Gallery  November 8, 2021  Barbara A. MacAdam

Karin Davie Paintings Continue to Explore Mind, Body, and Space

Karin Davie

Karin Davie, While My Painting Gently Weeps no 2, 2019. Part of the While My Painting Gently Weeps series. Oil on linen over shaped stretcher. 74.5 x 84 x 1.5 in.

Karin Davie surfs the mind-body relationship. She rides the waves of art history, cinema, science, psychology, philosophy, environmentalism, and feminism, creating static paintings that never stop moving.

Davie’s works are at once anxiety-producing, witty, and enigmatic. She takes us both inside and outside the body, through wild dancing lines, swirling movements, and smashed-up forms; pushing upward and outward and roundabout. There’s a unity to it all—mind, body, landscape—tightly bound, keeping the viewer in tow.

Davie has liked to repeat images and processes over the course of her career—"to see how an image changes,” she says.” I’m always interested in how the form affects the viewer—I intentionally scale the body so there’s a relation to me and the viewer.”

The Toronto-born artist divides her time between New York, where she spent much of her career, and the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, which, she says, is “like the Brooklyn of Seattle.” It’s also the site, she notes, where the pandemic began. Although spared from Covid, Davie has been battling Lyme disease for some twenty years.

Davie’s newest works, on view recently at Chart Gallery in New York, responded to the lockdown and the effects of Lyme as well as to her geographic situation.

Karin Davie

Karin Davie, In the Metabolic no 2, 2019. Part of In the Metabolic series. Oil on linen over shaped stretcher. 72 x 72 x 1.5 in.

There is the empty but claustrophobic square space set deep in the center of wavy layers of color in her In the Metabolic series, for example. “We detect the body’s interior, it’s as if it’s inside a landscape.” She adds, “I grew up around water, in and near Toronto.” During the pandemic, she took the time to let the work develop. “I was making art the whole time. Your perception of time is so internal—our idea of it speeds up.”

The fifty-six-year-old artist has shown widely in North America and Europe and currently has a show at the Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, through November 27 and is in a group show at the Sarasota Museum of Art, which will open November 27 and run through April 3, 2022.

In the early 1990s, She began exhibiting in the company of such other noted abstractionists as David Row, David Reed, Jacqueline Humphries, Fred Tomaselli, and Bruce Pearson, loosely sharing styles and ideas but retaining her very distinctive, quirky vision.

Her dots—or pokes, as she calls the marks in her rhythmically punctured canvases—may evoke the active "Op" marks of Larry Poons or the excited ones of Yayoi Kusama, while her stretched ribbons of color are like the transmogrifying abstractions of animated cartoons—squashed, leering mouths, and distended bodies. They are mischievous and call to mind the antics of Wylie Coyote and boomerangs as they bulge and turn in on themselves.

Karin Davie

Karin Davie, Introvert no 1, 2008. Part of the Soft Spot series. Paint and pigment on cast resin with LED lights. 24 x 32 x 2.5 in.

Speaking of the poke paintings, she explains, “I had made these ‘sculptures’ poking my fingers through the holes. The holes are almost like belly buttons. It was reminiscent of Lucio Fontana’s slashings—there was a violence in that. There was a sensuality to both my work and his, and violence takes you into space.”

Throughout her career, Davie has assigned her body an active role—as a rhythmic performer and a structural component. “I like starting by using body parts,” she says. “I’m playing with the form.” Her image of a cut-out thumb or tongue shape, for example, at the bottom of the canvas in her Metabolic series takes away from the perfection of the square, perverting the modernist shape. “It’s a cutout like a cartoon mousehole—another reality—reminding the viewer that there’s an inside to the edge. It’s activating the space around it.”

Karin Davie, Liquid Life with Spine no 3 (Extra Large), 2012. Part of the Liquid Life series. Gouache on shaped cut paper. 48 x 41 in.

Karin Davie, Liquid Life with Spine no 3 (Extra Large), 2012. Part of the Liquid Life series. Gouache on shaped cut paper. 48 x 41 in.

Karin Davie, Chris #1 & #2, 1993. Part of the Odalisque series. Oil on canvas over shaped stretcher. Each canvas: 90 x 60 in.

Karin Davie, Chris #1 & #2, 1993. Part of the Odalisque series. Oil on canvas over shaped stretcher. Each canvas: 90 x 60 in.

She also sees herself in art history, as when she evokes Barnet Newman’s zips as a spinal allusion in the gouache paintings of her Liquid Life series; caresses the sinuousness of Manet’s line in her Odalisque series; expresses the gestural fervor of Abstract Expressionism, the exaggerated forms and lurid colors of Mannerism, and subverts the Modernist grid with drips and irregular edges. She teases, as in her sculpturesque painting While My Painting Gently Weeps (2019), letting tear-like drips fall from the bottom of the sea-green canvas.

Karin Davie

Karin Davie, Ummm….#1 & #2, 1993. Part of the Sidewalk series. Oil on canvas over shaped stretcher. Each canvas: 90 X 60 in.

We engage in her optical antics, in the diptych Ummm #1 & #2 (1998), where we feel we are looking in a funhouse mirror—swelling and swaying. These cinematic effects, among others, underscore her relation to film. Davie draws inspiration from the angst and melancholy of Nosferatu and the playfulness and sophistication of Fantasia—as well as from the tawdry electricity of Times Square and Hollywood. It shows in the twisted neon lights which serve as a medium for her, functioning as a gesture that can glide over landscape, through water, and into the body. It weaves its way through story and imagination.

Davie portrays immersion and recovery, body and soul, sickness and health. In fact, she has said she is “giving form to something that is both an emotion and an idea”—a strong wave to engulf the viewer.

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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