Colour Series – Nameer Davis

19th April – 2nd May 2012

Nona Gallery BIA Brisbane

Note:The artist Nameer Davis has recently recalibrated the letters of his name to Name er Davis.

With the recalibration of the letters in the name Nameer Davis to Name er Davis the question arises 'how does this small gap, this slight hesitation, in fact the sound of hesitation in speech, reshape the sense of this appellation, and what bearing does this new calibration have in an appraisal of his painting?'

The exhibition of fifteen works that was Colour Series remains in my recall as a quiet crossover between up close and personal contact with the seen subject in the smaller works and a far-away close-up of the crowd in the larger paintings. By a far-away close-up I mean that while we are looking at the figurative assembly of what is evidently a crowd seen from a distance, the figures gradually become individual people and are wrested from the crowd in some miniature spatially 'distant' form. Isolate and fully realised, each figure is alone in the crowd together.

Exhibited with the Crowd paintings are several small scale portraits notably Photo-synthesis 5 comprised of 14 small portraits of Algerian women sourced from a book of photographs taken of the tribal village people in 1960 Algeria. The nearly 2000 photographs in the book were taken over a short 10 day period for Identity cards as required by the French Colonial rule. In the arrangement of Photo-synthesis 5, it is interesting to note that a movement of spaces are left between the individual top left image and the small groupings of accumulating numbers of 2, 3, 4, & 4.

What began almost a decade ago in Davis' work was a budding and sprouting of the emergent crowd. During an artist residency in Taiwan in 2003 he spent his days photographing the melange of activity in the busy streets of Taipei. Relying on the quick decision of that moment to frame the subject in the moment, these fixed images were often blurred in their hasty capture in both the singular and the collective; they have been a central supply source for the work that continues to challenge Davis.

The painting of a crowd of some 500 to 1000 figures requires a special commitment in time as the gradual accrual of marks generates a story. The figures' surfacing in the painting come about through punctuated moments in which that individual figure becomes focused and brought forward concretely; as of a remembered past experience in some semi-forgotten public space. Working from photographic blurs of people on streets functions as a memory aid as the process of such a painting involves a recapitulation - a driven mechanical representation of people seen in other moments, in other places.

By forming a systematic grid or processed drip placement the decisions of composition are deleted from the process of painting the figures. This leads in the end to an emergent possibility for the painting as un- predetermined outcome that may move towards portraying a sensation of Being amid the cross flows of the energy of a crowd. Being in the sense of having a social and a physical value not actively free, of Being held in actuality as well as in a social context, as Baudelaire described the flaneur … 'a passionate spectator fading into the crowd … as though the crowd (it) were an immense reservoir of electric energy.'

In These Resisting Combinations small groups of figures force the black/ blue/ grey grid to the edges of the pictorial space to find the collective in a tight composition of an architecturally laid out format. Each figure forming the Crowd that inhabits the central space of the pictorial plane; each one hanging silhouetted against a white ground, the high contrast of light and dark transforming them into a bas relief of carved and modelled sculptural objects united in the moment. Resisting this figurative concreteness is an edgy geometry created by the colour grids refusing to remain quiet as they clatter across each other towards the central space bracketing the Crowd within. The placement of the colour blocks in relation to the figurative assembly is at odds with an orderly outcome and a resistant volumetric spatial ground is set. A third element in the mix is a graphic black and white patterned layer suspended from the top of the painting. The combinations of these 'resisting' layers presents an uneasy theatre of figures, colours, pattern in which individual moments of social transactions are played out in the slight disjunction between the individual and the collective.

At this point I would like to introduce the possibility that in the isolation of 'er' from Name and Davis, there may be a small aperture into the sometimes enigmatic characteristics of his work. In the English language the suffix er is used to form nouns designating persons from the object of their occupation or labour, as in Painter or from their place of origin or abode as in Northerner. In the second instance er serves to turn the verb into an active agent such as teacher; theorizer; traveller. We also have the Etymology of er as a noun meaning heir, someone who inherits; a successor in a role; someone representing continuity with the predecessor. Then there is the Etymology of er in languages other than English such as Faroese, Germanic, Icelandic: er every; to be; being; existence; there; him; her; it; them; I am. Next there is er as a conjunction of a place, of a time (when). And finally there is the old Turkic er meaning man; private; and reach (to extend). It seems there is a taxonomy becoming apparent here in the meanings attached to er and in turn constructing a profile that refers to 'someone' who has agency, not er as the sound of hesitation but er as an interjection into the conversation between Name and Davis.

Nameer Davis comes from a coalition of cultures, a successful marriage between an Englishman and an Iraqi Jewess. There was a time when she was exiled as a citizen from her own country and in time was welcomed as citizen, wife and mother in another world. In the course of this shifting ethos there would be a restructuring of the past and a move towards the new in order to prosper under the upheavals and differences inevitably encountered. Memories may be left in time but are never totally lost. For the heir to this inheritance, in the movement between what has been, what is, and what remains of his mother's ancestors re-membered in him, perhaps there is a story to be remembered and told of a culture that was not his, yet remains his.

So what is it that whispers to us from the paintings of Name er Davis? Those paintings marking out an independent space for themselves where architectural inventions exist together with 'that immense reservoir of electric energy' the Crowd; where the individual remains integrated yet distinct from the collective; where the layers of time spent in the making sit lightly for the viewing and then there's that magical banal slight monumental moment of lost cogency that found a moment of expression in time.

Barbara Penrose


The Palace Gallery, Brisbane

Visual Word/ks, a joint exhibition by Barbara Penrose and Nameer Davis, was most impressive for me in terms of Davis' main installation – a rather baffling three-dimensional textual construction based upon an exchange between James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Partially reminiscent of the metallic bricolage of the American sculptor David Smith and partially reminiscent of such lettriste sculpture as the early work of the French artist Paul Gette, Davis' installation could also be mistaken for a rather disorderly variation upon some monosyllabic graphic theme by Edward Ruscha. But whereas Ruscha tends to draw or paint the individual noun or imperative, Davis' installation takes the unusual step of orchestrating an anecdotal exchange between the two masters of early and late modernism:

James Joyce: " How could the idealist Hume write a history?"

Samuel Beckett: "A history of representations."

Put very simply, Davis presents a three dimensional, typographical - and virtually calligraphical – orchestration of this question and answer, projecting its signs into space, somewhat as Robert Wilson's adaptations of past dramatic classics project and re-orchestrate sections from Ibsen's, Shakespeare's and other precursors' texts across a variety of media.

What one confronts in Wilson's work is dramatically dislocated word and gesture, as several representatives of a single character dismantle and reassemble segments of utterance and action at different speeds. Abandoning explicit continuity, Wilson's adaptations of past works provoke intensified awareness of the molecules of habitual communication, as opposed to the banality of its superficially meaningful momentum. Watching Wilson's productions, one is constantly exposed to marginalized creative energies, such as the shock of slowly disintegrating film-frames, when the reel stops turning, and the cinematic 'real' starts burning.

Davis' work, I think, has something of the same effect. Preventing the satisfies over-glance, his typographical modules- each one a textual totem in its own right- command careful consideration as amalgams of both encoded semantic clue and inscribed geometric gesture. Gradually, very gradually, clusters of three-dimensional angles become manifest as letters, and then as specific words, as the reader decodes Davis' three-dimensional alphabetic icons, and- if sufficiently patient and perceptive- becomes aware of an increasingly evident verbal exchange within this apparent maze of sculptural narrative fallout.

Surprisingly, perhaps Davis' work convincingly has its cake and eats it. Both a semi-abstract sculpture and a semi-concrete text, this seemingly inchoate geometric and linguistic rebus slowly floats into focus as its architectural and anecdotal subtexts make increasingly concurrent and contagious sense.

But does Davis' installation really work? And what would it mean for such a composition to really work? If to 'really work' implies eventual legibility, then this installation was not entirely successful from my point of view. Too tired, too impatient, too blinkered perhaps, I couldn't readily decipher its narrative without considerable assistance.

But as Davis assured me, numerous visitors at the exhibition's opening successfully followed his installation's trail from start to finish. And once Davis' comments-subtitles as it were-had pointed me in the right direction, I found myself enthralled by his installation-if not so much by its success, as by the problems and implications. " What a curious work!", I find myself rethinking. " What an inventive if slightly unfathomable assemblage of gestural, sculptural letters-and grouplets of letters, of words and sentences and-all in all-of enigmatically balanced interchange!" Like Wilson, Davis mixes media, fragments communicative clarity, and reveals communicative complexity as one looks across rather than along individual media. Like Burroughs, Davis explores illuminating cut-ups between media, generating new energies at their interstices. Like Cage, Davis sculpts language, revealing doubled or trebled narratives, as the eye explores dense peripheral visions-or more accurately, as the eye is more or less compelled to absorb dense peripheral detail, before it extricates itself from such macrocosmic fields in order to trace embedded microcosmic inscriptions-semantic needles, as it were, within sculptural haystacks.

The tension between these partially explicit forces is what gives this installation its haunting impact and individuality. Resisting slick verbal economy and obvious legibility, Davis creates a highly inventive, partially gestural, partially hard-edge, verbal-visual rhetoric charged with idiosyncratic integrity. Looking distractingly like alphabetical chess pieces upon the palace Gallery's checkered lino floor, Davis subtle construction did not really seem installed to best advantage. Nevertheless, the fact that it survived this rough and ready location, and generated such startling energies, suggests that Davis has successfully discovered a highly personal sculptural iconography, rich with subsequent potential.



Jiangsu Evening Post, Nanjing, 3/5/01

An interesting exhibition was organized at the Banpo Cun Cafe yesterday, for the appreciation of art pieces. Australian artist Nameer Davis presented one of his pieces, artfully composed from glass cups, paper and clothing. He demonstrated to the audience, scores of his accompanying articles by means of a slide show.

Davis has been doing these exhibitions out of his won pocket. He will also be holding talks at Nanshi ( Nanjing Teachers Training Institute) and Nanyi ( Nanjing School of Arts).

Formerly Head of an Arts Department of an Institute in Brisbane, he quit his teaching career one day, deciding to let his interest lead him towards creating artwork traveling around more freely.

Sitting in front of reporters, he looks more like a down-to-earth rural farmer, without any trace of extravagant or baronial feelings. He smokes cheap Hongmei cigarettes. While traveling in China, he prefers taking a train to save money and to put it in his own words, "on a train is the best way to exchange views with local people".

He did not understand much Chinese but with the sensitive intuition of an artist, Davis could in fact "talk" enjoyably with the people next to him, using gestures and facial expressions. Embracing his ideal in arts, he would travel on and on, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing, Hong Kong and to Nanjing. It may seem like "roaming", but there is no turning back.

Translated from Chinese by Kelvin Cheuk Kwan Lo

View that takes us nowhere

May 25th 2003, Taipei Times

Australian artists Barbara Penrose and Nameer Davis are currently in residence at the Taipei Artist Village, and the small team exhibition, Mimics and Models, is their ephemeral contribution to the local scene. The show is basically at Taipei and interesting for a few frank observations on our home turf, but fizzles in terms of larger statements.

The exhibition's first room is a scrapbook of travel notes and fresh reactions that stem from urban Taipei, especially the area around Taipei train Station. One of a few observations on this city scribbled on one of the exhibition space walls provides one of the shows better moments. It reads, " at peak hour, in a crowd we were waiting to cross chunghsiao rd at the main station. A large bus was turning the corner we were standing on, it had a long mirror window, and the whole crowd was reflected in the window. As the bus turned, we were turned, our images turned around us, the bus window was10 metres long, 1.2 metres above the ground and 2 metres wide. It carried our reflections for 20 or 30 metres upon it before we slid off."

The rest of the walls are meanwhile covered with cutouts of the Shi Kong Life Tower, folded pieces of paper, watercolour sketches of the MRT, computer printouts of hundreds of locally taken digital photos, tracings of Chinese characters and sketches of Chinese screens. On one wall these odds and ends are connected by a running strand of red string, and after I'd pondered it for a moment, Julie Andrews appeared in my mind, singing: "…brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things."

Indeed the bric-a-brac is romanticized, mostly out of a forgivable, bubbly enthusiasm for new forms Taipei has to offer. But when the statement grows in the second room to assert larger connections, it begins to falter. Half the room is full of architectural drawings that attempt to assert connections between Taipei's cityscape and ancient Chinese architecture, as if some ancient spirit of all things Chinese were finding some new avatars in the city's generic, industrial sprawl. A police station loudspeaker tower is pitted against a pagoda (c.1290) and the Civic boulevard skyline is compared to a traditional Chinese architectural motif. There are many more examples and the problem with all of them is that the coincidences are just coincidences. At a basic level, any tower- form recalls most other tower-forms. The artists like many new arrivals, seem to fall into a trap of thinking they see Chineseness in everything around them. Certainly Taipei is different from Sydney, but all too often these architectural drawings attempt to ascribe some Platonic ideal of pure Chinese character to buildings that are for the most part generic, especially the Civic Boulevard skyline.

Davis and Penrose announce in a statement that the art they're doing is an effort "to understand the difference in the dynamics of Australian public/private space and Taiwanese public/private spaces." Where they most successfully achieve this is in the exhibition's third section. It's a collection of rulers painted on canvas with irregular groups of people – groups they seem to have observed in Taipei's streets – superimposed over the inch and centimeter calibrations. The juxtaposition presents an interesting paradox of urban living here is no simple way of calibrating groups of people, and yet we have created cities of uncompromising calibrated order.