Ronald Davis: Unidentified Floating Objects, Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, 554 S. Guadalupe St., 505-989-8688; through March
It has been more than 30 years since Ronald Davis has publicly exhibited his Floater Series, a body of work created in the late 1970s and last shown at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles. Davis had his first solo exhibition at the gallery in the decade before. Between the mid-1960s and late 1970s he transitioned from Abstract Expressionist works to making hard-edged paintings and geometric forms, including minimalist-shaped canvases. In the Floater Series, he explored Abstract Illusionism, using two-point perspective and painting shadows of elements within a composition to create the illusion of depth and dimensionality of objects floating above the surface of the painting. A selection of work from the series is included in Unidentified Floating Objects along with examples of his Flatland Series from the early 1980s, Slabettes (shaped canvases) from the mid-1980s, and some of his more recent Pixel Dust Renderings, pigment prints created using state of the art 3-D computer software.
The exhibit cannot be considered a retrospective because it lacks works from the beginning of Davis’ career and includes no pieces from the late 1980s and 1990s. But it does show how Davis translated his interest in geometric form and illusion across mediums. Some forms in the Floater Series, such as the cube in his painting Yoder, give a subtle impression of translucency. Davis made some Floater works using Cel-Vinyl acrylics, and other paintings in the series were done in watercolor. The effect of the thin applications of paint allows the viewer to see into elements of the works, adding to the sense of depth already apparent through his use of painted shadows and perspective. In Yoder, Stroner, Platte, and Lamont, rectangular forms appear to hover over nondescript fields, their shadows cast beneath them.
The Flatland Series, despite its similarity to the Floater paintings in terms of medium (Cel-Vinyl acrylic) and use of geometry, may be the most distinct works in the exhibit because they lack the illusionism apparent in the other series, including the Pixel Dust images. The Flatland Series are minimalist compositions on either canvas or paper, rendered flat and without shadows. Davis juxtaposes linework with pentagons, squares, triangles, and wedges. Rather than use solid colors for backgrounds, he makes them more nuanced and atmospheric, blending warm and cool colors.
Davis’ Slabettes are uniformly coated but not always in solid hues. Theta Splatter Slabette, for instance, makes use of flecked paint across the surface. The Slabettes take the illusion of three-dimensional form a step further than the Floater Series because each overall piece is a self-contained shape rather than an element of a larger composition. They hang on the wall in relief, some with beveled edges several inches thick, giving them a sculptural feel. Large Black Slabette, more than 5 inches thick and 9 feet wide, is a highlight of the exhibition, commanding a wall of its own. Had Davis set the slab’s angles at 90 degrees for all four corners, the form would simply be a rectangle. By varying the degrees of the slab’s angles as well as the length of each side, he created the appearance, instead, of a rectangle receding in space. The effect works best when viewed head on. The surface of the work looks uniformly black from a distance, but flecks of blue and violet can be detected on closer inspection.
Davis is a major figure in several movements that occurred in post-war Los Angeles, and his work was included in Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, the Getty Center’s regionwide series of exhibitions chronicling the Southern California art scene. He has shown at Charlotte Jackson’s for several years and was instrumental in providing work for the show. The Floater Series has been in Davis’ own collection since it was last exhibited. While some selections of work made between 1985 and 2011 would provide a greater sense of what Davis was doing before immersing himself in computer-generated imagery, the exhibit, as it stands, attests to his versatility as a craftsman, a geometrician who found a way to experiment with basic forms in series that are clearly related but distinct.