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

Ian Davis Architects, 2016 Acrylic on linen 144 x 127 cm / 57 x 50 inches
Ian Davis Construals, 2016 Acrylic on linen 76 x 86 cm / 30 x 34 inches
Ian Davis Eating, 2015 Acrylic on linen 40 x 48 cm / 16 x 19 inches
Ian Davis Broadcast, 2014 Acrylic and spray paint on linen 190 x 203 cm / 75 x 80 inches
Ian Davis Surveillance, 2015 40 x 48 cm / 16 x 19 inches Acrylic and spray paint on linen
Ian Davis History of Nature, 2016 Acrylic on linen 127 x 144 cm / 50 x 57 inches
Ian Davis Inland 2014 Acrylic on linen 60 x 65 inches
Ian Davis Projection, 2014 Acrylic and spray paint on linen 127 x 137 cm / 50 x 54 inches
Ian Davis Condos, 2016 Acrylic on linen 76 x 60 cm / 30 x 24 inches
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