Although this is American artist Ian Davis’s first UK solo show—he’s based in LA and has previously shown multiple times in New York and around the US—his works seem to sum up the public mood nicely. Mindless crowds, paranoid leaders and a general sense of confusion reins.
It’s always difficult to strike the right chord with paintings of this kind so as not to feel entirely political, nor indeed, too based purely in conspiracy. Davis has hit the winning formula, with vagueness of location—these works don’t appear rooted in any specific place, and similar scenes switch from volcano side, to Spaghetti Junction-type road and Olympic pool—era and outfit. These meticulous pieces, which are high on detail, are the product of many combined political and social movements, rather than a vitriolic comment on one in particular.
There is an intriguing play between structure and rebellion also in the works, some marked by strong grid patterns that constrain their subjects into tightly formed boxes, others having a frustrating—well, for those with a touch of OCD—misalignment of objects, as with the slightly off-kilter tables in Eating (2015).
The artist avoids a bleak Soviet-style colour palette–appearing only occasionally, most notably in Projection (2014)–the oppression is shown more through the sheep-like humans, and there are many joyful tones in the work, such as History of Nature‘s bright shooting lava and the yellow-green foliage of Construals (2016). In all, the paintings are unexpected, intriguingly detailed and far from straight-forward. Multiple viewings are necessary.
Ian Davis: Expert Advice is showing at Josh Lilley, London until 13 August