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"Ronald Davis"

Selected Works From the Permanent Collection of The San José Museum of Art

Including Davis' Seven Part Arch, 1977

  From the catalog accompanying the exhibition "Selected Works From the Permanent Collection of The San José Museum of Art," in celebration of the Museum's 35th anniversary in the summer of 2004. Seven Part Arch, 1977 by Ronald Davis was included in the exhibition and is discussed here.  


"" Abstract artist Ron Davis approaches his colorful geometric paintings with the rigor of a student of theoretical physics, exploring vanishing point perspective and spatial illusions as though they held the key to the mysteries of the universe. Davis's mastery of technique and materials has consistently informed his artistic development. Early on he strove for machine-like perfection, utilizing polyester resin and fiberglass — materials most commonly associated with automobiles and surfboards. By mid-career he had abandoned resins and turned to acrylic on canvas for his illusionistic compositions. Most recently Davis has circled back to hard-edged forms, analyzing chromatic relationships and investigating perspective through geometrical structures fabricated from expanded PVC. For more than forty years Davis has conducted a disciplined exploration of pictorial space, cultivating a tension between the objective reality of his paintings as two-dimensional flat surfaces, and the three-dimensional illusions that they depict.

""Born in Santa Monica, California, Davis was raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He studied engineering at the University of Wyoming, Laramie from 1955-56, began painting in 1959, and the next year he moved to California and enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute. Davis spent the next four years developing his work under the guidance of distinguished faculty such as Frank Lobdell and Elmer Bischoff. Upon moving to Los Angeles he became acquainted with other artists using resins and embedded color to create immaculate reductive artworks. Ed Moses, Dewain Valentine, and John McCracken were among the artists working in this mode who became known for creating objects constructed like fiberglass boat or car bodies. Two of Davis's most historically recognized series from this fruitful time were the polyester resin and fiberglass Slab Series and Dodecagon Series of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The late 1960s witnessed a flurry of critical and commercial success: a 1967 article by Michael Fried in Artforum proclaimed Davis to be at the forefront of his generation of painters, creating work that belonged to the "future of painting," and blue chip New York gallery owner Leo Castelli gave him a solo show in 1968. This fame lasted into the 1970s, and gradually faded away as new trends began to dominate the art world.

""Seven Part Arch was created during a fifteen-year period beginning when Davis abandoned resins in 1972 and lasting until the late 1980s when he began using 3-D computer rendering programs as another tool for the creation of his art. He returned to acrylic on canvas, and initially made small-scale acrylics with clean-edged overlapping geometric forms painted with jewel-like hues. This painting is representative of Davis's late 1970s work when the scale of his work dramatically increased and his ambitions soared. He began the process by drawing perspective grids with three vanishing points drawn using snap lines. This technique, most commonly used in construction projects, involves a chalked or pigmented string that is stretched across a surface and then "snapped" on it to make a straight line mark. The painting's central imagery is a seven-part arch formed by two-dimensional planes. Davis's use of splashes of painterly color obfuscates the sculptural qualities of the design and signals to the viewer that this is, in fact, a two-dimensional, flat painting. Ron Davis has spent a lifetime creating abstract art that avoids narrative elements and escapes facile interpretations. The artist has stated that he is committed to developing a "new visual epistemology that is serious, moral, and spiritual, deviating from self-indulgent, ironic, post-Modern and policitally correct painting and non-painting." The sensuous quality of his surfaces and coloration defy this high-mindedness and call to mind the essential nature of his work: presenting ravishing illusions of three-dimensionality that fool the eye and challenge the mind.


Seven Part Arch, 1977, 78 1/2 x 98 inches, Cel-Vinyl Acrylic and Dry Pigment on Canvas, Snapline Series, (PTG 0561)

.Seven Part Arch, 1977