Ros Dodd talks to David and Dinah Prentice who were instrumental in creating Birmingham's original Ikon Gallery, as they prepare for a joint exhibition of their own work.


Since one-time abstract painters David and Dinah Prentice co-founded Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in 1964, their artistic careers have moved in very different directions. David has become an internationally renowned landscape watercolourist and Dinah a respected tapestry artist.

But this month, nearly 45 years on, the couple are holding a one-off joint exhibition a stone’s throw from the gallery they were instrumental in setting up.

David is showing a number of large watercolours at Number Nine the Gallery in Brindleyplace – his first exhibition in Birmingham for more than 20 years – and his wife is displaying her first ever installation, Fragments, at Number Nine’s The Buttermarket on the opposite side of Oozells Square from the Ikon.

The couple, both in their early 70s and now living in Malvern Wells, are pleased, if slightly bemused, at the unscripted coming together of their respective work in the city where they started out.

Over the past two decades, Solihull-born David has built up a considerable reputation among critics and collectors alike for his richly coloured, atmospheric paintings often described as being in the tradition of Constable and Turner. He has collected a raft of accolades, including prizes in the prestigious Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition no fewer than four times, most recently last year.

Dinah, who is well known for her sewn piecing technique, which she developed in the 1970s before the revival of interest in quilt-making, combines painting and textile construction to make wall-hangings.

One of her works, [ITAL] Laced Threads [ITAL], is permanently installed in the Rotunda Gallery in the University of Birmingham’s Aston Webb Building.

“My presence in the Number Nine exhibition was a bit of an afterthought,” said David. “Dinah was showing with Lee (Benson, owner of Number Nine The Gallery) and at the point it was being arranged my dealer in Malvern sadly died. I was left with half-a-dozen watercolours, plus about eight in storage and three new ones.

“So I asked Lee if he’d like me to show in his gallery. He happened to have a vacant slot at the same time he was to show Dinah’s work, so the joint exhibition was something of a happy coincidence.

“Dinah tends to show in public places quite regularly, across the world, but I’m a home boy.

“The last time I showed in a public gallery was back in the 1960s. Since then, practically everything I’ve exhibited has been in private commercial galleries.”

Dinah added: “We showed together at the 40th anniversary of the Ikon, but haven’t done so otherwise – we’ve been careful not to as what we do is very different.”

David only started painting seriously in watercolour in the 1980s – inspired by a Turner exhibition he saw in Llandudno.

“The Turner paintings were big ones – 30in by 25in canvases – and they were magnificent,” he added. “I hadn’t thought it possible that something so large and spaciously grand could be accomplished in watercolour until I saw that exhibition.

“So I decided to teach myself to paint in watercolour on a large scale.”

The watercolours on show at Number Nine – of London, Paris, the Malvern Hills and Wye Valley – are all large works, measuring about 3ft by 2ft.

Dinah’s new installation is also of significant size. It includes a 100ft-long paper scroll of images of earlier work with accompanying text, maquettes, prints and small sewings.

“It’s called Fragments because it reviews the nature of cutting, editing and reassembly in my work and shows some of the core themes that have influenced me,” she said. “The manipulation of a woven limp surface which needs support, be it a wall or ceiling or armature, is incredibly human – a sort of witness to vulnerability – hence the use of silk chiffon gauze to give a “thin, fine and airy” feel.”

Last week, a representative of the Victoria & Albert Museum travelled from London to see Dinah’s installation with a view to her showing her work at the V&A.

Lee Benson said: “It’s quite something that both David and Dinah should be exhibiting together for the first time just across the way from the Ikon.”

* David and Dinah’s exhibition continues until the end of the month. Number Nine The Gallery opening times are Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm. Call 0121 643 9099 or email Dinah’s work at The Buttermarket can be seen from outside, but an appointment to view inside can be made by contacting the gallery.