Moira Jeffrey, 'Review' (Scotland on Sunday, 31/08/2008)
In a quiet side street next to Glasgow’s High court, I’m in an art gallery looking at an immaculate drawing of a female hand in a bathroom sink. There’s a roll of toilet paper, an empty jar of vitamins. I feel an odd frisson: is this the rarefied world of art or the rather dreary messy one of real life?
Outside the door, life in one of its more painful guises goes on Lawyers come and go, pale witnesses gather anxiously on the court steps. Inside Kate Davis’s new exhibition is full of representations of the mundane and the everyday: a car tyre, a running shoe, a pair of discarded jeans.
It is four years since Glasgow School of Art graduate Sorcha Dallas set up her eponymous gallery. She has been one of the shinning lights of Glasgow’s artist-led scene, co-running Switchspace, an ambitious programme of projects and exhibitions often in the front room of her flat. With her new enterprise she began to work closely with a handful of artists, combining commercial acumen with evident organizational flair.
In those four years the gallery has grown exponentially and the roster of artists that Dallas has been working with has grown in stature. One of the bigger journeys has been taken by Davis, another GSA graduate and a former committee member of the city’s Transmission Gallery Her meticulous work in drawing, printmaking and sculpture has been garnering increasing international attention for its reinvigoration of feminist ideas and excavation of unlikely moments in art history.
Four years ago Davis made what felt like a breakthrough show here. Titled ‘Participant’, it quoted a clutch of art historical references from surrealism to Lucian Freud and featured a giant platform or plinth, from which visitors could view her drawings and prints, accidentally becoming part of the exhibition in the process.
In this new exhibition, ‘Outsider’, the plinth is back again, presented as two confrontational upturned boxes. Once painted pink, it has been repainted black, but the pink shade crops up in the frames of her new drawings.
Davis’s art is meticulous and highly considered. She has felt her way through her development as an artist by quoting and measuring herself against other artists, some of whom such as the potter Lucy Rie or the feminist pioneer and performance artist Faith Wilding, she clearly admires. Others such as the minimalist Carl Andre (of the notonrious Tate bricks fame) or expressionist Willem de Kooning, are artists associated with a kind of heroic maleness that Davis has playfully probed or questioned.
For ‘Outsider’ she has picked an unlikely candidate, the Swiss hyper-realist painter and printmaker Franz Gertsch. He has a certain hip cachet for his images of the bohemian Seventies and notable studies of the singer Patti Smith in her dressing room. These days his work is either seen as immensely serious or rather kitsch.
In immaculate drawings developed from photomontages Davis weaves Gerstch’s images into her own life, placing one at the bottom of that sink for example, or another on a breakfast table of newspaper, toast and scrambled egg.
Time and time again Davis’s work has returned to questions about the permeable boundary between art-making and the lived life, framing images of her own body and daily surroundings along with the work of others. Here she overlays her drawings with a provocative text from the feminist choreographer and film-maker Yvonne Rainer: “I want everything I make to reflect my own life.”
The notion of autobiography is a tricky and contested notion in all of this, but there is a moving sense that in some ways this show is also a leave-taking for Davis. Having just completed a summer at Cove Ark, the artist’s residency centre in Argyll, she is about to embark on another prestigious residency in Banff, Canada.
Look behind the big black boxes in the gallery and you see they have been transformed into glass cabinets. Strewn inside are the artist’s own possessions: a handful of books, a map of the world, some clothes and a crumpled sleeping bag.
This is not some Tracey Emin-style suggestion that the essence of a life story might be told through personal artifacts. Indeed, it seems to hint at just the opposite, how impossible it might be to climb into another person’s clothes or get into their skin. How stuff might simply be stuff and we might be cautious about making too much of it.
This may be a culmination of a longstanding body of work for Davis. Having grown as an artist by interrogating and responding to others, she has now examined her own early history as an artist. ‘Outsider’ is a thrilling moment, having reached a new level of achievement the artist is moving on, leaving the unnecessary baggage behind.