OBSERVATIONS ON THE PAINTINGS OF MALCOLM DAVIS
Barry Tepper, Artist, www.tepper-arts.com
Mr. Davis, an architect by training, began his fine art career by using his elevation drawings of buildings as the starting point for paintings. Even in these early paintings, his characteristic hard edge technique was well established, as was his sophisticated use of color. At first glance, these paintings seemed to be pure abstraction – each small straight-edged geometrical section defined by unequivocal color well balanced with its surrounding sections – but the viewer then had the pleasurable sensation of "discovering" that s/he was looking at one side of a building.
For Mr. Davis, the next big step was going to purely abstract paintings. He totally separated the representational aspect of his subject matter from what he put down with paint. For example, he did a series of paintings inspired by a section of the Maine shoreline, but the only physical aspect of the subject he used was the colors; everything else in the paintings was imagined polygonal shapes – even the non-rectangular boards he painted on.
The next conceptual change in Davis' art was a leap in the complexity of his intellectual approach to the work. He thinks in terms not of an individual painting, but of a thorough examination of an idea through a series of paintings. But in his current mature stage, Mr. Davis has developed a process that, as far as I know, is unique. Actually putting down paint is only the last step in a long intellectual and artistic process.
After finding a subject that excites him (perhaps the Boston subway system, the colored buoys of Maine's lobster fishermen, the history of American railroads) he visualizes that idea as an abstract shape and builds a three dimensional model of that shape. (His years of making architectural models, no doubt, informs this step in the process.) The model is a symbol of the subject idea.
Davis then has this sculpture photographed in black-and-white from many angles with different lighting effects. He then assigns a color to each facet of each photo; the colors expressing both an expansion of the subject idea AND a realistic representation of the three dimensionality of the sculpture.
The final step is laying down the colors on the support (he paints on hardboard) with infinite care and craftsmanship; each color lying against its neighbors with zero gaps or overlap.
If you haven't discussed the subject matter with Mr. Davis, the paintings appear complex, angular, full of subtle and brilliant colors, with an exceptionally clean, subtly crafted, bold look. You can clearly see three dimensional shapes existing in a "real" space. At a basic level, they are beautiful. But, when you learn what they are about and what the keys to interpretation are, there is another dimension of appreciation.
I am a painter myself. I've always felt that painting is a visual medium, and words are extraneous. A viewer doesn't need to know who painted it, nor what that painter's influences are, nor why technique choices were made: it's either a good painting standing on its own, or it isn't.
Mr. Davis' paintings are a challenge to that rule: they do stand on their own, but there is a wealth of additional richness to these paintings when you can understand what they represent.
Mr. Davis thinks of himself as a "hard-edge abstractionist." However, I believe he has created a new genre, in which he paints very realistic and beautiful representations of symbolic abstract sculptures. I don't have a name for this new genre, but I really like it.