Ian Davenport

One element of Ian Davenport’s work that has remained constant over the years has been the act of pouring paint. This is a chancy activity, unpredictable and impossible to control with absolute precision. Because of this Davenport has always needed to keep a sharply critical eye: he edits his output, choosing from among several versions of the “same” painting the one that best achieves the desired effect. The clarity and assurance of the new paintings that were recently shown at Waddington and Riding House Editions demonstrated that his quality control is as good as ever, and that his command of the pouring process is now very good indeed.

The paintings at Waddington were all achieved with the same basic set of three moves. Davenport first lays down a smooth, monochrome surface over an entire, square support; over this he then pours a different paint to form a single, large, clean-edged area that, when the work is hung in its final orientation, takes the shape of an arch whose sides gently taper toward the bottom edge of the paint-ing. Rather than canvas, he uses medium-density fiberboard, which provides the ideal surface for achieving an even spread of paint. The final step is to make a second pour over—but not entirely congruent with—the area of the first, so that a thin ribbon of varying width around the edge of the first pour remains visible in the final painting.

At each stage Davenport allows the paint to dry before continuing, so there is no mixing between layers. Even so, although it is invariably made with the same paint as the ground, the third layer is never the same color. The paintings consist of a building up of layers and the relationships between the layers, rather than a series of obliterations; as a result, they are neither messy nor clinical in their effect. Davenport has been content, for example, to leave the paint where it runs off of the main area along the bottom edge of the board. There are precedents for these paintings—works by Morris Louis and Jackson Pollock, Josef Albers and Ellsworth Kelly—but Davenport doesn’t appear anxious to make much of such connections. His paintings are clearly themselves: calm and eloquent without being voluble. The shapes he achieves are allusive rather than directly referential, and the color shifts are subtly nuanced in spite of the often vivid blues, greens, yellows, and reds of the housepaints he uses.

A related work that was shown at Riding House consists of a matte black ground with a single pour of gloss black over it, while above and to the right of this main shape are two flecks of the same gloss paint. While it is unlikely that these spots have been deliberately placed, their presence seems more than serendipitous.

All the works in the Riding House show were black, and, with the exception of this one painting, each revealed the same three-stage process, although the techniques of application were more varied. A painting with several columns of paint that has dripped and run was formally reminiscent of Davenport’s earliest exhibited works. Others employ grids formed from blobs; overall, the grids are very even except in the few instances where surface tension in the newly applied paint has been insufficient to maintain the integrity of the droplets, and two or more have run together: like the flecks of black gloss on black, the effect is one of accidental precision, or controlled happenstance.

Michael Archer