James G. Davis
1938 – 2016
BFA and MFA Wichita State
Resident of Arizona and Nova Scotia
Studio 21 exhibits the work of James G. Davis two years after his death. For a period of almost 20 years, as Davis’ reputation grew as an American painter of note, he lived several months of the year in Nova Scotia. This exhibition, selections of paintings and prints from five decades, includes several that reference that fruitful period of Davis’ life. Others speak to his wandering instinct, based on observations of layers of life in London, New York, Madrid, and Berlin. Nova Scotia can claim this important artist as one of its own. The exhibition also includes a selection of works by his son Turner G. Davis.
Davis was a long-time resident of an artist community in Oracle, not far from Tucson, Arizona. Rancho Linda Vista was established 50 years ago by a group of artists who converted a dude ranch into homes, studios and a gallery. The home he shared with his wife, muse and model Mary Anne (together for 54 years) is a low-slung adobe U-shaped house, surrounded with flowering cacti, with a view of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the South. Inside are comfortable rooms, remarkable prints and paintings, and a collection of fascinating and bizarre objects ranging from life-size papier mache figures and a bestiary of taxidermized animals to ceramics, art and books. James and Mary Anne traveled not only to seasonal homes in Colorado amid Nova Scotia; but also to Mexico, Fiji, Europe.
His connection to Nova Scotia began twenty-five years ago with the purchase of a seaside house in West Berlin on the South Shore. In Nova Scotia, both he and Mary Anne formed fast friendships and brought friends from Arizona to join them. Some also bought property.
Davis was on faculty at Arizona State University, and his paintings are collected throughout the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery Washington, Hirshorn Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute and in Europe.
He was influenced by art history, philosophy, literature and poetry. He was boisterous, sometimes angry, provocative and prolific; an authentic observer of everyday men and women; a lover of nature; an astute narrator; a commentator on the connection between humans and animals. He was deep but imperfect. He painted huge paintings of myth and narrative. “He painted until the wheels fell off.”
James G. Davis was represented for years by the esteemed art dealer Riva Yaris in Scottsdale Arizona, who also exhibited major artists such as Milton Avery, Jesus Soto, Alex Katz, Hans Hoffman, Jim Dine, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler. Riva Yares said about Davis:
“James G Davis is a brujo: a sorcerer who appears in two places at the same moment; one a man from the city, sophisticated and informed, the other a coyote shaman behind a rock in the desert, beckoning us to experience the secrets of his unknown realm of illusion. His paintings, symbols of his magical art, reflect this dualistic nature, pulling the viewer into a domain of the conscious and the unconscious.
The bond which holds this mysterious cosmos together is the artist’s use of color. Color, offering solutions to unanswered questions. Color, which deploys emotional weight and substance to an otherwise ambivalent subject. Color, as a metaphor for reality!”
(Riva Yares, April 1988)
Legendary art critic and curator, Edward Lucie-Smith, has been a frequent commentator on the work of James G. Davis.
“Asked to summarize briefly what these paintings have to say to the spectator, I would, I think, fasten on three things. The first of these is that Davis is something which is currently rare - a pictorial moralist, who often creates complex narratives as vehicles for moral judgements. The second is that he is a dreamer, and that the narratives are often subverted, and at the same time enriched, by the irrationality of dreams. The third is that he is superbly skilled in his handling of paint, at a time when skills of this sort are becoming increasingly rare. The great art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich once spoke of the Chardin flower piece now in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh as example of “what only paint can do.” The fortunate spectator will find other examples here.”
Catalogue essay for “James G. Davis: The Animal in Retrospect”, 1998-99
Additional exhibition images coming soon.