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Limbo Architecture - Painters of Modernism

Architectural Review May 2014

Aaron Betsky

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...Paul Davies has a flatter, more neutral interpretation of some of the same sort of structures. He also goes back and paints the same building in several modes, but all the versions are clear and precise, even if, as in Black Night, Black Well (2012), they depict a nocturnal scene. In that painting, the house rises up in forced perspective towards a night sky reflected in the oval pool in the foreground, a tree in the yard in front of the structure becoming translucent while the slender black columns are etched out of the same material as that inky background. In Home and Pool (2012), the same image takes on a different cast: the sky is a matte blue, while the reflection in the pool, which is still black, becomes purple and the tree is a solid black. Davies then shows the same house again in Family Portrait (2012) from a different angle, where we are looking at the house through a forest. One building, its architecture supposedly neutral in intent and an open frame for living, takes on a variety of different qualities through a combination of perspective and paint. Davies also paints structures familiar to students of architectural history, such as Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, but in Displaced Villa (2013) he gives it a swimming pool
and colours the surroundings that suggest a magic realist version of the tropics. In all this work, the artist works from photographs, rather than from his own sketches, a technique that is common to most of the artists discussed here. The photograph becomes a flat and neutral surface they can manipulate, build on, and transform to highlight qualities that are the true subject of their paintings. The neutrality of the architecture, which the photograph reinforces as an object of interest that has been mass produced, turns out to create a vessel the artist can fill with his own memories, dreams and hopes, and thereby evoke our own associations and emotions (it is worth mentioning here that none of these artists is a woman; I wonder whether this is an effect of Modernist architecture’s macho culture). On the other hand, you can also treat these images as pure pictures,which is to say, as pretty compositions devoid of sensation, much like Modernist architecture claims to be. It is all background for a modern life.

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