Los Angeles

Ronald Davis

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

In his new work, Ronald Davis is dealing with geometric spatial illusionism in flat format. It has been correctly pointed out that he does not aim merely for achitectural trompe l’oeil in the sense of hiding, or denying, the surface. The material he uses—vinyl poured in layers over fiberglass—creates a glossy surface which reflects light and thus continuously articulates the flatness of the real plane. However, in the works presently shown at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, one becomes aware of a much greater range and complexity of purpose than a simple projection of two simultaneous modes of perception. Only one of the pieces here is entirely opaque, and only in this instance does the object mark itself out persistently on two levels, first as a seven-sided flat shape and then as an illusionistic illustration of a three-dimensional entity. In its latter disguise, the form looks something like a circus prop (specifically, an elephant stand). There is a “front” vertical plane in turquoise, flanking panels in maroon and dark blue, and a top, orange plane bordering a “niche” of which one sees two sides. The middle, or front panel establishes an obtrusive foreplane partly because of the faceted configuration and partly through its intense turquoise color; the darker panels to each side are clearly seen to move obliquely back. The turquoise is somehow more absorbent of light (or possibly more homogeneous to white refracted light) than the other areas; consequently the all-over interruption of reflected light against the geometrically blocked surface is less distracting from the spatial illusion in this case than in the others.

At the other extreme is a work whose entire central area is translucent. This piece takes the form of a two-sided cross section of a box; one looks into the corner; the sides come forward and down. However, the translucent interior (divided into one section with a bluish- and another with a pinkish-cast) flattens the entire figuration. Around this area are opaque segments which only partially enforce the structural illusion. The clear vinyl within is shot through with a wispy white residue; one also sees traces of the fiberglass armature beneath. In the remaining works, surface depth and a deliberate marring of the material under the outermost layer are present in varying degrees.

In a work with two adjacent diamond shapes, several sections are marbled. The effect is to disrupt virtually every aspect of both its illusory and its actual appearance. The shiny surface does not locate itself on an easily discernible plane because of the vague penetration and diffusion of light in its depths. Another piece introduces muted clouds of a metallic sheen beneath the surface. A situation is presented in which even the slightest spatial ambiguity subverts one’s orientation to the illusory configuration. Davis exploits this further by making each work barely asymmetrical, and each inner relationship subtly inconsistent with the conventional structural relationships of simple geometry and familiar architecture. The resulting sensation is comparable to that of being in a slightly distorted room.

In sum, these pictures are far from being clearly visible as flat sheets of plastic, and even farther from being clearly defined as geometric blocks. Their overall structural character is much more legible from a distance of a few yards and at an oblique angle; at this vantage point normal foreshortening seems suddenly magnified, and the sub-surface irregularities practically vanish. One sees from here the inevitable progression from Davis’s small geometric models, in which spatial foreshortening is radically exaggerated in relation to scale, to his handling of illusionistic proportions in the present series.

Jane Livingston