Previewing an upcoming exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art titled “Faith in the Future,” New Jersey-based Ian Davis’ large painting (which will be featured in the exhibition) confronts the viewer with disturbing questions. Combining an aesthetic which is both illustrative and playful, Davis’ painting “Comeuppance” is a work for the present environmentally unsound moment. As climate change talks break down in Copenhagen and much of the US experiences record-breaking gusts of snow and freezing temperatures, it seems fitting to have Davis’ work on display to connect with the beginning (?) or the end (?) of a decade marked by ubiquitous talk of environmental degradation, political instability, and economic disintegration.
Ian Davis’ work is thoroughly in the vein of the Post-Apocalyptic. As in other paintings by Davis, “Comeuppance” features a figure you could call The Bureaucrat: with his grey suit, tie, and pale skin, this figure (often repeated numerously in Davis’ paintings) sits around a table without a center, stands at the bottom of a quarry surrounded by rocks, or on a drowned road. In “Comeuppance”, The Bureaucrats stand huddled together on a newly made island as the road tapers off into water, power lines flooded in the distance, a narrative befitting of J.G. Ballard. The painting is almost disturbingly controlled: with a precision of a magazine illustrator, Davis’ brushwork is deliberate to the point of being oppressive. What is additionally striking about the piece (apart from its topical post-apocalyptic narrative) is the lack of movement within it: neither the water nor the men standing stranded on the road seem in motion, as if mutually paralyzed or un-alive, an effect made suffocating by the pale grey sky in the background. As in his other paintings, Davis here highlights the folly of entrusting bureaucrats, politicians, and other figures of authority with effecting much needed environmental and social change. A sense of futility infuses the work as well as an enigma: we neither know nor have any indication from where the catastrophe originates, and this uncertainty when combined with a technique which is playfully focused, furthers the feelings of disquiet. Like the many bureaucrats in his painting, we are stranded on an island without possible respite (and it bears saying that the work possibly intentionally recalls the horrible media images coming out of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina).
By featuring a painting about apocalypse in a show about “faith” (see exhibition title) the Kemper provocatively confronts the viewer with whether or not he/she has any in the present moment. The challenges of the New Year are many and the answers, despite media assurances, are not fore coming…it is with baited breath that we take the next step, possibly to a future, possibly to drown ourselves as in Ian Davis’ painting. Faith in the Future opens at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art February 26, 2010 and runs until June 19, 2010.