Film review: ‘Bromley: Light After Dark’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

I had never heard of Australian artist David Bromley but apparently he’s hugely successful and according to the documentary, Bromley: Light After Dark, his work is ubiquitous in upper middle-class homes.  This mostly uplifting documentary examines his work and the aspects of his life, like family, that he cherishes and that have sustained him in his battles with mental illness.

Bromley is generally considered a pop artist, who as the documentary shows, frequently produces Warhol-like images of topless women and paintings of children from the 1950’s who look like they’re from the cover of a Famous Five book. The documentary also clearly reveals that his repertoire is far more extensive and diverse than this.

He’s massively prolific and has sold very well.  He’s achieved that level of popularity where his work adorns mugs and tea towels.  This hasn’t always endeared him to critics, some of whom appear in this documentary describing his work as superficial and lacking poetry.  They compare his art to the public-friendly output of Ken Done and Pro Hart.  It seems one of filmmaker Sean MacDonald’s goals was to debunk this negative view of Bromley’s work by revealing the complexity of his character and the way in which this has infused his art.

Central to the film is Bromley’s lifelong struggle with crippling mental health issues including chronic anxiety and phobias.  In an attempt to cope with the tortured voices in his mind, he had previously turned to alcohol and recalls a very dark period in his life. Painting was vital to his return to a more stable life and became a way of sublimating his vast reservoir of anxiety.  That, along with a remarkably active and curious mind and a work ethic apparently instilled by his beloved father, are seen as the basis for his phenomenal output.

The other vital part of his life is his family: his wife and artistic collaborator Yuge and his children.  Around them he’s vibrant, funny and adoring although the film doesn’t shy away from occasional conflict in the family’s Daylesford countercultural idyll.

The documentary mostly focuses on the present and while providing some insights into his childhood doesn’t cover his early years comprehensively.

The film also briefly comments on the nature of the art world, its often brutal economics and attempts to have artists bend to its will.  Not surprisingly a free spirit like David Bromley with a very rock’n’roll approach to art struggled with these constraints.

The film succeeds in showing us a hyper-creative maverick who treats life as an adventure. He appears to be a fundamentally likeable guy who’s earned the friendship of people like David Wenham, Kate Ceberano and Chris Cheney from The Living End.  The film becomes a little repetitive in its endorsement of Bromley and feels at times like hagiography at times but it’s still a fascinating insight into an Australian artistic force.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Sean McDonald.

Release date: 16th Nov 2023.

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM.


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