The Royal Aeronautical Society’s mission statement includes the line “to further the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering”. Advances in science and engineering are relatively easy to categorise and quantify, but how exactly does art advance the cause of flight?
If we take the definition to mean the inspirational qualities of art itself, then one clear example of advancing the art of aeronautics is Swindon-based artist David Bent, whose long association with the world of aviation has earned him Honorary Companionship of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Of his most renowned collaboration, Andrew Morton, PR Manager of The Red Arrows, explains: “David Bent was first invited to collaborate as Artist in Residence with the Red Arrows in 2006. This remains a positive and enduring relationship and David’s work is exhibited on the walls of the team's Lincolnshire home base of RAF Scampton, including in the crew briefing room.”
“His art reflects the precision and engineering excellence of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team. In addition, he captures the imagination of those who see and are inspired by his pieces - just as The Red Arrows do with every performance and display."
Tim Robinson, editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society magazine ‘Aerospace’ is another admirer: “Bent’s original paintings include striking geometric shapes, bold colours and the fusing of aspects of the human and machine in lots of interesting and clever ways. Iconic shapes of classic aircraft are reused and repurposed to create patterns, or even produce landscapes themselves. Bent mainly works in acrylics on canvas for his paintings but also produces photo-collages, and at one point in his career even painted street murals.”
He may be well known for aviation-themed art, but Bent’s art is not easy to pigeonhole. Marc Allum, Fine Art Consultant and BBC Antiques Roadshow Specialist, says: “David’s art delivers a precise and energetic style that is a wonderfully eclectic mixture of the technically and mechanically accurate, fused with a Boy's Own bravado that hides a multitude of meaning in the carefully orchestrated symbolism and composition of his subjects. His natural skill and wit seems carefully and thoughtfully cloaked in paintings imbued with a real significance at their heart. I love his juxtaposition of traditional methodology fused with a totally modern dynamism."
“As an artist I prefer not to see limitations or boundaries,” says the artist himself, “the more freedom the better. I am currently working on paintings based on life close to home; more autobiographical. During the lockdown I painted a self portrait and then my wife Carole’s portrait at home with our cats and our garden. And I have now almost finished a painting of the lane where we live in Old Town which is a natural wildlife corridor.”
Outside of purely aviation subjects, Bent’s other paintings also incorporate social themes and controversial subjects too – such as Chernobyl, facial recognition and climate change. In his ‘Yellow Cake U308’ a B-29 bomber flies away from the horror of a nuclear mushroom cloud, re-imagined as a cake. Meanwhile, in his NINE ELEVEN, falling figures from the doomed Twin Towers provide a backdrop against head-on shapes of airliners.
In 2018 the artist dedicated a new series of artworks to mark 100 years of the RAF. These were exhibited at the National Memorial Arboretum and included poppies created by combining the RAF’s Sopwith Camel and Lockheed Martin F-35. Significant exhibitions have also been held in a number of public art galleries and museums, including the Russell Cotes, the RAF Museum, London and our very own Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
“Great art has the potential to inspire great engineering and great engineering also has the potential to inspire great art,” says Tim Robinson. “Bent could be said to be advancing the ‘art’ of aerospace, in exploring the boundaries of flight in new and exciting ways and in bringing aviation to fresh audiences and new eyes. More crucially, with aviation currently experiencing its darkest hour, with cancelled air shows, grounded airliners and almost the whole world longing to fly again, David Bent’s art is perhaps more needed than ever – to remind us, whether old or new, of that sense of wonder of flight – and that it will return.
David Bent’s work can be viewed and purchased at www.davidbentstudio.com or contact Carole Bent on 07798 787450.
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