October 9, 2016


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Lot 86: Ronald Davis

Lot 86: Ronald Davis

Eighteen Triangle Slab (PTG 866)

Cel-vinyl acrylic and dry pigment on canvas
Snapline II Series
Signed, titled, and dated verso
Canvas: 84" x 96"; Frame: 86.375" x 98.25"
LAMA would like to thank the artist for his assistance in cataloguing this work
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
Price Realized: $10,000
Inventory Id: 23085

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The work of pioneering abstract artist Ronald Davis (b.1937) has been categorized, variously, as Color Field painting, abstract illusionism and hard-edge painting. Over the past fifty years, Davis has been influenced by such diverse inspirations as Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Renaissance master Paolo Uccello. Born in Santa Monica, California, Davis grew up in Wyoming and went on to study at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1960s. There he started to create geometric abstractions, using cheap, readily available materials such as house paint. His work gradually evolved in the 1970s to incorporate experimental, highly textured materials such as fibreglass, colored resin and liquid cel-vinyl.

Davis's work employs vivid color and precise patterning to produce the impression of depth and volume. His interest in classical perspective represented a rebellion against the discourse of mainstream abstract painting, which held that flat forms were superior to illusionistic space. Davis's use of perspective, graphic imaging and three-dimensional modeling engages with philosophical questions of the nature of space and time. The artist continues his formal experimentation today, creating pixel dust paintings using digital animation software.

Davis has exhibited in numerous museums and galleries internationally and his work is in major collections around the world, including Tate Gallery, London, the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.

More information about the work of Ronald Davis is available in the artist's interview with Peter Loughrey, Director of Los Angeles Modern Auctions:

Peter Loughrey: Tell us about your transition from resin sculptural works to paintings on canvas. Have you always painted, or was it a new development for you?

Ronald Davis: I have always been a painter! I have never been a sculptor, except very briefly. My 1960s and 1970s resin works are not sculptures, but flat paintings constructed from molded fiberglass, poured and painted resin, and sometimes a wooden frame or backing. My resin works are all two-dimensional, of course. The transition to painting on canvas with liquid cel-vinyl acrylic in the mid to late 1970s came as a result of my giving up toxic resin and its accompanying chemicals for health reasons, and because I like to develop new ideas using different techniques in my creative process. In short, I get bored when I've extensively plumbed the depths of an artistic eureka moment, plus I didn't want to breathe toxic fumes any longer.

PL: What is the relation between your sculptures and paintings? Did your interest in shapes/dimension/scale/light in your paintings come out of your work in three-dimensional art?

RD: Again, I have never made three-dimensional sculpture, except for a small series in wood for a brief time in the early 1990s. My resin works are approximately one-half to three inches deep, and are perfectly flat and mirror-shiny on the face. From there, I can only say my lifelong use of perspectival illusion is the golden thread running throughout all my work. Illusion is paramount, and the way that I use perspective to calculate and render my work was the same for the 1960s resin works as it is for my paintings on canvas.

PL: Describe your painting process. Do you use sculpture as a reference for your paintings?

RD: Again, no sculpture involved — except in the context of Renaissance perspectival illusion and the way I re-introduced it into flat Modernist painting in the 1960s and early 1970s. Paolo Uccello was a great inspiration to me.

PL: Eighteen Triangle Slab is a very large work. Can you talk about the importance of scale in your work?

RD:There should always be a good reason for a painting to be that large. The perspectival illusion, which is the essence of my work, is so much more visceral and exciting when the paintings are large.

PL: Tell us about this series, Snapline II.

RD: The Snapline I series (from the 1970s) was very successful, but I made so many of them, I wanted to do something different. So I went in another direction for a few years. Later, in the 1980s, I was asked to make Snaplines again, so I did : the Snapline II series. Before computers and before 3D software, I used building contractor's chalk lines to "snap" the perspective grid onto large canvases, which were laid out flat on the floor. I had a concept for a central geometric shape in mind, with an accompanying sketch, which I scaled up, on the floor to the canvas. The abstract expressionist backgrounds were poured, splattered or rolled first; the perspective lines were drawn next; shapes painted next; and the snaplines were "snapped" to enhance the perspective lines.

PL: How did you get into cel-vinyl acrylic? What other mediums and materials have you explored?

RD: My discovery of cel-vinyl acrylic was very helpful to me in terms of color values. Cel-vinyl colors have pronounced contrasts relative to one another, and are easily translated to grayscale— a useful feature for the early animation community in Hollywood. When I was young and poor at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1960s, I used the cheapest paint I could find — house paint, nasty enamels, etc. Soon after I moved to Los Angeles, I got some recognition and enough resources to both pay rent and buy materials. I began to paint my large resin Slabs, Dodecagons and other large resin works using pigmented resin and fiberglass. I discovered cel-vinyl, and used it to paint small versions of the large resin works on clear acetate. After that, I used the cel-vinyl acrylics on canvas. For my most recent constructivist paintings in New Mexico, I've been using rolled-on acrylics, sometimes with added interference textures and gels. Also, much of my work today is created with cutting edge 3-D animation software to render my perspectival illusion "pixel dust" paintings. People think they are photographs or scans of sculptures, but they're thought up, drafted and painted on the computer. No post-production Photoshopping, unless there's a flaw in the render that I need to touch up.

PL: Where did you produce Eighteen Triangle Slab, and how does your surrounding environment affect your work?

RD: This painting was created either in my Malibu studio (the building was co-designed by Frank Gehry and me) or in my West Hollywood hills studio annex in the 1980s. My locale or surrounding geographical area usually has nothing to do with what or how I paint. I will say that I am more comfortable being a hermit in the high desert of Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico today. The fast lane and the increasingly crazy pressures of Malibu and Los Angeles got to be too much for me by the early 1990s.