1993 David Hepher (1935 − )

David Hepher is a lapidific painter: he brings the real stuff of architecture into his paintings, but beyond that, this study is layered, exploring how buildings dilapidate according to how they are lived in. It starts with a solid observation of a South London high rise on the right hand side, where the layer of acrylic and plaster mix doesn’t just describe but mimics the crust of the concrete blocks. A partial sketch of a section of balconies on the left side is allowed to disappear into blocks of mauve and beige paint. Midway, the canvas itself is made to embody the wall of the same tower block, with piece of graffiti daubed on it, viewed as if in sudden close up. In the bottom left-hand corner, in place of the artist’s signature, the painting has been tagged ‘WEST HAM’. Analysing the urban landscape from multiple points of view, David Hepher’s mode of inquiry incurs moments of method acting, where he adopts the visual language of the locality. A piece of red graffiti holds centre stage, acting as interlocutor between the representational (the figurative sketches), the literal (the texture, like a swatch of the tower’s walls) and the abstract (the hard edges of the left tower block sketch dwindle into the Mondrian-esque). In an arch-Modern way, it insists on the flatness of the picture plane; it relates the artist’s canvas to the council estate walls, both as spaces for expression. The graffiti, of a two-up two-down house, with a chimney and garden path, is a classic child’s picture of a family house. Writing in 1980, Hepher said:

‘Inevitably, in painting these buildings questions about society that interest me arise, but it is not because of these questions that I paint the flats. I have always painted houses, or housescapes. A house, or more symbolically a home, is one of the earliest images a child paints. In many ways it represents, particularly for the English, the face people present to the world, at the same time providing a refuge from too close a contact with other people. All the owner's personality is revealed in his home. This is why I only paint residential flats – they have a soul that glamorous office architecture doesn't have. In spite of their beauty I don't want to paint the sleek and shiny city blocks. I think there is a danger of that becoming incestuous, too much like art celebrating art. I like best to work from council blocks, preferably stained and eroded by the dirt and the weather, where the facial appearance is continually changed by the people who live there, their comings and goings, and the changing decor. I would like to think that the pictures could make people look differently at the flats around them, to see beauty in objects that they normally dismiss as ugly.’[1]

Born in Surrey, Hepher studied at Camberwell School of Art and then the Slade School of Art. Always working in his neighbourhood, from life, Hepher stuck to South London. Prior to the tower blocks his subject was suburban house fronts. Between 1969 and 1974 he painted the Edwardian semi-detached houses of Townley Road, East Dulwich, in such painstaking detail he was labelled as a ‘hyper-realist’. These were followed by paintings of the monumental, if derided, architecture of South London’s council estates: Stockwell Flats I (1974–5) and Stockwell Flats 2 (1975), Peckham Flats (1975–6) and Albany Flats (1977–9, Tate Collection), Walworth Flats (1976–9). Far from ‘hyper-realist’, this study in the British Council Collection, with the house reduced to graffiti, serves to bring a chunk of the city into a very different context. Attending to the seemingly faceless towers of brutalist architecture – their scars and signs of life – Hepher’s study amounts to a portrait.

[1] David Hepher, ‘Urban Realism’, Artscribe, No.22, April 1980, p.48

  • Accession Number P6287
  • Dimensions 36 X 76 CM

Glossary (4)

  • Acrylic

    Modern synthetic paint that combines some of the properties of oils and watercolour. Most are water-based, although some are oil compatible, using turpentine as a thinner. When it became available to artists in America around 1936 it was the first new painting medium in centuries and has become a serious rival to oil paint because of its versatility. Acrylic paints can be used on nearly any surface. The water-based nature of acrylic paint allows for easy application and rapid drying time: acrylic paint dries in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the many months required for oil-based paints. Once the paint has been applied to a surface, the water evaporates, leaving behind the synthetic resin (and pigment), which is no longer water-soluble. Visually, acrylic-based paints can appear to be very similar to oil-based paints, but they cannot rival the rich, translucent nature of oils.

  • Canvas

    A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.

  • Landscape

    Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection ( There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Themes (2)

Past exhibitions


  • 2013
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Museum Of Art
  • 2012
    • Oman, Muscat, Bait Al Zubair Museum
    • Kuwait, Kuwait City, Contemporary Art Platform
    • Saudi Arabia, Al Kohbar, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science & Technology Center
    • Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, Athr Gallery
    • Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Riyadh National Museum
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