Ronald Davis was an exemplar of the 1960s Los Angeles Fetish Movement—a group of artists who transformed plastic, fiberglass, and other materials into brightly colored, hard-edge geometric forms. He was also an early practitioner of trompe l’oeil abstract illusionism that pervaded abstract painting in the 1970s and ‘80s. He once exhibited widely and frequently, and has never withdrawn completely from the circuit; but, over the past 30 years, he has assumed a lesser presence, moving to Taos and becoming involved in electronic music and other relatively hermetic pursuits.
This selection of work from 1974 to 2004 was especially welcome because Davis seems to be doing some of the strongest painting of his career. Two 2004 asymetric, diamond-shape canvases with beveled edges attested to this. Each featured two solid, intense colors divided by a horizon line at the diamond’s widest point and bevels painted in different hues. This sophisticated sense of geometry harks back directly to the work with which Davis made his initial splash in the 1960s, and which he continued to refine for another decade, as was evident here in two architectonic abstractions from the mid-1970s.
His 1980s output was represented largely by paintings from 1983, including one composed of architectonic lines that appear in earlier works: they define an odd complex of forms made odder here by an allover stippled effect. Another painting displayed a simplified abstract-illusionist schema—a yellow platform floating in blue ether, casting a double shadow on an otherwise invisible floor.
Several canvases evinced a kind of Abstract Expressionist splat-and-drip esthetic. There was a large one called with aggressive splotches, and smaller, square ones marked by isolated clots and trails of hot and cool color against white.
This show posed many tantalizing questions about what Davis was up to in the 1980s and ‘90s. Most important, however, it assured us that he is focusing anew on distinctive, and distinguished, work.