After a first solo show, at the Arnolfini Gallery in 1969, and inclusion in several Arts Council touring exhibitions during the early ‘70s, David Inshaw became a household name almost overnight, following the sale of the The Badminton Game to the Tate Gallery, in 1973. Over five decades on, and this enigmatic painting remains one of the Tate’s most popular 20th century paintings. Work from this period simmered with a psychological drama between the human figures and the landscape, creating a distinctive sense of mood and mystery. The painting was reproduced in Edward Lucie-Smith’s seminal article in The Sunday Times; entitled ‘New British Artists’, the article described Inshaw as marking a move away from the Pop Art of the previous decade, towards an art that was more "tranquil" and "affectionate in tone".
The female figure standing mournfully in a churchyard, in the painting Our Days were a Joy and Our Paths Through Flowers, is typical of his work from the early '70s, and was partly inspired by the poetry of Thomas Hardy, and the idea of spirits living on through plants and trees. This painting featured in a second solo show at the Arnolfini in 1972, and was purchased by Bristol Museum & Gallery. A successful solo show followed at the Waddington Gallery, London, and selection for another Arts Council touring exhibition, this time on the theme of landscape. Indeed, after settling in Wiltshire, his home of 40 years, Inshaw took much inspiration from the surrounding countryside, and his interest in the poetry of Thomas Hardy permeated his resulting pictures. As such, he became associated with the Brotherhood of Ruralists, a group he co-founded with Peter Blake in 1975. After showing for the first time at the Royal Academy in 1976, the Brotherhood was given a retrospective at the Arnolfini Gallery in 1981, which toured to Birmingham, Glasgow and London, and later at the Tate in 1983. They were also the focus of a BBC documentary in 1977. For Lucie-Smith, “Inshaw’s work seems to give the flavour of the group most fully – a self-conscious poetry, a nostalgia for the country, and a pervasive eroticism”. Interest in the group culminated in a highly successful solo show for Inshaw at Waddington in 1980; “it caused something of a stir in the London art world –it was virtually sold out”, added Lucie-Smith.
Though the Ruralists disbanded, Inshaw has maintained his interest in the local landscape, and for Andrew Lambirth, author of the first monograph on the artist, “in some ways he can be seen as a contemporary interpreter of Hardy’s Wessex”. Lambirth continues: “He has known and loved this landscape for nearly half a century, and during that time his understanding of it has matured and developed, just as his style has evolved from the tiny immaculate brushstrokes of the early paintings to the more broad and expressive sweep of his work today. Inshaw’s work is renowned for its mood of celebration: of the beauties of the natural world as well as the women who have been his muses. That generosity of spirit is balanced by an intimate appreciation of the great artists of the past, whose works are frequently referenced in his own work. David Inshaw reaffirms with wit and warmth the human place in the world and our part in its larger beauty."
Inshaw's paintings have appeared in various museum survey shows around the world, with recent examples being British Art: Ancient Landscapes, at Wiltshire Museum in 2017, and The Landscape in Art 1690-1998, drawn from the Tate’s permanent collection. His paintings are in the Tate, Arts Council and British Council, among others, while examples of his printmaking are in the British Museum. In addition to landscapes, Inshaw has also taken on portrait commissions, and was one of sixteen leading artists to contribute a portrait to the album Face Dances by The Who, in 1981, along with Peter Blake, RB Kitaj, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney.