Interviewsand Articles


Portfolio: David Middlebrook

by Richard Whittaker, Jun 13, 2011



 David Middlebrook always seems to be overflowing with the energy of new work. A prolific artist, he was telling me about 20 new pieces for an exhibit coming up in Johannesburg, S.A. While there, he would also be working with a number of African artists on another large piece. I'd called to check on some quotes from an interview by Gary Reyes of San Jose's Mercury News. "Yes, those are my words," Middlebrook said after I'd read one back to him. "I really believe that." But when we got to his quote about "the loneliness of the artist," he hedged. "The solo-ness." Maybe that was a better way to put it. 

     "You know," he said, "when I'm with artists, we never talk about our work. I wish I could find a group where we could really be honest about each others' work." The last real critique, David told me, was in graduate school. He missed the honest feedback. "But thank God for my wife!" he said.  - Richard Whittaker
Some quotes from David Middlebrook:
"You really have to work on the edge of what you know. It's very easy to be repetitive."
"Do the work and it will teach you-as long as you're observant, as long as you're vigilant noticing the most insignificant parts and unexpected details. Just go to work and things will happen."
"The freedom you have as an artist intellectually is more than balanced out by the hard work and drudgery of making your dreams come true. You have to be willing to go the long haul and willing to put 100% into it and even that may not even be enough. It takes vision, it takes commitment, hard work, and it takes passion. Now that's just to find out if you are willing to go the long haul. If you don't love it, you'll talk yourself out of it pretty quick because it's tough. You have to be doing it for the right reasons for a long time before you ever get the joy of other people wanting to share your feelings and thoughts about your work."
"You pretty much have to work it out on your own.  Who are you going to ask?  I have people asking me.  Who am I going to ask?  There are people who could help me but I don't know who they are. This is the loneliness of the artist."
"You don't do it to be famous, to be rich, to be historically important. You do it for the passion and for the love of seeing these things come to life."
"Once you find your voice everything you do will have your voice in it." 
The Head of Dogon harkens back to my life changing experiences in Africa. It is primarily made of marble-invested resin, which is a metaphoric representation of the ivory trade that has done so much destruction to Africa. It's representative of poaching and of the illegal use of natural resources. The Dogon are a self-sustaining society pretty much living off the land. I don't think they have ever been conquered or colonized, and they live off the land with great success. So I wanted to bring honor to them and also, by working at this scale, to celebrate the history of African handmade craftsmanship. They're the oldest grouping of people in the world, but no ancient monuments from their cultures have been left because they were hunter-gathering cultures. I wanted to suggest something like an ancient monument from the Dogon people with this piece.
Apparition was inspired by a walk through the forest and seeing the absence of a tree that had been cut down. I wanted the piece to have a ghost-like feeling, and I wanted this to have a sense of flotation, a sense of suspended animation-almost the same feeling that you would get if you sensed the presence of a soul. There are other images that came to me regarding this piece - things like walking sticks, jellyfish, the floating away of a balloon, things that drift, things that drag behind. It's like the soul of the tree.-David Middlebrook

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.


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