Australian Pottery at Bemboka
2010. Oil on masonite. 1.2 x 0.7 m
2007. Oil on masonite. 1.2m square
Idea of the vacuum 2001
2003. Oil on masonite. 1.2m square
Universe seen from above
1999. Oil on masonite. 1.2m square
Born in Adelaide in 1952, David Rofe moved to Canberra with his parents in 1961 and to Bemboka, NSW, in 2008. He was educated at Daramalan College and the Australian National University, where he obtained a Masters in English. He is best known for his work as an Information Technology manager, first at CSIRO (Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and then at the Australian Federal Police. However, over the last thirty years, he has also produced a large range of paintings on masonite, glass and mirror, as well as experimenting with print media.
Rofe has no formal artistic training but he has a passionate interest in art and the methods used by his favourite artists. For his paintings on masonite, he primes the surface with flat white housepaint. The scale of his paintings is governed by the size of the masonite panels. To work on a greater scale he uses more than one panel and frames the work as a diptych.
His painting style is meticulous. Using fine brushes and oil paints, he applies each colour separately, continuing to lay down new colours until the white ground is no longer visible. The larger paintings often take months to complete. When examined close-up the surfaces reveal an extraordinary level of detail. From a distance, the colours meld to reveal the contours of the underlying form as areas of shadow and light.
His subjects range from the microscopic - layers of earth and rock laid open for inspection - to the astronomic - works influenced strongly by aerial and geospatial photography. The Canberra region has been a major inspiration for his work. The ideas for many of his landscape paintings began as sketches of local mountains and hills. In his streetscape series, he transforms street maps of Canberra suburbs into aerial views.
The void has been a consistent motif in Rofe's work. Early works are abstract expressionist in style, with forms floating in ambiguous planes against a white void, sometimes crossing or touching each other. In his landscapes, a single, massive form anchors itself against a void that could be water or sky: the field of vision is ambiguous. In later works the void itself becomes an area of pattern and form, or form and void merge, as in Universe seen from above (1999), creating effects of great power and beauty.
Maps are a strong source of inspiration for Rofe's paintings. He is fascinated by the shapes of islands and continents, the accidental formalism of coastlines, the painterly contours of land and sea, the play of solidity and void, the reduction of incomprehensibly vast spaces to a domestic field of view on a page or chart. Aerial photography endorses this macroscopic view of reality and also captures an aspect of the universe in a moment of time. Street maps do the opposite. They reduce the detail of human lives to abstraction. In Bushfire (2007), aerial photography is combined with street maps to show the impact of the 2003 Canberra bushfires on both people and earth.
Rofe's work on mirror surprises those familiar only with his oil paintings. In these scintillating, jewel-like pieces he extends his interest in light, form and space by etching away the mirrored surface and applying colour and pattern to both the front and the back of the panel. The smaller works delight with their beauty but he also works with pieces of mirror on the same scale as his oil paintings, further developing his geomorphic themes.