Artist David Bromley’s nostalgic paintings of plump children, magical gardens and gilt nudes are adored by collectors in Australia, Japan, London, Dublin and New York. But Bromley heads an art empire that extends well beyond paint. Based in a two-storey studio overlooking a park in South Yarra, the former Adelaide artist surrounds himself with creative people whose work and ideas intertwine.
In Adelaide last week to support to the national SHORTS Film Festival, he painted on stage at a college while autistic pianist David Helfgott, the subject of Scott Hicks’ Shine, performed. Bromley also makes music video clips, buys and sells houses, collects antiques and other treasures, and has just finished his first film.
The film, voiced over by actor Hugo Weaving, was a two-year experiment. Bromley wanted to further his understanding of his obsession with images of childhood and innocence from a clearly bygone era.
Bromley’s early adulthood was plagued by drink, depression and a lingering agoraphobia that still prevents him from flying or travelling by boat. But he has blossomed into such a successful artist that his first venture into film, I Could Be Me, has been picked up by SBS, which will show segments on national TV. Bromley, who will edit the segments, says the film brings elements of his paintings to life.
"It’s like a kaleidoscope of images and it’s run by my poetry and short stories by (journalist and author) Antonella Gambotto. And it has a large animation component."
Production of the film unfolded creatively, with Weaving finding out his lines as he went along, reading aloud from what was meant to be an old letter from a child.
The music is from Melbourne’s the Vandas, who provided new versions of some of their existing songs with additional instrumentals.
Bromley also persuaded the alternative country band the Handsome Family to be involved. Rather than approach them with a pitch, he filmed them when they were playing at an Adelaide hotel and sent off a mock film clip. The band agreed to his use not only of existing music but of new material from an album for which Bromley has done the film clips.
The 15 edited "short story" segments from the original film will be shown as out-of-competition exhibits in Adelaide in October during the annual SHORTS Film Festival. Bromley is associated with the project through its founder, his friend David Lightfoot.
One of Bromley’s paintings, showing two children peering over a fence, will be auctioned on eBay. The money will be used to help the festival, which supports emerging filmmakers and offers a prize of a trip to the Cannes Film Festival.
I Could Be Me will be Bromley’s first and last film. He enjoyed the process but will stick to music clips and short films that last about five minutes – more his attention span, he says.
With pregnant partner, actor and artist Tori Dixon-Whittle, and their daughter, Holly, Bromley runs his business over the internet. He is still too afraid of flying to consider travel overseas.
The move to Melbourne where he is soaking up street culture has been change enough for the framework in which he can work. "Like many artists I have a kind of wanderlust but there aren’t that many places that I can be. I can’t just spend time in Europe or do this or that," he says. "I feel very comfortable."
They are planning to open two antique shops, one in High Street, Armadale and the other in Daylesford, both being designed as a form of installation art.
"Andy Warhol used to go shopping in the mornings and paint in the afternoon and I’m a treasure hunter," says Bromley. "I’m always chasing up things."
Closing date for entries to the SHORTS Film Festival is September 6.