David Archer
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David Archer
Space Artist

Dave Archer was born, David Archer Nelson, in San Luis Obispo, California, January 15, 1941. He chose painting as his profession in 1955 at the age of 14, subsequently graduating high school in 1959 with a scholarship to study with nationally known painter, Phil Paradise, both a founding member of the "California Watercolor School," and a master (original print) serigrapher.

When still known as David Nelson, the artist lived and painted in San Francisco's bohemian North Beach area in the 1960's, supporting his art by working as doorman of a folk era coffeehouse, which among others, featured entertainers Janis Joplin, Hoyt Axton, and Steve Martin at the very beginning of their professional careers. During this period Archer studied with master of Chinese line painting, Rick Barton, (pupil of Ozenfant in New York). In Barton's self-created school, "Academia Vinciana, "Archer produced hundreds of lino-block prints, including, in conjunction with Barton, a limited edition book of such work (published by Beat painter Harold La Vigne --- and in the Library of Congress --- titled: "The Penis Is An Angry Face") and shown in its entirety of 48 block prints at the famous Beat hangout, "City Lights Bookstore" in San Francisco. Archer also studied with artists, Rebecca Worden (pottery / painting / aesthetics), Maurice Lapp (painting), and eighty year old, W.A. Chan T. G. (survival art, and "doing"). To quote the painter, "These fine teachers were not assemblers of cinderblocks wrapped in duct tape and dust-bunnies, but all 'visually based,' true artists --- magicians of the painter's eye".

The 60's also included one year as technical director of the Gallery Players Theater Group of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, as well as writing songs, creating comic posters, greens-keeping a golf course, (as Dave says now, "a job so awful I finally left while planning a murder"), two years in Alex Horn's Gurdjieff group, along with sailing the Pacific Ocean on the world's largest, fastest gaff-rigged schooner, the 161' "Goodwill," winner of two Trans Pacific races using the mightiest single sail in the world, a spinnaker, one quarter of an acre in size.

1970 found David Archer Nelson in partnership with artist Ronald Russell Cushing, at Cushing's instigation, researching the ages old, yet little practiced technique of reverse glass painting. The two artists founded a studio in Sonoma, California, then combined their middle names, creating thus, the "reclusive" artist "Russell Archer". This unusual effort of two artists working together under an assumed name, often on the same pieces, met with immediate success both in the studio and at the outdoor art festivals they chose for their first exhibits. "Russell Archer" produced paintings on glass for three years at which time "he / they" evolved into separate studios where each artist continued reverse glass painting, frequently conferring, and both using their middle names, while dropping "Cushing" and "Nelson," becoming thus: Ron Russell and Dave Archer. In 1991 the artists exhibited their works together for the first time in seventeen years at a heartfelt, heavily attended reunion, which included a special exhibit of early "Russell Archer" paintings.

"NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, HIGH-TECH FOLK ART, EARLY 21ST CENTURY," is how Archer describes his own space paintings. Best known worldwide for his pioneering effects using millions of volts of "high frequency" electricity, Dave Archer's "signature" technique developed from original experiments using a small Tesla coil, both suggested, and loaned to Archer by friend Lee Byrd --- the first painting session producing shouts of, "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!".

Over the years Archer's Tesla coils have grown both larger and finer. since the late 70's the artist's painting machines have been designed and built by Mr. Bill Wysock, noted master Tesla-coil engineer, builder and producer of special lightning effects for countless Hollywood movies. Archer's coils are unique in the world and specifically designed for his painting needs. Working with a hand-held wand, million volt arcs are freely manipulated from inches to nine feet in length: thus influencing highly conductive water paints on glass (a great insulator), achieving dynamic cloudy forms the artist refers to at times as, "art storms". Planets, comets, and all other forms are then painted by hand, using dozens of both common and invented art techniques.

Among many other venues the artist's work has been exhibited in San Francisco's De Young Museum, the Hayden Planetarium in New York's Central Park, the Omni Magazine Art show in Chicago, the Omniversum Museum in The Hague, AT&T World Headquarters at 550 Madison Avenue in New York, the Planetarium in Brussels, Belgium, and many national and international art galleries.

Archer's million volt electric painting technique has been featured in hundreds of local, national and international TV shows including, "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" --- "Beyond 2000" --- "Things To Come" --- and "You Asked For it".

His paintings were used on Star Trek ® - The Next Generation as set decoration on the Starship Enterprise and in Star Trek® VI - The Undiscovered Country, for which he received screen credit. Book covers include Isaac Asimov's Fantasy and Larry Niven's N-Space series. Archer's paintings were used as set decoration on the Lucasfilm production, Howard the Duck --- as Archer says, "Howard the quack, quack, quack". His work was also featured in a six page article in Omni Magazine.


Ron Russell (who taught me glass painting) and I, did not set out to paint space art on glass, or paint with electricity. We were simply experimenting, and some of our experiments tended toward space dimensions --- and we liked the effect. Reverse glass painting had this juicy, natural law, 3-D, wild-eye, magic --- along with the sense of (hopefully) bringing something completely new to reverse glass painting, and we recognized that.

In keeping with the ways of my teachers, no matter how electrically snazzy or outrageous some of my painting techniques have become over the years, my chief interest has always centered in questions painters ask themselves. For instance, why and where to place "things" --- (in the case of space paintings, planets, moons, clouds, etc.) --- in relation to the edges of the glass, in order to "bring life" to the piece. My aim for each picture is always to make a powerful art object. And by "object," I mean a framed work with a wire on the back, and you pound a nail in the wall and hang it, (and) --- breathe here --- one where the various internal forms, colors, textures, etc., are in a "kickass relationship," with each other, AND simultaneously, the EDGE of the piece --- considered immensely important to me, be it square, rectangle or some oddball shape. In other words, something painted on anything, with no relation to the edges, is not an object of power, and with such a built in weakness, cannot live through time for very long. And yes, of course, the term "kickass relationship" is subjective and there are always exceptions in art. As with dance however, painting (or "art object making") is a form of nonverbal communication, therefore, somewhat ridiculous to write about, which I suppose is why most art magazines have a lot more words than pictures. Jillions of column inches of trash compacted prose defining the indefinable into blocks of heavy composite, all waiting their turn in line for a truck to drive them to a landfill.

After a lifetime of painting I know this: a "rightly made" art object is evergreen, as alive as a tree.

Go to David Archer's Website