Ronald Davis was born in 1937, in Santa Monica, California. Raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he attended the University of Wyoming from 1955 to 1956. From 1957 to 1959, he worked as a sheet metal mechanic before finding his calling as a painter at the age of 22. Davis attended the San Francisco Art Institute from 1960 to 1964, and studied as a Yale-Norfolk Summer School Grantee in 1963.
From the time he emerged upon the West Coast art scene, exhibiting in museums and galleries as early as 1964, his work have demonstrated a genius for depicting spatial relationships. Hard-edged, geometric and optical in style, Davis refers to his method as Abstract Illusionism. Pioneering the use of industrial resins on fiberglass, his optical illusions of geometric shapes in three dimensions were quick to draw the acclaim of the international art world.
In 1966, Davis was employed as an instructor at the University of California, Irvine. In the same year, he held his first one-man exhibition in New York at the Tibor de Nagy, which was followed by a solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968. In the wake of these shows, his works were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery, London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, and he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Although best known for his works with resins and acrylics, Davis continues to employ diverse media – ranging from serigraphy to lithographs, etchings to encaustics – for compositions that investigate the relationship between space and optics. Alternating between uncanny precision and a looser implementation of systems of ribbons, bands, and boxes of bold and richly modulated colors, Davis’ works are informed by a unique and captivating illusionism that compels viewers to feel that they have been placed in radically different physical relations to their surfaces and the geometric illusions that appear within their depths.
Davis remains on the vanguard of abstract art. Having implemented computer assisted design on Macintosh computers since 1988, he completed his “Digital Painting” series of giclée prints in 2000. More recently, he has begun to experiment outside of the perspective grid of which he is an undisputed master, and employed such media as heat-fused pixel dust on aluminum and expanded PVC. These recent abstractions have further increased interest in his work – prompting several one man shows and a purchase of his artwork by The Harwood Museum Foundation of Taos in 2001.
Ronald Davis currently lives in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. In addition to having been featured in more than 60 solo exhibitions and many significant group shows internationally, his work is included in the collections of more than 30 of the world’s leading art museums. Davis is the subject of several books and catalogs, and reviews of his work frequent such publications as ARTnews, Artbeat, and ArtForum.
The most commonly asked question about my plastic paintings has been, “How do you make them?” My reply has been, “The same way one makes a fiberglass boat or car body.” In case you have never built a boat in your backyard, here is an attempt at a more technical explanation.
In 1966 I began to substitute polyester resin plus pigments and dyes for traditional painting media. Fiberglass cloth and mat replaced canvas as reinforcement and support for the colored resin (paint). These plastic paintings were painted with a brush, face down, on a flat, waxed Formica mold. The mold itself was table height, and the small preliminary drawings I had made foe these paintings were cartooned up to scale on the mold. The illusionary plane nearest the viewer was masked out with tape and painted first; the planes further away from the viewer were painted last. The rapid chemical heat-curing properties of resin (about thirty minutes) allowed me to apply layer behind layer of colored resin until the painting was completed. Layers of Fiberglas impregnated with resin were then laminated to the back of the painting, giving it a support, and a wood stretcher bar was attached to the painting. The completed painting was peeled from the waxed mold and polished. It was then that I viewed the painting for the first time!
On later plastic paintings, i.e. Eleven Colors, 1967, the wood was eliminated and instead the sides were molded onto the painting as one piece, and a backing sheet of resin and fiberglass was added for structural support. In 1970 I began to use a flexible type resin, i.e. Single Sawtooth, 1971, eliminated the sides entirely, and attached the painting directly to the wall with Velcro tape.
For [potential] health and aesthetic reasons I discontinued the use of resin and fiberglass in 1972.
San Francisco Examiner – Davis re-emergesFormer Californian Ronald Davis, who went by just the name Ron 40 years ago, has also kept thinking seriously about the peculiar relations between what paintings contain and what they are, though the limelight deserted him after the 1960s. Trillium Press recently renamed itself Electric Works and relocated from the Peninsula to a San Francisco […]
BlumHelman Los Angeles, exhibition catalog – Ronald Davis: Objects and IllusionsBetween January, 1968 and October, 1969, Ronald Davis produced a remarkable series of twenty-nine paintings roughly twelve feet across in the shape of dodecagons. These paintings represent a unique synthesis of the diverse concerns of the artists of his generation (he was born in 1937) in sustaining modernist painting as a viable vehicle for experiment […]