studioNOTES: support for artists/ideas and information

Number 16

June - August 1997

Richard Thomas Davis
Oil over tempera on canvas
50 x 48 in.

RICHARD THOMAS DAVIS has started several new pieces since his show in New York last October. "After doing several small oil over tempera studies and a number of drawings, I have begun two half length, life size portraits (one a self-portrait) and two large still-lifes. I am also about to start a 4'x6' moon-lit landscape, and I'm working up an idea for a painting of the corner of my studio. I need several works going at once because my technique is a multi-layered affair and there is a lot of waiting for paint or varnish to dry before moving on to the next layer. The major works can take from two or three months up to a year to finish.

"The inspirations for my works come in several different ways. Some paintings come from an idea. I often ruminate on an idea for quite some time, slowly building a complete image in my head. Other images come from a place, indoors or out, where I feel there is a painting. I just need to find the right lighting and angle, or add the right elements. Some are just discovered, and still others, like the still-lifes, are constructed.

"The main idea is there first. My recent print 'Landmarks' is a good example of an image that was worked up from a preconceived idea. I am attracted to the treeless, wind-swept, barren landscape that is found in many places here on the south coast of Nova Scotia. I have been intrigued with the tremendous sense of emptiness I feel in this landscape, but at the same time it's obviously full of rich, complex detail. My idea was to make an image that was relatively devoid of an obvious subject, except for the emptiness (two large rocks stand on a small hill, in the center of the print, as a kind of minimalist still-life), but then to contrast this "emptiness" with this complexity of detail. So, with this in mind, I went out into the landscape and found a subject that would fit the idea.

"My work springs mostly from my surroundings. I do not work from imagination. As I said, if I have an idea in my head I want to work out, I go out and find the image that suits the idea. The still-lifes, though sometimes found around the house 'as is', are usually formal constructions. I find objects, such as lobster pot buoys or iron pots, and use them to make formal arrangements.

"Usually, the first physical work is done with the camera. In most cases I have to photograph the elements that will be incorporated in the work several times before I get what I need. Then I will begin to work up the idea with study drawings and/or paintings, often several, before starting the final work.

"The final painting is done from these studies. An outline drawing is first inked onto the gesso panel, which is usually 1/8" Masonite(r) laminated to 3/4" cabinet-grade plywood. The painting is then worked up using a grisaille underpainting done in tempera emulsion. This part of the work goes quite fast since the emulsion paint dries very quickly, with the evaporation of the water, very much like acrylics. The painting is then put aside to dry before a coat of retouch is applied and it is allowed to dry again.

"The color work is then begun and the painting is worked up to a finish, depending on the painting, using oil glazes, more tempera, oil tempera and/or pure oils. More often than not, most, or all, of these are used in a series of layers, separated by retouch varnish; often using one medium to finish one area and a different medium to work up another area; such as pure oils or oil tempera to work up the smooth areas of sky or solid walls, and tempera emulsion to work up the highly complex and detailed areas. The layered nature of the technique pretty much dictates when the piece is finished. Once I get to the final layers of paint there is only so much more that can be done."

Davis was asked about what sorts of things he looks at. He replied: "I am very interested in, and inspired by, the similarity I see in the paintings of Antonio Lopez Garcia and the photographs of Robert Adams (especially the Los Angeles Spring series). I am increasingly interested in the notion of Realism, and I feel these two artists are capturing an essential reality in a quite meaningful way. If I live long enough (realist work takes a painfully long time to produce), I would like to move my work toward capturing a greater sense of the reality I see, by trying to rely less on tight formal structure, and by embracing the apparent spontaneity and immediacy of photography to a greater degree."

His work can be seen at such places as Gerold Wunderlich & Co (NYC), Atelier Gallery Ltd. (Vancouver BC), Zwicker's Gallery Ltd. (Halifax NS), Erickson & Elins (SF CA) and Kunstsammlung Tumulka (Munich, Germany). It can also be viewed on his web site,

-Benny Shaboy, LeHave, Nova Scotia, Canada, 05.06.97

Copyright © 1997 by studioNOTES

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