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Exhibition of paintings by Ronald Davis opens at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art
Installation view of the exhibition at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art.

SANTA FE, NM.- Unidentified Floating Objects, an exhibition of paintings by Ronald Davis opened at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art on February 28th and runs through March 31st.

“My work is comprised of aggressively decorative, meaningless, unidentified floating objects that pretend to be rational. Illusion is my vehicle. Opticality is paramount.” Ronald Davis wrote this statement for the catalog accompanying his retrospective at the Butler Institute of American Art in 2002. In Unidentified Floating Objects, an exhibition highlighting the work of Davis’ Floater Series, executed between 1978 and 1979, we have the exemplification of these “unidentified floating objects.” These works were last exhibited together in 1979 at legendary Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles—which gave first and early shows to some of the luminary artists of the age. Unidentified Floating Objects provides a unique opportunity for viewers to see the series together again for the first time in over three decades.

Don’t be surprised if you get disoriented—Ronald Davis’ abstract illusions strain and twist perception. Each piece explores variations on a theme (or rather, variations on a particular geometrical and visual conundrum): a cube in space. Most of the paintings show a cube, visible on three of its six sides, floating in a colored plane (some have two cubes, some of the background planes are bisected into two colors). What makes these paintings so unsettling is, first, their perspective. The viewer sees the cubes from an angle slightly above and askew to them. But what truly makes the paintings unusual are the “shadows” Davis has painted into them. In some cases, such as Platte, the dark square that echoes the cube above truly looks like a shadow and adds to the visual effect that the object, the cube, is floating. However in other of the pieces, for example Opal, the “shadow” image of the cube is impossible – nearly parallel to the cube itself, and with subtly skewed corners that make it look more like the unfolding doppelganger of the cube rather than a normal shadow. The longer that the viewer looks at the paintings in Unidentified Floating Objects, the more the lack of rationality becomes apparent.

In every aspect of these pieces, strangeness battles with familiarity. Painted with Cel Vinyl Acrylics (the same paint used in cel-animation), the color is hyper-real. The cubes themselves seem somehow strangely commonplace, despite their lack of referent … the pink, yellow, blue, and orange cube in Stroner, for example, could be a jewelry box, a telephone book, a child’s toy – and yet this strange object that appears to hover in space casts two shadows—and one of the shadows is bisected into two colored triangles, more reflection than shadow. Impossible.

The eye continually tries to read the paintings and inscribe a perceptual logic onto them, the paintings continually undermine the eye. It is this very war between the familiar and the strange that makes the paintings so successful. Davis uses his precision and skill to create the illusion of a visual, indefinite space, of three-dimensionality, while simultaneously drawing attention to the illusion itself ultimately making the viewer become aware of their own processes of perception.

This precise and disorienting dance has long been a hallmark of Davis’ work. From his early work in the 1960’s to his work with 3D computer imaging programs in the 2000’s, Davis has continued to investigate the very nature of painting in the post-modern era. As he says, “I stumbled into a style of painting that can excavate walls, shift the point of view of a Looker in a post-Einsteinian relativity within the context of a terrifying, existential, overpopulated nuclear world, where the observed is – only perhaps – relative to the Looker.” It was a successful discovery. With over seventy solo exhibitions on his resume and works included in some of the most influential museums in the world (like the Tate, the MoMA, LACMA, the Art Institute of Chicago), Davis’ work continues to challenge and inspire.

The enigmatic “shadows” of the Unidentified Floating Objects — conveying the feeling of mass and weight to the illusory cubes are, finally, merely more geometrical shapes. When the eye of the viewer finally sees these shadows as color planes, the painting unravels into its constituent color values and

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