Ronald Davis
"Notes from Ronald Davis on "All The Presidents' Rooms"

(Notes -- in Progress, 10-3-08)

Short version:

"I like soup." -- Andy Warhol* *(upon being asked why he created his Campbell's Soup can series)

"I like Truman." -- Ronald Davis

I made this series because I like Harry Truman and because I support Barack Obama. I got interested in thinking about all the other Presidents too, and started placing them in virtual rooms or on various backgrounds or stages.

Long Version:

"All The Presidents' Rooms" really started with something incidental I was doing back in the mid 1990s in the midst of my ongoing artistic exploration of 3D computer modeling software (VIDI Presenter Pro). I was working on placing 3D objects into virtual rooms and importing 2D bitmaps and "installing" them onto virtual walls. I happened to find an old piece of Harry Truman clip art that had been on my hard drive, rendered in the typical dithered dot-pattern common at the time. Rather than "hang" a Rothko or one of my own works, I used the Harry Truman image, and I liked it. I got to thinking about him, and remembered being a little boy sitting on my politician father's shoulders so I could see Truman on one of his whistle-stop speeches in Cheyenne, so I wrote:

"Harry Truman said, 'The buck stops here!' Good advice for an artist like myself. My Father took me down to Union Station in Cheyenne, Wyoming to hear his famous underdog whistle stop campaign speech in 1948. The Truman Image is an old piece of Clip-Art that has been on my hard drives for at least ten years, and I texture- (bit)mapped it onto the wall in a Presenter 3D virtual room because I like Truman. He was a great President." -- R.D. 1995

(View) the 1st Truman Room, c. 1995

Fast forward to 2004, when I started working with newer 3D modeling software (Cinema 4D). I again found the same Harry Truman clip art, and decided to try it with the new software. I was working on other ideas and abstract images during this period, but the evolution of All The Presidents' Rooms was happening right alongside. When I finally sent my first group of new images to be transferred onto metal, the updated Truman was one of the first to go (to ImageWizards, a North Carolina fabrication plant). I enjoyed that new Truman Room (2006) so well that I did a series of five other Presidents on paper. I also did a very large Ulysses S. Grant on metal; a George Washington; and a few more Trumans.

Last year I started the new series of Presidents' Rooms because I like and support Barack Obama. I got interested in thinking about all the other Presidents, and started placing them all in virtual rooms and on various backgrounds. The show represents a work in progress with the new goal of making a full set of all 44 presidents.

The whole endeavor has been a tangent for me, but has turned out to be a valuable one because I've been challenged. It has become a somewhat obsessive goal to do all 44, because once I had the first five in front of me, I felt they all deserved the same attention. So I have been down a winding road having fun finding other presidents and seeing how each would look in a virtual room. To satisfy my obsession with getting a good, interesting formal solution for every president, I took a circuitous route, making multiple versions of the same image, trying the same president in different rooms and contexts until I got the image I liked best. But that didn't mean I threw away the ones that didn't make it. The result is that some presidents have more than one room.

From that one piece of clip art, I was inspired to go further, making use of the internet, images I have collected, and information about the presidents. I have worked for countless hours learning more new software and techniques in developing my own aesthetic, the result being virtual collages of digital information. Everything gets joined in virtual space and then the final work is uploaded – at the speed of light – to the fabricator where the zeros and ones are converted, transferred onto metal, and changed into physical matter. I've learned too about the new medium of aluminum – how images look on its brushed or glossy surfaces, how light acts upon it, how to frame the work, how to protect and crate aluminum paintings for shipping, and so forth.

On top of that, the process includes learning factoids about all our Presidents which affects what I do with their rooms. (For example, Grover Cleveland was the only president who was president twice: the 22nd and 24th. And Buchanan made the worst decision ever in opposing the law that would stop slavery and prevent the Civil War. He did nothing, so the war took off.) The Presidents will never take away from my career as an abstract illusionist because, fundamentally, I am not a representational artist.

The presidents in their rooms have some of the quality of what I've called "meaningless unidentified objects floating in space," just like the geometric objects in my other work. Nevertheless, just because every President's Room is is based on such formal criteria, it doesn't mean there is no expressive content in a particular image.

All my work is a didactic, an investigation and a learning experience. What people think happens is that the artist has the answer before the work is begun. "Oh, the computer does it all," some people believe. No way! This process is not like working in Excel. It's a journey of discovery. It is sometimes very much a science – putting numbers into a computer – but there is an element of pure mystery as well. After my hundreds of micro-decisions have been made during its creation, and after the image has been ray-traced and rendered and finally displays fully, I am seeing it for the first time just like the viewer. Every little thing I do can change the final image a little, or a lot, and I never know until it's done.

A suggestion: don't look at a painting as a product; look at it as a didactic, as much a learning process for me as it is for you, the viewer. Every President's room is a lesson in aesthetics, color, color interaction, illusion, shape interaction, spacial quality, light, texture, or composition. Not only that, but because the journey and the process have included historical study of each President, each piece is also a story, perhaps a little fable or tiny moral tale about the humanity of each one.

History tries to lock things into time and space, but I can put James Buchanan into a tract house or Grant at the bottom of a swimming pool. I can place Presidents into other contexts where they'd not normally be found. It's not to show them as good or bad; it's just what happened on the journey. I get very emotional and very patriotic about some of them.

Some of my Presidents have more than one version of their room because typcially I have to do at least 4 or 5 proofs to get the final image I like best. That doesn't mean I have to throw away the ones that don't make it. This series works cross-media. It exists as a painting series on aluminum but can also be viewed as a contained slide show in desktop digital frames, viewed on any HDTV or transfered to DVD. Some can be printed on paper.

I think Barack Obama will make a great President Obama. I see the possibllity that this remarkable man could be the best President of my lifetime.