Josh Lilley is pleased to present Expert Advice, the first exhibition in the UK for Los Angeles-based painter Ian Davis.
For 15 years Davis has made detailed pictures of men in groups. They are identically dressed in vocational clothes—business suits, lab coats, clerical frocks, hi-vis vests or military drab. They research and design, they assess disaster’s imminence and aftermath, and they amass and protect resources. Despite the outward appearance of purpose, the men are bystanders.
The paintings are executed in clean, graphic acrylic layers establishing vast architecture and nature, then finished with brushy filigree on sometimes hundreds of faces. Davis continues an artistic tradition of awe and desperation that spans Bruegel’s Tower of Babel through Martin Kippenberger’s The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’. Plans will go nowhere. Designs for solutions will be ignored. Man is unable to address anything. Time stops. Davis’ vignettes can be sited at any point in the past 50 years.
Complex, considered geometry tightens the psychological effect of the scenes. Davis’ symmetry is not sacred, or cosmic, but neurological. Geometry here is an overarching mechanism, a loom pulling us into lines like Thomas Baryle’s delirious skins or the atom-bomb angst of Salvador Dali’s late-period ‘Nuclear Mysticism’, where images float as exploded units, in total sync but never to touch. Davis provides actors, location and motivation, the ingredients of a narrative, only to see it overwhelmed and stymied by the all-encompassing strength of an order that man has built for himself. The artist’s compositions hum with a balance that is both serene and unsettling.
Being incensed and powerless at the same time is a 2016 feeling, in our UK and in the artist’s US. Davis depicts ritual behaviour enacted with total devotion by men of power and influence. He builds structures for these men. The careerlong painter of political allegory limns the world of entrenched bureaucracy, he lives inside it with brush at the canvas, to feel for its contours and find its flaws. He depicts the shape of our world. In this he finds purpose, and a means of having a voice.