Lisa Davis’s paintings are nothing if not complex. It’s a complexity that’s deeply embedded in her perception of how the world moves, shimmers, and stutters. Contrary to the non-casual present at MOMA’s painting show, The Forever Now, Davis celebrates the machinations of time.
On ViewGerald Peters Gallery
February 26 – March 26, 2015
I’ve been following Davis’s work for a number of years now, watching it slowly evolve with the rigid determination of a mind set on reaching its goal. Things intrigued me early on in her work that have remained constants; things that I could see were constructs aiming to become natural outgrowths, and have by now.
There is a map-like overview or plan view orientation in many of her pieces. One could also see this as a space reminiscent of a 20th century board game like Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit or Chute’s and Ladders, where movement along one line allows one to emerge suddenly and fall, full blown, into an entirely other kind of space.
In “Spurious Atlas” (2015), a queasy palette of pastel greens and earthy flesh tones is brought into another sensate arena with a series of unusual and intriguing deep green lines. The effect is a dazzling surface that skews the sensational to register as seriously active. In the lower left corner a perspective emerges that engages the aerial, so, thus looking down on the verdant fields, the rest of her surface seems to map out the logistics of getting there.
This multifaceted nature keeps Davis’s forms alive; they hover on the edge of many things without ever becoming any one thing in particular. Given the specificity of the forms themselves, which indicate that something indeed determines their nature, it’s quite an achievement. Then there is a kind of outlining rampant in most of her paintings that reads close up as a kind of doodling gesture, bringing humor and irreverence into a work that presents itself as historically attuned.
“Flim Flam Plan” (2015) has its own kind of whimsy. The dark green lines here possess an almost arabesque, bringing a sense of freedom to the work that the studied and worked forms in some of the other pieces lack. The colors are deeply resonant, allowing for a return gaze; nothing resolves into a sound bite, but provokes further and deeper thought.
Davis doesn’t let us off the hook easily. Her paintings open up such a wide berth that it’s hard to make a claim for abstraction touching on all the things she brings into view. After a while spent in front of this group of works, I found myself thinking about the spatial realities of fragmentation that we all accommodate on a daily basis—a phone connection to a friend that represents a whole other dimension of life disconnected from the one that the call enters into; texts and the Internet, which open up pockets of time/space experience that we connect to effortlessly and most of the time, despite their disparate nature and varied locus.
Davis’s impulse towards mapping these vicissitudes reach for the poetics of space, albeit a poetics that is grounded in a pragmatic view of the world. The combination of these two seemingly contradictory fields make for a jarringly unexpected realm, one that forces us to keep looking to achieve a resolution. And there is darkness too, lurking beneath the surface that points to things the polite would just as soon not see or acknowledge. Davis makes sure we don’t miss it with her titles.
“Specious Calculation” (2015) and “Psychopathic Territory” (2015) are more familiar in terms of an overview of a map-like space. “Specious Calculation” is shallower than some of the pieces but has a wonderful cadence of forms configured along a series of broken lines that feel like peering into a maze of reflections in a contemporary glass façade.
The urban experiences of space and time that Davis presents are subtle distillations of moment and coincidence. Times where a particular light, time of day, or mood open up a vast interior realm and the magic of poetic reflection finds its fertile ground. Her attempt to map the shattered terrain of contemporary life points both to an awareness of other times and a belief in navigating the present one.