David Oxtoby was born in Horsforth, Yorkshire, in 1938. He studied initially in Bradford, then moved to the Royal Academy from 1960-64, during which period he had six solo exhibitions. He joined the Redfern Gallery, London, in 1964 and exhibited there regularly until 1981.
Oxtoby’s subjects are his childhood heroes—the Americans who redefined the terms of popular music in the 1950s. He has attempted to communicate through painting the emotion and excitement he felt when hearing these performers for the first time. He specialises in photographically-derived paintings, drawings, collages and etchings; capturing the energy, violence and colourful style of the music that formed the soundtrack to his life.
At art school in Bradford, Oxtoby was a contemporary of David Hockney, who remains a good friend, but before furthering his studies as a painter in London he worked for three years in various other jobs. These included not only manual labour but also work as a freelance commercial artist and spells as a scene-painter in the theatre. Whilst working, he also designed and painted murals around Yorkshire with David Hockney and Norman Stevens. When he started at the Royal Academy Schools, he lived with David Hockney, John Loker, and Peter Kaye in London, before moving in with Mick Vaughan in Tooting Bec.
From 1961 to 1963, Oxtoby was represented in the RA Students’ Exhibitions and received a substantial amount in special prize monies for his work. In the Spring of 1964, he flew to New York for the opening of his first American solo exhibition in Madison Avenue, after which he was offered the post of Visiting Professor of Painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, USA, which he held from 1964 to 1965.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, having spent almost a decade mixing with musicians and celebrities in hedonistic social circles, he succumbed to ill health, and was ultimately diagnosed with diabetes. Whilst in hospital, he was encouraged to take up etching by Norman Stevens, during which time he engraved over forty plates. His prints were the subject of a retrospective at the British Museum, London, in 2016.
Leaving the Redfern Gallery and withdrawing from society in the 1980s, Oxtoby began working towards freeing his overly conscientious applications of the 1970s. Initially working with Indian Ink on brown paper, he rejected this medium in favour of vibrant paintings. These were worked and reworked, eventually culminating in two not-for-sale trial museum exhibitions, both of which he was dissatisfied with. Since this period, he has been reluctant to exhibit his work.
Oxtoby’s recent works are much more personal than any of his earlier music-orientated visual renditions, yet seem all-encompassing descriptions of a complete musical era, reflecting the birth, growth and maturing sounds of rock and soul. His pieces have always captured something beyond mere physical representation—something of the sound and the life of his subjects that mirrors his vision of his musical heroes. Their strong colours represent sound for him, their volume seeping out of jagged, confident lines.
David Oxtoby is represented by the Redfern Gallery.