At the age of two, David Downes began drawing. It took him a few more years before he could speak, and another 30 years before he was diagnosed with autism.
“I could paint before I could communicate,” said the 51-year-old landscape artist from Manningtree, Essex. .
David has a photographic memory, which he places in his neurodivergent brain. He can remember in vivid detail the places he has visited, and can paint them from memory.
“I’m lucky to have this ability to visualize things and to get attached to things. As a child I started drawing churches, trees, flocks of birds, road junctions. Those are the things that fascinated me. because it was.”
However, his autistic traits haven’t always been helpful in David’s life.
He felt different from his friends growing up in Brome, Suffolk. He was bullied in high school and found solace in keeping an illustrated diary. As such, his artistic talent was not recognized.
It was his recently deceased mother, whom David says was his inspiration, who encouraged him to go to art school.
He struggled to retain information and did not get the grades to enter the Norwich School of Art, which was considered the best in the area. I was.
“My work was really hit and miss. I was very bad at copying.
David studied Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and later completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Illustration at the University of Brighton.
“Socially I was still having trouble making friends and trying to fit in. In art school, people actually want different things. , it was annoying. I was always a little bit on the outside.I was desperate.
David had not yet been diagnosed with autism, but suspected he was on the autism spectrum.
He decided to document his struggles in a visual autobiography, which he used to enroll in the prestigious Royal College of Art in London.
After graduating, David wasn’t sure which path to take, as an illustrator or as an artist. “You’re out of Royal College and you just think you’re going to be successful. I felt I was the better artist, but I tended to do pretty descriptive work. ”
It wasn’t long before he scored his first major contract. This was his BBC commission to document the company’s most important buildings at the turn of the century, and for two years became the BBC’s artist-in-residence.
David was eventually diagnosed with autism at age 32, and after consulting a counselor, he started working part-time at an art shop.
“I was running a business and struggling to make a living from my art, so I had to have some understanding of what was going on,” he says.
His professional life took off again and in 2012 he was commissioned by the Savoy Hotel to create a painting for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. This work is still placed at the entrance of the world-famous hotel.
David joined the National Autism Society, became vice president, and regularly spoke and painted live at charity fundraising events.
But at the same time, he struggled with relationships. Despite throwing himself into internet dating, he was unable to find his partner and felt his dream of becoming a father was over.
David started seeing a hypnotherapist in his early 40s and paid him with drawings.
“He hypnotized me and said, ‘David, you are an amazing artist. You are unique and different. You will meet someone who understands your problem.’ ”
David met his partner Rachel at a pub in Stoke Newington, London. The two lived in California for her three years, and said she was open to doing different kinds of jobs.
“After becoming famous in London, it was a challenge to live there and start over as an artist, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he says.
They decided to return to England and returned to Manningtree, where Rachel became pregnant with their now two-year-old daughter, Talia.
During Covid, David found inspiration documenting the pandemic. It helped him deal with that stress, he said, and he began doing much more imaginative and surreal work.
“My best work has always been autobiographical or describing the times we live in,” he says.
David recently opened a gallery in Manningtree that he had always dreamed of, but “didn’t expect it to happen.”
“It’s great to have the opportunity to exhibit my work and chat with people. It also makes me feel like I’ve been given more of my identity as an artist,” he says.
David is now turning his attention to the cost of living crisis and hopes to produce several pieces documenting it in the new year.
“Before my mother died, she said, ‘Your father and I never thought you’d meet someone to be a father,'” he says.
“I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished in the art world, but having a family is most important.”
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