True Believer

Catalogue Essay for: 26: Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson Painter

Zen Crusher, oil on canvas, 84" x 78" , 2007


I’ve known Michael Davidson since 1982 before either of us was a painter. He was always an artist in temperament; traveling, questioning, experiencing, observing, documenting. His early photographs of Europe in the 1970’s reveal a deep, thoughtful, vision that continues to inform his paintings today. What we shared then (and now) was a desire to tap into the great well of creativity that we felt all around us. By 1985 we had discovered the possibility of making paintings. How often have two painters discovered themselves as artists side by side?

I have no idea where it comes from, this impulse to lay wet colour onto a flat surface, and I can’t claim to see where it’s going either. The truth is that many times I have doubted his choices, doubted that he would pull it together, evidence of how close we are as people, because I feel the same way about my own work. In any creative practice one must come to terms with doubt and make friends with it. It is a rare intimacy that allows us to extend the same degree of doubt we feel in ourselves to one another. But there has also been between us joy, euphoria, and, always, doggedness, commitment and belief.

While we have always maintained separate studios, they have almost always been at home, so that regular visits, both planned and spontaneous have occurred regularly over the years. I have watched carefully as work has developed and that is what I believe I have to offer to this collection.

I live with some of these paintings. I sleep next to two of them and eat in front of one. What could be more intimate? These paintings are witness to our lives.

Michael finds his touchstone in the American Abstract Expressionists of the 40’s and 50’s. Their combination of spirituality and the concrete physical manifestation of the object are what I think resonate most for him. He sets up a very classical arena in which to work but, when painting begins, there are no holds barred. I have seen paintings morph dramatically from one day to the next. This willingness to sacrifice work completed to the service of the painting is highly characteristic of Michael’s dedication. It isn’t always pretty.

The paintings also tend to lie at extremes to each other. Look at a timeline of his work and you will see bodies of work that shift from very high value, predominantly white canvas’ to very dark works in which marks lurk, barely visible. This makes the work difficult for cultural mediators to assess and fit into a proscribed context. More the pity, for this kind of wide ranging approach within a specific practice could be a great inspiration for other artists and thinkers.

Watching the “white” paintings over time has revealed a slow release mechanism not immediately obvious. On first look it is a field of white with one, two, occasionally several explosive paint events, islands of fractured chroma. Spend some time with these paintings and the movement of light across the surface unfolds a matrix of subtle fissures and folds from which emanate warm elusive pulses of colour. Life is quietly suspended beneath the anodyne blanket of paint; smooth in parts, crusty in others, fat where it’s needed and lean too, settled in for the long haul. Look at Black Star (2003). You may not see it in reproduction, but watch it as the day passes by, as light shifts and the paint morphs from bright gray/white to golden. Herein lies the true gift of living with good art. The dark works read black or grey on first glance only to shape-shift and dissolve into veils of warp and woof, organza, funeral pall or the fall of night. It is only recently that a kind of figure to ground relationship between these tonal extremes has begun to emerge. A marriage is taking place and the negotiations are sensitive.

Looking one day in the studio, at one of Michael’s paintings upon which he had just unloaded a significant quantity of effort and oil:

“Oh now you’ve gone too far. It’s a good start.”

And so the real work begins.

Nicole Collins


< Return to Writing Menu