Harry Davies

As a rule, I don’t trust images. Although I don’t believe images are inherently good or bad— an image can be used for good as easily as it can be used for evil. Usage is what’s most consequential, but for an image to be useful at all, it must obey certain compositional norms in order to communicate.

Although now more than ever images are ubiquitous, the ways a camera “sees” and the methods of looking that make images intelligible, were codified and made normative within the discipline of painting—My work plays out at the edges of these norms. In my paintings, the forms and conventions of Italian renaissance painting—single point perspective, rectilinearity, foreshortening etc. which are perpetuated and made ubiquitous through the camera, are mobilized, but through shifts in scale, and viewpoint(s), these conventions begin to fray, are made strange.

For me, the role of painting is to unstick images from their intended usages—to make them strange, uncanny—where images are caught in the stickiness of form, and no longer can function as intended. This is where painting’s power lies: it is a place where the mechanics of visual communication are no longer treated as givens, but as fluid shapes colliding, melting, resonating, flickering.

In my paintings, I mobilize familiar things, such as common objects, human shadows, and the detritus of commercial packaging, subjecting them to compositional and spatial conditions which makes them strange. I make up impossible viewpoints, and scale and color juxtapositions which make no “sense” in terms of a habituated way of reading images, while still retaining the illusion of a cohesive scene. I want the objects and figures to act upon each other, to feel as if they are cohabiting in a single world, but one which follows an unfamiliar physics. This requires the dissection of an image—to pick it apart and understand how color, space and composition make up a convincing world within the frame—and then a refashioning of its components to make something else. What I hope to achieve is a feeling of vertigo, of not knowing where the ground is, nor what is up or down.

In this application I’ve included a few reproductions of paintings in their early stages.[1] I’ve done this to think about painting itself as a momentary appearance, a flash of visibility, of what is, or what is becoming, invisible— A painting is at any moment inherently durational– it is subject to decay, to decisions, to damage, and most likely, to storage. These early-stage paintings might end up being unstretched and put aside– as material and ideas accumulate on their surface, they might reach a point where they lose their specificity. If I’m lucky, something sticks. This is the way I work. Usually the paintings start with a studied, measured form, as can be seen in the unfinished red painting with a blue swoop. I then respond improvisationally, adding, but also taking away.

At the core of my practice is a generative resistance to giving myself over to painting—to accepting its rules and conventions in order to say something, the way one must do hundreds, thousands of times a day while speaking. It is this resistance to the givens of paintings, the constant questioning of what (a) painting is which is most vital.

Material itself is for me one of the most crucial pathways for questioning painting, and I try to take nothing as given. For this reason, I make all of my own paint, spending time with the material degree zero of painting: pigment and binder. I mix wax and turpentine, oil and balsam, and then grind pigments into them. Recently, I’ve focused on transparency,[2] which has required new inquiries into handling mixing and application—this material study is only just starting to bear fruit, as new methods reveal themselves.  I also have experimented at great length with making supports, from open weave linen soaked in rabbit skin glue[3], to velvet[4] to glass[5].

I spend a lot of time with my pallet, mixing paint, wiping it away. I end up with a lot of wasted paint, however I very rarely throw any of it away. I hold onto surplus paint, putting it into jars and mixing it with past color. With time and addition, slowly this accumulation turns into beautiful pinks, greens, browns, greys: unsaturated color which I could never mix again. They become singular colors, the result of process, an unconscious accumulation of past decisions, desires, mistakes, a sort of compost heap of color. This color often becomes the basis for major steps in later paintings—but for this to happen it must be resigned to the decaying archive of the studio. This decaying archive also holds magazine clippings, print outs, cookbooks, scratch cards, and a whole litany of print media which sits in heaps and boxes. These scraps find their way into the paintings as collage, and though they tend to take up less surface area than paint, I see them as totally equivalent.

Paintings themselves are records of actions, decisions, desires, mistakes, ghosts, cover ups and erasures. They involve a lot of wandering, a lot of waste. So often a form’s path towards visibility is full of detours, and so often, it’s the flipside of an action, the consequences of a failure that becomes the vital form in a painting. For this reason, I keep the pieces of shattered attempts around, and seldom throw anything out. This brings me back into relation with past actions as they languish in the accumulated wreckage of past mistakes in the form of bits of collage, paint mixtures, drawings and sometimes entire discarded paintings. It’s the scouring of the dustbin of past attractions and actions where epiphanies happen. For me, the act of painting is a constant reimagining of what and how actions can bring new forms into visibility, and in my case, the pathway is always meandering.

[1] See paintings marked as ‘unfinished’ in the Portfolio Descriptions section of this application.

[2] See slides 3-6

[3] See slides 8, 15 and 16

[4] See slides 1 and 2

[5] See slides 11-14