Paul Davies (born 1979) is an Australian artist working in Los Angles. His work consists of paintings created from hand-cut stencils, based on the artists’ own digital photographs. His interest in art began when he was only 7 years old, inspired by Asterix cartoons.
The focus of his work is the relationship between the built and natural environments. Davies’ paintings depict homes set in idyllic, leisured landscapes. Although appearing realistic, the paintings are an amalgamation of elements from various locations. The scenes are devoid of human form, encouraging the viewer to inhabit the space and generate their own narrative.
His show opens on the 10th of September at Art District XIII; I had the opportunity to ask him about the works that will be displayed at the show.
Q: Which has been your favourite work so far?
A: The photograms, these will form part of my upcoming show Southern Exposure. I made these works on a recent artist residency that I was awarded at Taliesin West the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture Phoenix. These works were partly a response to building that I worked in, which was designed by Wright and built by his students, and partly to the harsh desert sunlight in Phoenix.
During the residency I made 24 photograms (one for each day I was there) by exposing sunlight through a stencil onto paper painted with light sensitive liquid. As a departure point I looked at early experiments of architectural documentation such as ‘View from the window at Le Gras’ Nicéphore Niépce (1826/27). I started with my own digital photograph of the exterior of the Taliesin building and from the print I hand cut a stencil. The stencil was then laid over pieces of painted paperand placed at various locations of the residency during different times of day and in one case overnight. After a period of minutes (or hours overnight) the exposed sections of paper discoloured, the stencil was then removed and the negative image of the subject revealed.
Referring to Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of ‘organic architecture’ the stencil provided a way in which to reduce the detail of the subject and blend what is architecture and what is landscape. Although the stencil repeated the image everyday each copy was unique.
This was due to the natural exposure process and hand-brushed application of the light sensitive liquid onto the paper. Likening the stencil to R.M. Schindler’s (influenced by Wright) ‘Schindler Units’ this essentially reproductive device became, in the hands of the individual, a tool to produce one-off works. In an age in which digital imagery is easily spread and authorship often obscured this process aimed to blur what is original and what is reproduction.
Q: Architecture seems to be an integral part of your work, tell me about this please, how did this come to be?
A: My undergrad major at university was sculpture, it was a way to explore spatial relationships and this lead me to look at modern architecture. I was interested in the functional way these architects approached space it was very purist and utopian. In my work now I am looking at tension between built and natural environments, the rationality of modern architecture contrasts with the freedom of landscape and water.
The hard lines of the buildings and pool edges cut short emotional thought evoked in the reflections of the pool. I layer these subjects like filters to disrupt the order of the architecture, blending with form and colour what is natural and what is made. The structure of the screens I use to paint dissolve through this process to suggest a state of flux that looks to the past while considering possible futures.
Q: Tell me about this body of work / Southern Exposure.
A:The title partly refers to the sunlight exposure process I used to make the photograms for this exhibition. I grew up in Australia and now live in Los Angeles, the sunlight is harsh in both places and the work in this show looks at some of the ways the modern built environment has adapted. One of these ways is to blur the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. I was interested in how the indoor spaces could be seen as controlled and rational and the outdoors as uncontrolled and emotional. The paintings I made for this exhibition explore that idea, they are built up with layers and collage and through this process blend what is representational and what is abstract.
Q: Tell me a little bit about how you work / your method of working.
A: The landscapes in my paintings appear simultaneously idyllic and disjointed, as if lifted from a vacation or real estate advertisement then cut up and reconfigured. The canvas on which the likeness of a landscape might be painted instead acts as a platform where subject matter competes for the viewer’s attention. Like the “cinematic/virtual image” that Warren Neidich describes in his text Blow-Up (based on the film by Michelangelo Antonioni) I first document the selected subject photographically, edit this image and collage it with others onto the canvas. Through this formal approach the outline of each subject and its colour outweighs the importance of the subject itself.
This process involves me cutting into my photographs creating screens through which paint can be applied to the canvas. As in traditional photographic processing where an image appears on the photo paper in the developing bath ‘reality’ is not revealed until the painting is finished and the screen removed. Using these screens as templates to mirror, invert and crop subjects, in various artificial colours I am playing on the idea that a photographic negative can be manipulated to tell different ‘truths’.
The fact that the subjects in my paintings come from my own photographs embeds a sense of connectedness yet this remains concealed from the viewer. What is real or made-up is unclear as elements in the picture are repeated and mirrored. The structure provided by the photographic screens is counterpointed with gestural marks made with loose brushwork and colour washes to produce a mix of real, edited and collaged imagery. What emerges from a personal experience is a visual diary of images that suggest surveillance, voyeurism and desire.