Paul Davies: Belvedere Loop

For the next few days, Paul Davies’s Belvedere Loop will be at Olsen Gallery, Sydney. The idea of “being somewhere,” in these photo-paintings and works on paper themselves, however, is more complicated than this situation suggests.

In a previous essay for Artist Profile, Andrew Frost took recourse to Joan Didion when thinking about Davies’s relationship to place. “The great chronicler of Southern California,” as Frost describes Didion, is so deeply bound up with the West Coast of the US that she might be thought of as a constituent part of it, more than a simple inhabitant or observer. Frost posited a kinship of sorts between Davies and Didion: both artists were of the same stuff – the same place, and the same time, with a shared interest in the modernist trappings of their landscape.  

Davies’s new works, like much of his oeuvre, are instantly recognisable as being of the West Coast. The difficult – and interesting – bit is deciphering quite how we know this. What most of the images “show” is simply a pool, flat and remote, like an eternally-youthful Hollywood face, in the back yard of a sleek modern house. Palm trees populate the backgrounds, and the shadows and light that fall through their leaves animate the scenes. Maybe it’s the instant iconicity of the trees that locates these images in and around LA. Perhaps, also, it’s the colour: a tight palette of bright pinks, blues, and yellows harking to this part of the world, with its optimism, its eternal sunshine, and its relentlessness. 

For all this, though, the Californian “here” of these works is always an “elsewhere.” In a catalogue essay for the exhibition, Benjamin Clay writes that “Davies was drawn particularly to the region’s modernist history, and to the scattered relics, dreams, and torment of the twentieth century. In his new paintings, the architectural subjects are nowhere in particular, according to Davies, who instead has thought about his filmic locations as aggregates of time and space – as kinds of case studies or hypotheses.” This condition of modernity, in which everywhere is everywhere else, is surely no more acute anywhere than in Hollywood, where the iconic and the anonymous seem to live in symbiotic relation, depending on each other for their constant reproduction. 

This sense of doubleness is quite literally built into the works: that is, it’s there in the medium, too. Davies’s original method of image-making stretches across painting and photography. Clay’s description tells us that the artist takes photographs of modernist buildings from his archive, prints them large and carves out their elements by hand, tracing patterns of light and shade intricately. Overlaying these cut-outs onto a canvas, Davies paints the gaps – often revealing the accumulated form of the painting my a kind of surprise, at the end of this process. A series of works on paper for the exhibition also call on historical photographic techniques, pulled into the present. 

Davies’s works are available to view at Olsen Gallery’s website – fittingly, no matter where you are, until October 2. 

Paul Davies: Belvedere Loop
15 September – 2 October 2021
Olsen Gallery, Sydney

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