Ronald Davis -The Artist

"The Technique of Ronald Davis's Plastic Painting"
by Ben B. Johnson, Head of Conservation Los Angeles County Museum of Art


"" On the occasion of the American Sculpture of the Sixties exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (April 28 - June 25, 1967), the author contacted many of the participating artists residing in the Los Angeles area and requested an interview to discuss materials and techniques. Ron Davis was very cooperative and explained fully the process he used to create his colorful geometric plastic paintings. Information on his technique, along with that on the techniques of other Los Angeles artists, was presented as an illustrated lecture at the Annual Meeting of the American Asociation of Museums in New Orleans (May 21-24, 1968).

"" Therefore it should be remembered that the following description of Ron Davis's technique represents only a certain moment in his oeuvre. Unfortunately, there has been no followup study of the artists who were interviewed, so changes which may have occurred in technique or materials are not documented to date.2 The essential materials employed by Ron Davis in fabricating the plastic paintings are polyester resin and fiberglass. Before beginning work on the full scale painting the design is usually worked out in a colorful painted study on acetate. Many of the larger pieces are based on a geometric figure composed of two overlapping dodecagons. Using basic line drawings of the twelve-sided figure, he connects angles and planes to create a variety of compositions. The painted studies are similar in surface and color quality to the finished pieces and enable him to visualize and judge the composition.

"" Once the composition is developed and the colors selected, he builds a fence of polyester strips on the top of a large formica table. The table top is waxed to act as a release material. The fence follows the dodecagon shape and then the internal design is marked on the table top. A color area is isolated with masking tape and then polyester resin, which has been colored with strong toners, is brushed and poured into the area. After the resin is firm the tape is removed and the resin allowed to harden. This process of taping and pouring is continued until the entire design is completed. It is possible to add several color layers and to create tremendous variety within the individual color areas by marbleizing, overlapping, and speckling. The surface which will eventually become the front of the painting (the side in contact with the formica) is the lower side of the first colored resin to be poured.

"" Two forms of fiberglass, the fabric and the mat, are used in Ron Davis's process. First the fabric is used against the initial layers of colored polyester resin. It is embedded in a clear polyester which is brushed and poured over the colored surface. After this layer has hardened, additional clear polyester is applied and fiberglass mat material embedded in it. Of course the fiberglass becomes almost transparent when embedded in the clear polyester so that the whole structure is essentially translucent.

"" After the final layer of clear polyester has hardened, the piece is removed from the table. Polystyrene spacers are adhered to the back with clear polyester and a polyester sheet adhered to them for strength and rigidity.

"" The front surface is machine polished and buffed to remove any minute imperfections. Finally the surface is waxed and buffed to complete the process and finish the painting.

Ben B. Johnson
Head of Conservation
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976