Art Review: Artist Sally Davies leaves a lasting impression

Art Review: Artist Sally Davies leaves a lasting impression
Sally Davies' artwork is on display starting this Thursday (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

By Evan Berkowitz | 

Sally Davies has an intriguing attitude toward light.

Nothing at all is absolute, and everything in a given scene becomes warm, gyrating between swirls of orange and hot white in the highlights and humming magenta or purple in the shadows.

“It’s sort of what I see,” she said. “The light was warm, so I just pushed it further.” It’s almost, one could begin to hazard, Impressionistic — but don’t let Davies catch you saying that.

The artist, who will host a reception for her solo show at the Torpedo Factory’s Art League Gallery on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., seems to shrug off the comparison. But in “Follow The Leader,” a diptych that gives the show its signature image, even she can’t ignore its aptness.

Much like Claude Monet’s colorful, shadowy visions of the Rouen Cathedral in various lights, Davies’ twin views down through the Louvre’s pyramidal glass entryway allow
temperamental Mr. Sun to be the main character.

From her trademark birdseye vantage point, Davies captures the sweeping spiral staircase that ushers Louvre-goers downward and deftly observes the marvelous shadows it, the pyramid and its people cast on its floor.

“These are actually two different times of day. You can sort of see that from the angles of

“Follow the Leader!” is a 2016 diptych by Sally Davies (Courtesy photo)

the shadows,” Davies says, gesturing to the pair of tall rectangular paintings. “But it’s the same viewpoint, and I kept going back — much the same way as certain famous people did — to different times of the day.” Far too modest, one thinks, but there’s no harm in that.
In truth, though, Davies’ works are far too calculated to be Impressionistic beyond first glance.

After staking out places that provide graphically interesting views and ample light and shadows, Davies sketches and photographs, then returns to her studio where puzzle pieces coalesce into finished works.

(She’ll discuss her process further at an in-person demonstration July 22 at 2 p.m.)
The English-born Canadian artist begins with an abstract, swirly underpainting, according to the Art League, then begins rendering her scenes. The result is a vivid, dynamic quality that, paired with her fascination toward museum subjects, reminds one of Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s “Riot in the Galleria.”

“When I first started, it was just sort of looking at the shadows, and I was always keen on looking at the shadows and the way they form,” Davies said.

“But then when I started this show, … that’s when I sort-of actively started hunting for spots.”

Aside from one slightly older composition, all works on view are from the past two years.

“I never stop and start,” she said. “It’s like I’m always looking.”

Scenes settled, Davies begins to populate them, transposing figures from sketches or
photographs into other scenes and molding them to fit her narrative.
Intriguingly for works that are essentially landscapes, Davies imbues each figure with
a storyline, incidental but not integral to the works, that she begins to describe in wall text and conversation.

“I guess the illustrator in me can’t stop,” she said. “I think most people like having a story in a painting, … so as I’m painting, I sort of imagine who is in the scene.”

In the Bermuda-set “Which Way Next?,” it’s a pair of men she initially sketched in Paris — though “they’ve changed their shirts,” Davies chuckled.

“Which Way Next” by Sally Davies (Courtesy photo)

In wall text, she wonders whether they may be a gay couple way-finding near Hamilton who might simultaneously be unsure of their community’s future following President Donald Trump’s November election.

“When I painted this last year,” she writes in wall text, “I was worried about all my LGBTQ friends and family and a possible reversal of hard-won rights. I painted two (possibly gay) tourists, holding the map in this painting. So on a deeper level, they could be asking, ‘Which way next for our country on LGBTQ issues?’”

It’s one heck of a deep dive for a tropical-subject landscape, though not all of her pieces aim for profundity.

In “Follow the Leader,” the lower half of a rambunctious teenager in purple pants is chased up the spiral stair by the trudging legs of a woebegone mother toting a matching purple knapsack.

In “Time Travel,” a pair of young people, perhaps on their first date, take in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s arms and armor gallery. In “Tourist Among the Ancient Ruins,” another obstinate teenager in a great white hat b-lines for the exit while her erstwhile family admires the splendors of Classical Greece.

“Is she mad at her parents?” Davies asks in the wall text.

“Tourist Among the Ancient Ruins” by Davies (Courtesy photo)

“Did her parents make her leave her iPhone at the hotel room?” In wall text for “Where’s The Art?” — a refreshing take on a pleasingly local subject, the National Gallery of Art’s security atrium — Davies’ intensely detailed characterization dovetails with her intriguing conception of color.

She muses on whether visitors just entering the museum — their purses prodded by badged guards with transparent wands as a profile portrait of Andrew W. Mellon looks on from above — might question where the art begins.

“Despite not having an official art exhibit in the gallery entrance room,” though, she writes, “art is everywhere you look.”

It’s “in the patterns of light from the chandeliers, in the blues and pinks in the ‘white’ shirt,” she writes, “and in the swirls of subtle color in the marble floors.”

My goodness, one thinks. What a dreamily thoughtful impression.