David Inshaw grew up in Biggin Hill and studied first at Beckenham School of Art (1959-63) and then the Royal Academy Schools (1963-6), where his tutors were William Scott and Derek Greaves. Peter Greenham, as Keeper in charge of the Schools, was someone he admired because he encouraged the students to hunt out their own identity and not just fit into particular modes of expression. Inshaw’s pictures of the 1960s were initially text based Pop pieces, or incorporated photographic elements into the painting. In 1966 Inshaw took a teaching position in Bristol, and it was here he began to evolve the deep emotional engagement with the West of England that has endured ever since.
The figure has been a continuing and central subject in Inshaw’s art, and in particular his treatment of the nude. His lyrical, sometimes enigmatic nudes are often also inextricably connected with the strong association of particular places, alluding to particular memories within the artist’s life and they appear on beaches and in meadows.
The critic Andrew Lambirth has described them as ‘naughty and voluptuous, well aware of their sexuality. Provocative but decorous…They are very much of the here and now, unidealised and prepossessing.’ Inshaw himself explains how they are the intersection of many things -‘allegory, eroticism, ideal; but also reality.’
With his friend Peter Blake, in 1975 Inshaw was one of the co-founders of the Brotherhood of Ruralists, the group of seven artists who rejected city life in favour of the countryside, and who devoted themselves to painting subjects drawn from nature and English mythology and literature. There was never a formal manifesto, but in 1976 Peter Blake hung them together in that year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition under a banner proclaiming the group’s name. The following summer the group were given a Festival exhibition at The Fine Art Society’s gallery in Edinburgh, where Inshaw’s The Badminton Game was exhibited. In part the Ruralists were inspired by another group of seven, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and like them they held a canon of those who inspired them and wanted to paint subjects that were eternal.
David Inshaw has recently been described in The Spectator as ‘perhaps the greatest living proponent of the English Romantic tradition’. This is undoubtedly true, and Inshaw’s work divines the great line of relation we share both with the native landscape and the inheritance of its past.