objects of Davis's later paintings and lithographs, as well as the
concepts of Einstein's mature mind, are more complex, and their relationship
to one another more tenuous. The objects are elusive. Their size,
for example, is ambiguous, owing to the absence of scale. The planes
can be seen either as paper-thin three-dimensional walls, or as true
two-dimensional surfaces. The shadows have, to some extent, become
detached and have acquired an independent existence. Thus the objects
hover enigmatically between concreteness and abstraction. They share
this quality with the mathematical models physicists use to imitate
the world. Consider, for example, the earth's gravitational field,
a concept that can be defined mathematically and used to make predictions,
but that can't be understood intuitively the way a rock can, or a
volume of air, or even space can. We imagine gravity all around us,
affecting our every move, but we don't really know what it is. The
gravitational field, and the other devices that physicists construct
to model the world, are located, like Davis' objects, halfway between
reality and imagination.
and Beam, 1975
114 x 157 inches, Acrylic and dry pigment on canvas
conspicuous element common to Einstein's thinking and Davis's painting
is the frame of reference. Einstein drew an astonishing wealth
of far reaching conclusions from careful attention to the simple
fact, obvious to painters, that the description of a physical phenomenon
depends on the observer's point of view. Without exception Einstein's
first question about a new problem was: What is the frame of reference?
Where is the observer? So it is with Davis. The device he uses
to define the frame of reference in Frame and Beam (1975),
as well as in most other works of this period, is the snapline.
As a guide for construction, builders stretch a string drenched
in chalk tightly against a flat surface. When they pull the string
up, and let it snap back against the surface, it leaves a clear,
straight chalk line, or snapline. With dry pigment substituting
for chalk, Davis constructs multi-colored grids from snaplines,
according to the rules, selectively interpreted, of perspective.
To clarify spatial relationships even further, Davis always paints
from a fixed point of view, above the object. The consistency of
this perspective draws attention to the position of the painter
and reminds us that in art, as well as in physics, the observer
cannot be entirely detached from the observed. Ron Davis is always
there, an unseen cicerone behind our shoulder, pointing out the
subtleties of his vision.