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* Julie Davidson: Beauty in Transience *
EXHIBITION Julie Davidson Beauty in Transience 7th November 2019 - 30th November 2019 Catalogue Essay by Elli Walsh 2019 Julie Davidson's still lifes posit the fragility and transience of life, sustaining a broader investigation into temporal reality and spiritual possibility. Throughout her career, the artist has pursued different ways of expressing the beauty and dignity of small things. Her carefully choreographed arrangements evince the profound poetry of simplicity, distilling exoticism from the everyday. ‘Still life, as a genre, has a long and noble history - and yet such a simple and unassuming form seems to have limitless possibilities', she explains. The historical collides with the personal as Davidson siphons inspiration from the pictorial traditions of different cultures, forging her own private aesthetic through the layering of connected ideas and imagery. At the heart of this engagement with the past is a reliance on the present, with contemporary visual culture yielding a vast library of historical iconography. Davidson reflects, ‘At no other time have we been so bombarded with imagery ... with millions of images freely accessed by all, there is a blurring and homogenising of visual signposts'. Ripe with visual metaphor, Davidson's new series continues her ongoing interest in the Renaissance altarpiece, with dramatic light and scale fusing the monumental with the mundane. Engaging with the historical trope of drapery, the artist employs striking chiaroscuro to conjure moments of revelation and concealment. As light and shadow undulate along the folds of fabric, we see dualities of enlightenment and secrecy, the seen and unseen. Tightly rendered fruit and florals tap into the symbolic vocabulary of the Vanitas, evoking the transience of life and the futility of pleasure. Yet unlike the fecund, often decaying displays of the Vanitas, Davidson's fruits are flawless; her flowers and foliage unblemished. They have a hyperreal valency characteristic of the perfect, altered imagery of our digital era. Loquats are painted with impossibly smooth contours and crisp buoyant leaves, bringing to mind the faux fruit decorations that symptomise an era predicated on simulacra and surface. The pearly petals of Davidson's magnolias and camelias open up as if embracing the cool light hitting their silken surfaces - a final breath before they wither and fall. These immaculate blooms elicit a soft melancholy as we contemplate how the beauty of life shines but for a fleeting moment before being eclipsed by the ever-present shadow of mortality. The set of six vertical still life panels in this exhibition pays homage to the Chinese and Japanese traditions of painted screens, which were decorated with natural imagery - landscape, bamboo, flowers, birds and insects. The elongated composition of these paintings is like a reading from top to bottom, taking us from historical Eastern depictions of beauty, down to contemporary Western still life. In Davidson's circular paintings, gestural swoops of paint form dark abstracted backgrounds imbued with flux, as if the scene is spinning into a blur. Emerging from these shadowy voids are hyperreal flowers illuminated by a strange liminal glow that feels both artificial and natural. The circular configuration of the paintings mimics a microscope or camera lens, tacitly invoking humanity's scrutiny of nature and our fixation with freezing time. This symbolic sense of capture, of preservation, is furthered through Davidson's use of resin, pointing to the tradition of taxidermy. Herein emerges a harmonic dialogue between life and lifelessness, between motion and stasis, materiality and immateriality and, ultimately, between human transience and the sublime continuum of the natural world.
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