also a leaving present.

Eleanor: Now that you’re moving into portrait painting, is that a recent development, or did you always want to try it?

David: Well I guess I’ve been experimenting with different styles because I’m not trained at all in painting. I can’t use any of my sculptural skills in painting, at all. It was just something I could do in a small space – so I didn’t need a studio. I tried many different forms of painting, and many subjects. I still do landscapes, and I think the only thing I haven’t done is seascapes.

Eleanor: And you’re also doing a portrait of the Clerk of Works team that’s based on another painting…

David: It’s based on a work by Caravaggio. I went to Rome a couple of years ago and saw the Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew, and immediately thought I’d like to do it – it’s another learning process in painting, how to structure a painting with more than one figure. But I thought that I couldn’t just do a straight copy of Caravaggio – I’ll throw in my own cast of people. And like Caravaggio, I’d use people from the streets, exactly like he did in Rome and Naples. So these are my Romans! And Peter [Rhoades, Christ Church Art Tutor] has been wonderful, letting me have this little bit of space here in the Art Room.

Eleanor: I think we’re so lucky to have this space – I don’t know of many colleges that have an art room like this!

David: Yeah exactly, and also that staff can use. I hope they don’t advertise it too much, I don’t want it to be busy! I do miss painting when I’m not doing it, but that’s ok. I structure my time – and I’m allowed in here any time now, so I came in on Saturday and painted for 5 hours and wasn’t disturbed, it was lovely. I come in here on my lunchbreak and I spend half my lunchbreak painting. Which normally amounts to about ten minutes after I’ve set everything up then put it away again! But it’s nice – I enjoy doing it.

Eleanor: Looking ahead, do you have anything else that you’re either working on now or are planning to work on?

David: I normally have about 3 or 4 paintings at one time, because the drying process is normally to let one dry and then I already have another one going. I’m doing another portrait at the moment at home, and another landscape. There are always more plans.

Eleanor: We look forward to seeing some more of your creations - in the gardens and on canvas!

You can see more of David's work on his Facebook page