Artist David Speed paints 100 neon portraits on a Shoreditch rooftop lift shaft

When lockdown began last March, artist David Speed found, like most of us, that his commercial work slowed down. It gave him time to experiment with neon paint, something he'd been wanting to do for a while but had never had the chance. In the months that followed, he painted nearly a hundred pieces, many of which on a rooftop lift shaft of his studio's building.

"Luckily I have a studio ten minutes walk from my house, so I was able to go in every day without breaking any restrictions during the first lockdown," David tells Creative Boom. "The lift shaft was a blank canvas for much of 2020. There would be days where I literally didn't see another person and I was looking out over a deserted Shoreditch. It was really strange because I'm used to painting in the streets, which has very specific energy to it, this was a totally new experience."

David even managed to paint a piece when it was snowing, late last year. "This was a massive lesson for me. It was cold and I imagined that spending six hours outside would be brutal. I went into it almost as a weird kind of test of endurance, and I very nearly didn't do it. It actually turned into one of the most amazing painting experiences I've ever had. I've never been in the snow for that long before and really 'experienced' it.

"These big fluffy snowflakes were settling on the reference I was working from, it was so beautiful. I wouldn't say I'm a particularly spiritual person but something happened that day and it made me think of all the times I've not done something because I thought it might be 'too hard'."

David painted 98 pieces in 2020 and believes the experience really helped him to build skills and become a better painter. "I can't look back at one painting and say 'that's the one where I improved', it's just gradual skill acquisition through repetition, which includes the horrific mistakes I made to the paintings that have never seen the light of my Instagram feed," he adds.

But he didn't just paint on the roof of his studio's building; he painted boarded-up shops in East London, and on rainy days he painted on canvas. This has continued into 2021 and has helped David rediscover his love for painting. A bonus was that his social media accounts attracted a much bigger audience, too. "I noticed a huge increase in attention when I began posting time-lapse videos (just taken on my iPhone) and had really underestimated how much people enjoy seeing the process of a painting coming together."

Although the likes and attention are nice, David believes the most rewarding part of this project has been the joy others have taken from it. "I've had messages from people saying that their lockdown exercise involves a tour of my murals and how it makes their day when they discover a new one. I've always been obsessed with light, dark and shadow and I've explored this with my neon pieces, in fact, I first wanted to use neon spray paint because of how ridiculously bright it is. People started commenting on my socials that my work was literally brightening up their day."

Following such positive feedback, David changed his Instagram bio to read: 'Trying to illuminate lockdown'. He concludes: "It blows me away that people have responded to my work in this way, I honestly didn't expect it and although the pandemic has been utterly shit, I am truly grateful that I've had this chance to create this work."

To find out more about David Speed, follow him on Instagram or check out the Creative Rebels podcast, of which he's a co-host, alongside friend Adam Brazier.


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