Richard Davis’s portraits of the city acknowledge an affinity to the work of his Spanish contemporaries who are themselves inspired by the exquisite compositions of Antonio López-García whose cityscapes are born from an intense scrutiny of the geometries of roads, buildings, balustrades, and the marks that are made upon them.
Order and chaos describes how Davis subtly points to the manner in which the city-based landscape is structured accidentally by urban infrastructure and architecture. His compositions are tightly balanced by the inadvertent harmonies and relationships that occur as if by chance between a window opening, a highway’s lane marking, a telephone pole, and the sensual arc of an automobile’s hood.
Davis manipulates – even radically alters – these found relationships in complex visual harmonies that tell much about the manner in which the seeming randomness of the city is actually organized into complicated lyrical patterns that tame urban alienation. His geometries have a musicality that humanizes their depersonalized natures. - Tom Smart
Above is an animated image of the work in progress at various stages and the finished painting. (Mouseover to pause.)
For this piece, I felt it was crucial that the sky be just right since it comprises almost half the painting. Achieving subtle gradations in color and value, however, is not easy with acrylic paints as they change noticeably from wet to dry.
I premixed the colors I wanted and then placed markers on the canvas so I’d know where each color mix would go (see above). For a seamless progression, I mixed together adjacent colors, mixed them a second time, and then used cross-hatch strokes to “weave” the colors together. This created visually smooth gradations, as well as a lively painting surface.
As you can see in the animation, I had to repaint the sky several times before I was able to achieve exactly the look I wanted.
The photo above shows the studio setup I used to refine perspective lines in the foreground buildings. I attached boards to each side of the painting along the horizon line and then placed clips on the boards where the vanishing points would be for the various buildings. I fastened strings to the clips and pulled them across the painting.
After measuring off the height of buildings and window placements, etc. with small chalk marks, I lined up a ruler with the string and used the chalk marks as guides to draw perspective lines. Click on the image to see a detail enlargement of this area of the painting in progress.
This image links to an enlarged version of this section of the work in progress.
In the animated image above, you can see the development of Granville Bridge from the beginning underpainting to the finished work (mouse over to pause).
To create the working photo below, I used Photoshop to combine key elements from three different pictures. Most of the bridge structure and clouds are from one; the light standard and backs of three road signs are from another; and the red Mustang is from a third.
The swoop of the bridge, road markings, and overhead trolley wires draw the eye in; and the vehicles evoke a kind of narrative in my mind. The driver of the VW Bus seems to be tootling along in no particular hurry. The Mustang, meanwhile, caught between lanes, appears to be approaching a tad too fast. But wait, his brake lights are on. Is there another car coming up on his left and cutting off his passing lane that we don't see?
To help capture the details of the distant bridge and buildings, I shot a series of photos with a telephoto lens and then used four of them to create the panorama above.
This image links to a detail of the centre section of the painting.
The idea for '65 Volvo, the painting you see above in various stages, started with a photograph that my then four-year-old son took. One day, about forty years ago, we were snooping around the Canadian Pacific roundhouse and rail yards on the north side of False Creek in Vancouver. Holding my Hasselblad chest high and looking slightly up at me sitting in the car, he pressed the shutter release.
Remarkably, the photo he took, above, looks a lot like the way I might have composed it: straight on view, clearly defined elements, the car nearly centered.
I got the inspiration for The Proscenium during an early morning walk on Granville Island in Vancouver. There was something intriguing about the quality of light filtering down through the Granville Street Bridge structure into that voluminous space. I shot a series of photographs of the scene, and the picture below became one of the primary working photos for the painting.
This is the first quick sketch I made. I drew a figure just left of center, but then changed my mind and pasted in a picture of a woman cut from one of the working photos. You can still see a ghost image of the earlier figure.
For the second drawing, I adjusted the proportions to create a golden rectangle and positioned the woman on the golden mean (a formula for “ideal” proportion in art and architecture that dates back to the early Greeks). I imagined the sun directly above and behind the figure.
I made a move from Vancouver to the East Coast at this time. Once settled in a lovely spot on Bush Island, in the South Shore region of Nova Scotia, I began taking photos of the sky as I looked west across Dublin Bay. In the pictures above, taken just a few minutes apart, the sky looked exactly how I wanted it for The Proscenium. I had prints made with one of them flipped so that when they were laid side by side, the sun would appear to be above the middle of the cloud panorama.
Around this time Photoshop came on the market. I’d never used computers in my work before, but this software seemed to offer exciting new possibilities. After spending some time learning how to work with it, I was able to combine the two photos of the sky into a seamless digital image.
The next piece of the puzzle was the figure. I used one of the photos I took at the site for the drawing above left, however, as I visualized the painting I knew it would work better if the woman were wearing light colored clothing. This would bring her forward from the wall, creating a sense of separation. I shot a picture of my then wife in a white skirt and suit jacket, with the sun behind her. I then created a line drawing with a grid for transfer to a panel.
This was one of the occasions when a theme emerged during the process of pulling together all the pieces for a painting. It was only then that I began to see the pillars and bridge structure as a proscenium arch and the figure as someone moving self-consciously and alone across the stage of life.
Above are links to enlargements of this painting.
This painting, one of my favorites, is part of my own collection, but it could be made available to an interested collector.
Center City was inspired by a road trip I took with a friend down Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Driving along the winding coastal highway, we relished the natural beauty of sea, sky, and rugged cliffs. Arriving in LA, we encountered a different, yet captivating, topography: a futuristic urban landscape, complete with glass sky and concrete canyons.
Above is a faded color print of my primary working photo. Taken from the vantage point of W 4th Street, you can see three of the towers of what is today the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, as well as the two towers that are now known as City National Plaza. If you compare the painting to this photo, you’ll see that I made a number of changes. I added the roadway and railing in the foreground to give viewers a more grounded sense of place and perhaps suggest they’re seeing this view from their car window as they drive down the ramp. I removed two rows of windows from the large building on the left to make the slash of sky more commanding, and moved in the light pole on the left and the two on the far right to give them a dance-like rhythm. I also removed the reflection on the cylindrical towers of another large building. And, finally, to give the view a more lighthearted, lyrical feel, I opened more of the hotel windows and added a reflection of fluffy clouds across all the buildings.
While my working process at the time typically included making preliminary drawings to sort out the complications of a painting as well as the dimensions, I didn’t do that in this case, and I’ve sometimes thought that if I had I might never have made the painting. Recreating the elliptical shape of the hotel towers and adding the clouds to the hotel windows turned out to be much more difficult than I’d imagined.
As you can see in the early stage painting above, I first tried creating the clouds in a free-form manner. I quickly realized, however, that it wouldn't be entirely convincing. So on a sunny Vancouver day that had the kind of clouds I wanted, I went to a park and photographed a near complete panorama of the sky. I then drew the image below, merging the photos into a fairly seamless sky. After plotting out the windows of each of the hotel towers, I used this drawing as a guide to paint the clouds.
The white border on the painting above shows the dimensions I ultimately decided upon for the painting.
Above are links to enlargements of this central area of the painting.
This painting has been in my personal collection for some time, but it could be made available to an interested collector. It remains in perfect condition—one of the benefits of using acrylic paints—and it was recently reframed with the kind of welded aluminum frame I’m favoring for many of my new works, particularly the larger ones.
A friend and I had gone to an afternoon movie at the Hollywood, a theater a few blocks from where I lived in Vancouver. When the film was over, we went out the back exit and into the alley. It was wintertime, the sun had already set, and the sudden visual shift from the illusion of the film to the stark reality of the dark alley led me to see the city where I lived with vivid clarity, as though for the first time. “I can paint this!” I said to my friend, excited by the idea of translating this clear-eyed view of my surroundings into art in a fresh, objective way.
A few days later, sitting by the kitchen windows and thinking about that moment coming out of the theater, I had a mental image of myself as though being viewed from the alley, behind me. I grabbed a piece of paper and from memory drew this first sketch for the painting. I depicted dark wood punctuated by glowing windows, and positioned the large kitchen window—where I would insert myself later—near the center.
Over the next week, I took multiple photographs of the back of my apartment building and studio. Leaning a ladder against the building across the alley, I found a position from which I could capture the overall composition. The structure on the right obscured the stairs, so I took additional photos from a position a few feet to the left. Above are two of the primary working photos.
Using the photos, I made this second drawing. The stairs turned out to be too dominant here, so when I finally began the painting I went back to the composition suggested in the first sketch: Just a hint of a way down from the upstairs porch, and more of a focus on the main elements--me sitting in the kitchen window and the Volvo below.
Above is a photo of the painting early in its development. This was taken several months after that first sketch. I would spend many more months working on it before the painting was finished.
These images link to detail enlargements of this section of the painting.