Queen Street Studios started a new tradition: Flash Show offering their ground floor rooms at 31-33 Bedford Street for a brief exhibitions – like a visit to a studio.
Catherine Davison is a committed painter, inventing tools for different marks, using elongated brush handles to reach the height of the canvas (like Henri Matisse at Vence) if need be, a large set of brushes, and a technique familiar to fresco painters of the Italian Renaissance – pounding paint through a holes in a given pattern. In her case, holes in doilies and similar patterned table decoration, easily available to domestic goddesses of the Western World. Those small equivalent circles of dots are stamped with a found object. I hesitate to say that she is a landscape painter, even if she claims to be one?
“By focusing on the beauty and wonder experienced when viewing a landscape for example – my work seeks to engage with the positive emotional responses we have when connecting to the natural worlds around us.” (Quoted from two paged printed handout that accompanies the exhibition)
I like the skid between experience of landscape and experience of viewing a landscape… it aligns with Italo Calvino’s value of visibility. It is therefore the seeing, the viewing, the visual thinking that Davison aims to trap on the surface of tradition: ground and paints. The outcome – she aims at – is the viewers emotional response as echoing our being in nature. This aim may forge her preference for large scale paintings..
What is in the title? A title invites me to agree on some common sense level that the visual matches the words, even if it is not generously informative. It is an element of conscious articulation, and splendidly, it is powerless to determine my visual imagination, but it may problematized it. I am not completely immune from the title’s meaning, it focuses some of my attention. Yet, it is clearly outside the visual encounter, like a nervous hostess, introducing a not fully predictable guest. And that’s the split I wait for, an opening for the direct experience. What happens in this image – is an opening of the depth, as if looking down a well, a crater, a hole endlessly mined… and then, when the eye catches the bottom of this imagined pit . it is the same grey as at the triangular surfaces in each corner, the whole idea of deep deep space is turned upside down – into a shallow picture space holding soft red circles, a little harder green and blue rounds ( note the inserted angles) as if above that grey plane, thus situating the hues between it and the air in the gallery. It is a kind of magic realism, reminiscent of the playful disregard for anything “normal” mastered so well by Lewis Carroll.
What happens to the play when Davison harnesses it to geometry and pattern?
Instead of immersing in a play, I am given on object whose final appearance has been denied any fluidity, it is unmovable, perfect edges and smooth surfaces inside an elegant cold structure of ideal slivers or dots of hues. In accords and discords, the “object” is both strictly defined and denied simultaneously. The eye is never sure whether it is a volume or a flat pattern – must accept both on and off… not both at once. It is a classical Vernon – the so called table cloth exercise. ( M D Vernon, Visual Perception, 1937). So – not quite a “rose is a rose” ?
The line is from Gertrude Stein’s poem Sacred Emily, written in 1913 and published in 1922, in Geography and Plays. The verbatim line is actually, ‘Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’:
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
Pages ages page ages page ages.
This painting is a sibling of the Running Circles, both that the illusion of depth is there and hovers above a flat surface – this time of vivacious green, while continuously morphing in to views down very long stairwells or stacks of blue, red, etc. With the Rose it shares its intoxication with vivacious pattern and angular abstraction.
Although three years apart, the next two large canvases with almost identical title focus on Davison’s freedom with hues and discipline with tones. It is as if she followed Paul Cezanne’ s rule on tonality. The “temperature” is the same from an edge to an edge.
On the left is a part of Pond Dancing, 2011, (as above) on the right Port Dancing Abstracted (2014, acrylic on canvas, 167.7 x 134 cm).
A noticeable shift to pattern, a loss of vivacious pulse akin to a cloudy autumn day, mark the younger variation on the theme with a confident freedom.
Davison is not just instinctive painter, but instinct she values. The black power of strong marks imprisons the green, blue, and red ones to stay pristine – not contaminated by illusion of stepping in front of the canvas, except as “reflections” on the black frames…
Her residence in Brazil increased her awareness of the partnership of hues and light. Yet – it does not develop into a denial of her deep enchantment with rhythm of a pattern. One of the painting she told me, made in Brazil, is mostly dark monochrome:
A banana leaves turning into a nocturnal jewel not so much for decadence, as for the painter’s confidence to make a half full and a half empty. Moreover, placing the weight above the lighter support. An enjoyable return to the Alice in Wonderland.
This painter is comfortable with the freedom offered by instinct that fluidly corresponds with responsiveness of her eye, and inventive use of tools. Not in this exhibition, for being too large to carry, consequently, showed to me in her studio upstairs is a magnificent this:
Entitled Yellow Sun – it is almost monochrome. Reminiscent of religious belief that light is a symbol of greater power of the prime creator, as well as a metaphor for rays going through glass or into our eye, without breaking it or our lens, this is a magnificent tour de force. Its bill board size, which demands a big gallery space, is also a nod to abstract expressionism of the 1950s – 1960s.
The motif of the tree is perhaps not linked here to either biblical or art historical association.
It may be a coincidence – that next to the Yellow Sun was a smaller blue canvas justifying my recollection of Paul Klee’s definition of the artist as a tree trunk.
This simpler image ( titled Joy) is nevertheless easily offering the same kind of experience, of viewing nature, natural form – engaging the trinity of hand, eye, and mind, as suggested by Leonardo da Vinci. Why is this important? Because it is that precious mute, wordless visual thought – daily mangled by our noisy civilisation. (see Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the next Millennium, 1988)
Images courtesy the artist and Tony Corey.