Drips of vibrantly coloured paint make their way down a wall of Custot Gallery in Alserkal Avenue. The streams of colour seem to be the result of a controlled accident – one that was timed perfectly and then devised so that each colour dropped straight down in a line to the floor. Like an optical illusion it mesmerises the viewer to stop and stare at the rainbow that lusciously decorates part of the ground – it prompts many an Instagram snap and longing glances akin to that of a child eager to play.
The work, titled Mirrored Place (2017) incorporates one of the artist’s signature traits: a rigorous investigation into colour relationships and the painting process. Playing with the elements of timing and chance, in such a work the artist’s carefully selected chromatic palettes ooze down in nearly straight lines to the ground. The work takes as its lead the artist’s monumental, 14-metre-long painting, Giardini Colourfall, exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale 2017, commissioned by the Swatch Pavilion. Here, just like in the artist’s latest works, is the addition of an intricate puddled sculpture at the bottom of the work. “I had been playing around with this idea of structures that break down and the idea of fluidity and how this allows a new development in the work whereby the paint flows down and literally cascades from the wall onto the floor sort of like a colourful waterfall,” says Davenport.
The more one becomes transfixed with Davenport’s vibrant waterfall of paint the more they begin to question just how the British artist, nominated for the Turner Prize in 1991, created this transfixing cascade of colour. Aptly named, Cascade is the artist’s first exhibition in Dubai and presents 16 of the artist’s new works. The two new large-scale pieces, Mirrored Place (2017) and Cobalt Blue Water (2017), have been created in a way which makes it easy for Davenport to “reinstall and de-install” them.
Ian Davenport's Giardini Colourfall for the Swatch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017. Photography courtesy of Todd White Art Photography
A work such as Mirrored Place is an exploration of fluidity and materiality. The paint halts on the floor in a manner that makes it seem as if Davenport’s work was made in situ and perfectly adapted to the space. However, as the artist explains, the painting was not done on-site. “A lot of engineering is involved,” he says. “The paint is poured onto metal sheets while the paint on the floor is left to dry very slowly so that it can be cut out. A shot of it is then sent to a scanner so that it gets laser cut from a guy who has a thick metal plate and then we are able to glue these onto the profiles of the metal so that it gives the impression that the painting is wet and that it’s been made on-site. This allows us to install and then de-install the painting.”
Certainly, Davenport’s oeuvre can be interpreted as an investigation into chance. But is it really chance or a controlled kind of chance? “I think it is control and chance,” he says. “It’s that nice sort of balance between these two different aspects.” The artist recalls how in Venice this summer a woman stopped transfixed in front of Giardini Colourfall and exclaimed: “It’s still moving!”
Davenport’s drip paintings are seemingly always in movement – an aspect that the artist often strives to achieve. “I wanted to compositionally make something that could be seen from 200 metres away that could then reveal itself in different stages when you come closer to it,” says the artist, “So that the painting is a sequence of colours kind of like a rainbow that is then repeated so that it has a mirroring effect.” The lines of colour are ever so slightly off balance. There’s a structure to them – they are akin to that of a classical colonnade, says Davenport. “When you get closer to the piece you can see the lines more evidently – each one begins to be much more present. You can see how each one is running to its neighbour or not. The closer you get to the floor the more detail you can see.” They are controlled but have a life of their own. For a moment, Davenport likens the pattern of colour in these paintings to those in Islamic carpets. “I’ve heard that a flaw is introduced to these rugs as a way of saying that only God is allowed perfection,” muses the artist. “And my work has many flaws.”
For several years, Davenport has referenced historical artworks, including Old Master paintings, in an effort to explore more complex colour sequences and fields. “There’s a structure in the way the paintings are made and their materiality,” says the artist. “It comes down to a sort of a research in colour and more recently my paintings have been developed by looking at other paintings.”
Artists such as Monet and Bonnard are Davenport’s sources of inspiration. The motivation for Cobalt Blue Water stems from a Monet water lily painting that the artist saw at the age of 22 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). “This big beautiful painting of the water lilies shows the point when figuration almost breaks into abstraction,” he says. “What I find is that if I use another historic painting or masterpiece to respond to it, it allows me that ability to experience colour nuances.” The sharp blues in Davenport’s work ignite a similar light and movement that can be found in Monet’s painting. Once again, these artworks are about an expression of colour and the subtle gradations that offer depth and meaning to each painting.
Ian Davenport. Splat Attack No. 1. 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Custot Gallery Dubai
Also on view are some of the artist’s earlier Circle Paintings and more recent works on paper – works that similarly play with colour and application. “From a colour point of view the most interesting paintings really have a bright sort of saturated colour,” says the artist. “But if you look more closely in order to have those colours look saturated, there are a lot of gray tones and that’s how you really make a colour painting sing. Your eye picks up on these particulars – it’s about creating a depth of colour.”
The viewer just as easily loses themselves in the whirl of Davenport’s colours as the artist does while creating the works. “If I am really lucky then I lose myself as well,” muses the artist from an office on the second floor of Custot Gallery Dubai. “It’s about this connected quality. Making repetitive gestures leads to that state of mind.” Ultimately, it’s the replication of the present that Davenport is after. His meticulous swirls of paint enact a sense of movement that continually keeps his artwork alive. “I am trying to create artwork literally of the now,” says Davenport. “They must have a nowness to them.”
Cascade runs until 3 March 2018 at Custot Gallery in Dubai custotgallerydubai.com