Moria Jeffrey, 'Kate Davis It’s Truly an Education' (The Herald, 07/01/2005)
Sometimes when you go into a gallery you have to be a little careful. Art can do stuff to you: tempt you to walk down a corridor, block your path, invite or rebuff you.
It’s impossible to see Michael Wilkinson’s new work at the Modern Institute in Glasgow without getting a slight headache. A quick glance at his main installation and the thudding bombastic tones of Pink Floyd at their most overblown start swilling about in the brain.
Ruined Mirror Wall is a sequence of six white-framed mirrors, hung side by side to form a single installation. Each has been carefully altered and painted so that the whole resembles a stretched and shiny version of the artwork on the gatefold sleeve of the album The Wall. The more histrionic elements of the original design by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (remember that army of marching hammers?) have been eliminated. What is left, in Wilkinson’s work, is a highly abstracted image of a ruined brick wall, backed by a dark blue illusionistic space that might be the night sky.
Like many of his peers, Wilkinson – a graduate of Glasgow School of Art – is as interested in the musical subcultures as artistic ones. Over the past few years, cult record labels and sleeves have featured in his work. He has documented his own record collection by painting pared-down, text-free and abstracted copies of record covers. The viewer is left in the position of trying (and often failing) to recognise them, the artist finding the line where there is just enough visual information to stimulate recognition. The point is not just in being wilfully hip (although surely that plays a significant part), but in exploring the exclusive, competitive language of urban cultures, the visual clues given off, sure as pheromones, by the kind of boy who spends Saturday afternoons hanging around record shops.
The other side to this equation is a kind of revelling in the banality of pop culture. Wilkinson has been making mirrored works for a couple of years now, inspired by those pop memorabilia mirrors which lay a picture of a pop star over cheap glass and plastic.
Recently, his images have been culled from those grotesque chimpanzee posters of the seventies. But the new work takes this method further, into a satisfying exploration of old-fashioned painterly concerns around illusion and image making.
Wilksinson has carefully removed areas of the mirrors’ silvered backing using chemicals and carefully applied layers of grey enamel paint, to create three-dimensional forms. The blue paint has been applied using a spray gun for an ambiguous, airy effect. You can’t quite tell whether you are behind or in front of the wall, whether you are looking out or in. The visual space becomes more and more complex as you see yourself reflected in the mirrored bricks.
This is a highly successful and tricky piece. The rest of the works in the show, including a painted plaster brick wall with detached brick and a plaster and resin painted sculpture of a deerstalker hat (that male urban dandyism again) are far less resolved or compelling.
Meanwhile, across at Sorcha Dallas, the gallery is showing its most successful exhibition since its inception. Kate Davis is a young New Zealand – born artist who studied printmaking at Glasgow School of Art and whose work seems to be growing exponentially in stature and complexity. A former Transmission committee member and one of the artists selected for Zenomap, the Scottish project at the Venice Biennale in 2002, Davis has recently shown as the Kunsthalle, Basel.
Davis takes extremely traditional methods of picture making, which includes highly detailed pencil drawings, painting and printmaking and invests them with renewed intelligence, wit and subversion. She hangs her work in theatrical ways, suspending a painting from the ceiling for example, or, in a recent show at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, providing a special chair for the viewer. These highly staged confrontations reflect her acute understanding of the theatrical way in which we see and portray the human body.
The images in her current show are threatening and ambiguous. Bottles and vases take on human characteristics. A figure salutes you with hands that appear to be made from a kitchen cutlery. A pink bottle sprouts arms and leans back, clasping them around its neck. Its plump belly seems to be formed from an overturned bowl. A wine-glass overturns and seems simultaneously to shatter and melt as it falls from a plinth.
Davis appears to be rooting about in the murky subconscious of art history. All those bottles and vessels might bring to mind the every-day art of early Picasso, but in eighteenth-century painting they were a sure metaphore for the female body. Each of her vessels strikes a different attitude: dominance, complacency and abject submission. It’s as though a bunch of complex psychodramas is being carried out at the kitchen table when everyone else is asleep.
Davis’s methods of image-making vary from a kind of magical ultra-realism, using detailed and concrete pencil marks to create something that isn’t very concrete at all, to brisk loose brush strokes. Her confidence with paper is impressive: she cuts out some of her images and remounts them to create an added illusionistic frisson. The conventions of sculpture, particularly images of the female body, are invoked or parodied.
At the centre of all this highly-wrought imagery, Davis has placed an awkward sculpture: a coral pink platform that blocks the visitor’s path. To see her drawings you must squeeze your way past it, walk over it or sit on it. It’s awkward, odd and confrontational. You don’t know what it’s doing there, but, like the rest of her work, you know that it does stuff.