When the illusion is lost, the art is hard to find ... 1

by Ronald Davis

Although newCrit does not ordinarily publish artist's statements, Mr. Davis has striking things to say about Modernism, Post-Modernism, and how his past and present art relates to such categories. It is derived from one that accompanied the exhibition Ronald Davis: Recent Abstractions, 2001 - 2002, at The Victoria H. Myhren Gallery of Denver University in September, 2002.

Two-Thirds Yellow, 1966
Two-Thirds Yellow, 1966
72 x 131 inches (shaped)
Moulded polyester, fiberglass, and wood
Slab Series
Collection the artist

My recent paintings are still Modern, coming at the twilight of the Modern Era, or perhaps forty or fifty years after the actual ending of the Modern Era which began with the European Renaissance around the year 1500 and ended in the 1950’s at the time I was embarking on my calling. Enlightenment has ended. “Post-Modernism?” I don’t think so. Historian John Lukacs refers to the “P-M” term as “this belated, confused and inaccurate designation.” 2

I suggest that these works are seeking a new visual epistemology that is serious, moral, and spiritual, deviating from the self-indulgent, ironic, post-modern, and politically correct painting and non-painting (remember, painting is dead) or scumbling of recent years, and place them in the tradition of the excellent abstract works of Abstract Expressionism (Pollock, Still, Newman, and Morris Louis to name a few of the greats that continue to inspire me). Constitutionally, I remain a geometrician and an expressionist.

Wood Top Slab Duet, 1989
Wood Top Slab Duet, 1989
35 3/4 x 65 7/8 inches (overall - two parts)
Cel-Vinyl acrylic on birch plywood
Ray Trace Shape Series
Private collection

These recent paintings mark a departure from the major structural element (trademark) that I have pursued in the majority of my work over the past thirty-nine years; that being theoretical three point vanishing point perspective illusions. In those works, I primarily employed three construction methods to draw or shape my paintings. 1) In the early years I relied on traditional drafting illustration methods to create drawings of depicted 3-D objects that were then cartooned up to the final scale of the painting. I should note that these depicted objects retained my commitment to abstraction; for me, a slab is just as abstract as a square. 2) In the seventies and eighties I drew my perspective grids full scale using snap lines, placing the vanishing points 40 to 60 feet apart. 3) Beginning in the early eighties, I increasingly relied on 3-D computer programs such as Renderman, Form Z, or Cinema 4-D to sketch out the shapes and shadows, then projected them up in scale onto the painting. These methods served me well in solving the fundamental problem of painting: “What color and where to put it?” 3 But the temporal gap between concept and preparation and execution of a work led me to a studio crises. What I needed to do was reinvent a do-able concept of the “blank canvas.” I was compelled to discard my primary preoccupation of the last 39 years (the perspective grid) and seek a more direct means of visualization. It became a watershed moment in my career: a going backward in order to move forward.

Hexahinge, 2001-02
Hexahinge, 2001-02
51 x 20 3/4 inches (overall, shaped)
Golden Acrylics on expanded PVC
Hinge Series
Collection the artist

These recent abstractions evolve from crude pencil sketches, eschewing traditional perspective illusion and are drawn with the eye and the saw. Illusion remains, but these paintings are more optical and elusive – and given looking time move around a lot in subtle, ambiguous, and mysterious ways. They require greater focus. They are hard to do.

Note should be made of the reductive, Hard Edge nature of these abstractions. Over the years I have oscillated between the Hard Edge and the painterly. I do both loose and precise with facility. However in these complicated times a need for clarity seems paramount. I have found that color contrast and interaction trumps drips, splatters, scumbles, and brush-work and other non-art content sludge as the means to true expression of the soul and intellect. Indeed, the chary binding of these bipolar opposites are at those extremes where opposites simultaneously meet and transcend sign making. Unknown archetypes of heart, head and crotch are discovered and revealed.

    1Davis, Kermit, Quote from one of his drawings, 1992
    2Lukacs, John, At the End of an Age, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002
    3Noland, Kenneth, in a conversation with the author, crica 1968

Posted June 3, 2003

© Ronald Davis, 2002-3

Plain Talk Menu  |  Bannard Audio  |  Greenberg Audio  |