Ronald Davis -The Artist

"RONALD DAVIS: Recent Abstractions 2001-2002"
by Gwen F Chanzit, Ph.D.


This statement was originally printed in the "one-sheet" accompanying the exhibition Ronald Davis: Recent Abstractions, 2001 – 2002, published by School of Art and History, Denver University, The Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, in Sept. 2002. It was also reprinted in the catalog accompanying the exhibition Ronald Davis: Forty Years of Abstraction, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio.

Several months ago, I had the good fortune to visit Ronald Davis’ studio in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. Immediately, I knew I had come across something very special. As luck would have it, we, at the University, were searching for an important exhibition to celebrate the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery. Sometimes, as they say, it was just meant to be.

Ronald Davis’ work already is well known. He is among the foremost abstract painters who came of age in the sixties in California. His first exhibition was at Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles in 1965 and his later work was featured at Leo Castelli, BlumHelman, and John Berggruen galleries, among others, and appeared on the cover of Artforum in April 1967. His resin paintings, begun in the sixties, and the snap line paintings of the seventies (such as Three Vents, in the Denver Art Museum collection) have taken their place in the canon of American abstract painting. The new work presented here builds on Davis’ earlier themes and directions in intelligent and inventive ways. Given the gift of hindsight, we see these recent works logically and fruitfully continuing his earlier investigations, now with a new potency.

Davis is committed to redefining abstract painting. These constructed and painted works are both illusionistic and concrete. They operate both as abstract objects on the wall and as abstractions of some unidentified objects in space. Looking at works such as Trompe Trapezoids or Yellow Hinge disrupts one’s comfort. The work is so direct that at first the illusion seems clear and understandable. But further consideration confounds, revealing a dialectic between the two-dimensional, the painted illusion of the three-dimensional, and the actual spatial dimensions of the construction. Davis negotiates the relationship between these by masterfully controlling the multi-leveled, color-dependent optical interaction within each work.

The first step in Davis’ new process takes place in the shop. With precision and foresight, Davis cuts expanded PVC into the pieces he’ll use to build the shapes, using a table, radial, or jig saw. A mat knife suffices for the thinnest pieces. After being filed and sanded to allow good paint adhesion, the supports are ready for painting. For this series he used acrylic paints made by Golden Artists’ Colors.

Davis combines an artist’s sensibility and an engineer’s precision with a restless intelligence that won’t cease until the painting satisfies his exacting standard. The result is visceral and compelling. One wants to 'get it' and yet one must constantly re-formulate his or her own relationship to the work – so that there remains that lingering uncertainty, drawing the viewer back and back again, to affirm or rethink initial perceptions. Davis' lifelong study of color informs every work and enables the alchemy that creates that creates the transformative punch.

Over the past twenty years, Davis also has turned his attention in investigating the pictoral possiblities of digital images. He has earned a place as a pioneering innovtor in the field of computer-aided art. He has earned a place as a pioneering innovator in the field of computer-aided art. He first used the new Apple II computer in 1982 to sketch with early 3-D drawing programs. By 1987, he took on the Macintosh computer, creating totally original, digital color drawings with three-dimensional modeling and rendering programs. He continues to experiment with computer-aided images today. The selection of digital works in the exhibition attests to his inventive image-making in this new medium where he once again combines his perceptual and intuitive gifts. Printed by Digital Color Imaging (DCI) of Akron, Ohio, these prints are unsurpassed in originality and quality. Additionally, he constructed and continues to maintain an informative and versatile website,

For Ronald Davis, as for every artist of the first rank, art and life are inextricably linked. In Malibu in the early nineteen seventies he collaborated with Frank Gehry on designing a studio that affirmed and reflected his sensibility of that time — a five-thousand-square-foot trapezoidal structure. Today he lives and works in a series of hogans spread across a beautiful expanse of open New Mexico desert next to the Rio Grande Gorge. Collaborating with architect Dennis Holloway and anthropologist Charley Cambridge, he built this more recent sanctuary with the same clear vision found in his art. The geometric, polygonal domed structures sit like distinct objects against the flat horizon.

Ronald Davis’ ambitious new works signal a renewed commitment to rigorous painting, to imagination, and to disciplined contemplation of the properties of reality and illusion through means of form, color, and perception. They are also beautiful.

We are lucky, indeed, to present to the Denver community this exhibition, Ronald Davis: Recent Abstractions 2001-2002.

— Gwen F. Chanzit, Ph.D., 2002
    Curator of the Exhibition