DC Willans had painted portraits before, but no one this illustrious. One afternoon, the young UK airbrush artist found himself commissioned by an unlikely patron. “I ended up at Amy Winehouse’s house ’round Camden, randomly. I was doing some work for her in her home, we got talking, I showed her my website and there were portraits in there. She was like, would you do me one? I was like…‘of course’.”
Willans, whose painting now resides in the Winehouse family home, painted the portrait in his signature style, using an airbrush. A lover of detail, Willans aspires to the ranks of Audrey Flack and Chuck Close, the photorealists, who paint realistic depictions through meticulous study of photographs. Willans combines photorealism with a pop art aesthetic, a heavily commercial style which pairs well with his love of famous faces like Marilyn Munroe, Audrey Hepburn and David Bowie. “It’s the challenge of trying to paint something exactly how it is; it was always a fascination for me, trying to get it spot on.”
With airbrush in hand, Willans straddles the creative and the commercial, celebrating the very tool many disparaging artists have worked so hard to debunk with unflattering abstraction. But Willans is no naïve newcomer to a brush, painting oil landscapes from the ludicrously young age of nine. His search for the perfect, realist technique would lead him, aged 17, to Australia. “I always wanted my work to look a certain way, I always wanted the softness and the shading like that,” he says. “To see this guy [in Australia] with the airbrush… It was exactly what I’d been looking for for so long.”
Willans goes one step further off the canvas to the living, breathing gallery space of human bodies. The natural progression for the airbrush, Willans sprays highly-detailed body art pieces, from exposed muscles to animal fur, all straight on the skin. Willans sprang to the consciousness of Sydneysiders at Jurassic Lounge this past April, exhibiting his work The Changing Faces Of David Bowie, three models painted into three of the Thin White Duke’s most iconic looks. Willans never goes for want of models, with people throwing their kit off to get airbrush. “Yeah people love it ‘ey! Generally I don’t have any problem finding models at all, there’s always a few keen to get on board,” he says.
For those yet to delve into the DC Willans experience, Paddington’s Global Gallery will play host to a big, bold exhibition of his work from June 24 – July 7, with DJ sets, burlesque and body art mingling with his wall-mounted works. “Basically the whole concept was to have an exhibition which was a little bit more fun and interactive. I mean, with exhibitions, it’s a generalisation, but you walk in, there’s artwork on the wall and that’s pretty much all you’re getting, do y’know what I mean?”
Gallery goers can expect to meet some of Willans’ existing catalogue, as well as some brand new works including a canvas graced by a surprise Australian model and an 18th century burlesque pop art piece, to be unveiled by burlesque dancers. Willans’ works will also be best viewed with beats, with sets from Spice Cellar regular Garth Linton, a buddy of the artist. And then there’s Show Night on Saturday June 29 – the full extent of which is best experienced rather than described.
After seeing many a stock standard exhibition, Willans saw an opportunity, tiring of the age old turn up, view, ponder, leave art gallery routine. He found himself frustrated by the limitations of exhibition, wishing for a tad more oomph. “You can only admire something for so long,” he says. “You feel like there could be a little bit more, a little more entertainment value… rather than just turn up, look at the art work, leave.”
BY SHANNON CONNELLAN