Perched on a rocky ledge between Europe and Africa in the shadow of the candy-cane lighthouse, there’s no better location for David Staunton Browne to paint local landscapes while chatting with passers-by about heritage and wildlife.
Tourists and Gibraltarians alike are well acquainted with Dave’s open air art studio sitting just over his cottage and overlooking the southernmost tip of the Rock, to enjoy in a 360° view of mountains and straits, sea and sky, that inspire his artwork as much as historical cityscapes and nature.
He rediscovered the labour of love that is fine art when his life slowed its pace at retirement; upon moving to Gibraltar over nine years ago, he took up painting the Rock’s landmarks, flora and fauna, with mathematical precision and accuracy.
He likes to indulge in a dash of surrealism or dark humour.
To assert the quirky side of his originality as an artist, he likes to indulge in a dash of surrealism or dark humour in his interpretation of corrida scenes, where David awesomely studies the torero’s embroidered costume in stark contrast with the bare desperation expressed in the dynamism of the doomed bull (which sometimes sinisterly turns into a cockroach).
“I wouldn’t call myself an artist – more a creative person,” he says. “I like creating things and have done so in a variety of fields: music, landscape gardening, breeding rare poultry, cooking, inventing and making toys from wood and other materials, and of course painting pictures. At an early age I was fascinated by colours in flowers and wildlife. At school, I was good at painting as well as mathematics, and that combination stood me in good stead with my present artistic pursuit for detail and accuracy.”
In fact, his landscapes and cityscapes are drawn and laid out with clean lines and mathematical precision in project and perspective, the foundation of not just a pretty picture, but one based on technique and realism: “It’s like building with my brush, instead of bricks.”
He takes photographs of his potential subjects, and once he’s picked the right shot, he reproduces it on card. It takes a few hours to get the sketch right, and draw the outline, then he goes over the pencil lines in light colours, so he can rub the pencil off and fill in bright colours and detail.
He can now count on a varied selection of views, mostly of the Europa Point area, the lighthouse and the mosque, but also from the Upper Town and Town Centre, all carefully reproduced on art board in watercolours, with the painstaking TLC of the artist that cherishes heritage and pour his art in his artwork.
The Gibraltar views reflected in his art became so popular with tourists that he decided to reproduce them as postcard-sized prints. Selling them at just £1 each, they serve to make a unique souvenir that also helps promote the Rock’s rich heritage abroad.
“It’s like building with my brush, instead of bricks.”
Of course, it’s not just about selling cards, it’s about a place where one has the chance to meet people of all nationalities from all walks of life and to share interests. Over the years, ‘The Club’, as he calls it, has grown in popularity because of the wide range of topics that are discussed – and not just relating to art. “What could be better – out in the open air (weather permitting of course), fantastic views that are ever changing and good company (most of the time)!”
David and his wife Trevelayne started visiting Gibraltar thirty years ago when their daughter, Rebecca Calderon, moved here: “We liked Gibraltar from the start, and visited as often as we could, hoping that one day we could end up living here, which we did nine years ago. I was intrigued by the history of Gibraltar and its many old buildings, which I used to photograph a lot, and it was during these walkabouts that I met many interesting people, including the many good artists that live in Gibraltar. Well, looking at their work reminded me of the days when I used to paint and it did not take long for me to restart painting.”
In fact, Dave had to relegate his artistic flare to the backburner when he started working at just fifteen to support his family. He never attained formal education or a degree in art, and his creative streak was otherwise channeled in practical uses to subsidise his income, such as ‘pimping’ cars and motorbikes with funky designs, or sign writing and painting signs for pubs and shops
There are bittersweet memories attached to his birth land India, as he recalls times of civil unrest in the lead to, and wake of, independence in 1947, the year his father died when he was just three years old. Two years later he was sent to a military boarding school, and though that was tough at times, like most youngsters, he sought positive things which he found in the wonderful unique to India. Wales, on the other hand, holds peaceful memories of bucolic bliss, when he was in charge of the post office in a tiny village ‘just a mile long’.
“The income was insufficient to support us, so we lived off the land, thanks to the enormous garden of the cottage we’d converted into a post office,” he says. “We had greenhouses, orchards, vegetable gardens and some livestock including chickens and ducks.” It was there that he took up breeding poultry, in order to preserve rare breeds from extinction, to sell them to collectors, and of course to paint them, with the precision of an Edwardian naturalist.
And how does Cañonero the cat come into the picture? The old tabby cat, allegedly born under the battery just a few metres west of the Trinity House cottages, has been living at Europa Point ever since, acting as if it owns the place and of course, dining at the Brownes. And of course, Cañonero features in many of David’s paintings of the lighthouse.
You can browse a full range of David’s paintings on his Facebook page ‘Staunton Browne Art’.