Lisa Corinne Davis: Index

February 6-May 8, 2001


Our early 21st century moment seems a time when the question of creative originality exemplifies, either pessimistically a hopeless dead-end or, optimistically the perfect peak of the mountain in a Sisyphean tale. The latter marks a place in creativity as part of an artistic cycle, an ad infinitum game, where creative advancements always eventually lead to a space pregnant with new opportunity. While computer technology churns out new goods on a daily basis to feed the corporate appetite for fresh consumers on a global scale, contemporary art has adorned itself in the cloak of repetition. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Existential faith in the individual impulse still represents fertile space for the freshest and the newest in originality, in the literal sense, as in never been seen, never been heard, and never been felt, until that moment.

In the recent paintings of Lisa Corinne Davis you get the sense that she is working with a very personal vocabulary to make sense of an impersonal though historic present in painting, rooted in repetition. In painting, the deployment of the grid is one of the most basic and simultaneously significant attributes of twentieth century modernism. The grid, open yet closed, structured but free, formulaic though often unscientific, and divisional though unifying, is representative of a blank slate, possessing "several structural properties which make it inherently susceptible to vanguard appropriation," as Rosalind Krauss noted in the early 1980s. Davis believes in the grid, has faith in the grid. Her paintings are about meaning, more than the gestural figure ground relationships of much earlier examples, for instance Robert Ryman or Agnes Martin. It is a process of abstraction in which the artist is perpetually defining herself through a specific vocabulary of forms that have found a home in the space of the grid. Though formally refined and well constructed (her paintings look built to last), her attitude to abstract painting and refinement is not merely formal. It is expressive, that is to say that, she is giving you something to think about, to feel, to ascertain with all your perceptive capabilities. While she laboriously layers the surface of her paintings with information in the form of maps, book pages in various languages, and unidentifiable silhouettes, this found material is often obscured in the finishing. Yet, the trace remains.

Davis' most recent series of paintings, Index, take these elements of a personal index as structural referents. They define the painting as do the precise lines going vertically and horizontally across the surface of the canvas. There is also a cultural trace in the form of the found texts and maps, and in the diversity of the silhouettes of various people though they remain only as great as the sum of their parts. Randomly placed, these bits of information offer little in the way of allegory but the dense, all-over field, in turn, exerts a pronounced emphasis on the minutiae of individual differences. Her palette, though constantly being refined, over the past few years, is marked by the accumulation of Fall colors (yellow oxide, burnt sienna, and orange). The systemic and heavy layering of tracing paper, found paper, drawing and paint is never taken to the purity of total abstraction leaving them to evoke abstract imagery as a referential aspect of daily life. And although a system is being deployed, from a distance there is the warmth of her chosen colors and the sense of a decisively beautiful painting.

Through the process of working with a repetitive central form, Davis is confronting the dilemma of much recent abstraction by taking her own path, avoiding the burden of modernist purity and the equally limiting postmodern tropes of content specificity to make highly original paintings.

—Franklin Sirmans