Artist Spotlight: Ron Davis

October 12, 2019

Ronald Davis: Opening the Future of Painting

Originally trained as a sheet metal mechanic, Ronald Davis didn’t pursue art until his early 20s when he moved to California to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. While in the program, Davis moved through several distinct stylistic transformations before settling on the hard-edge, geometric style he is best known for. Completing his studies in 1964, Davis moved to Los Angeles and was featured in his first solo exhibition at Nicholas Wilder Gallery the following year. Davis was quick to attract both critical and institutional favor, and by 1968 his work had been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ron Davis, Three Corners Slab
Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) October 20, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Surrounded by the innovative methods and materials of the California Light and Space movement, Davis began experimenting with resin and fiberglass in 1966. Davis first attempted to replicate the glossy look of Billy Al Bengston’s compositions by spraying cloth canvases with up to ten coats of paint and sanding each layer down to create an entirely smooth surface. Because this process proved exorbitantly time-consuming, the painter then turned to plastics. His first effort to simply seal his works with resin still allowed for variability in texture, so he eventually substituted the canvas with fiberglass. This created a flawless plane in which the foundational material served as a direct carrier for pigment.

While elevating the flatness that Minimalism prescribed, Davis rejected the style’s pictorial aversion. As Davis put it, “I attempted synthesis between ‘the Minimal Object,’ Pop and Op fashion, and traditional, emotion-driven expressionist painting.” Three Corners Slab (1969) (lot 73) demonstrates the same splattering technique popularized by Jackson Pollock, but lacks the style’s signature tactility, prioritizing the absolute flatness of the painting’s plane. The contrast of the splattered field against the imagined edges of the rectangular structure creates an impossible perspectival relationship. This illusory schema, that in Davis’ words “[pretends] to be rational,” unified the impression of Op art, the conceptual framework of abstract expressionism, the functionality of minimalism, and the materiality of the Light and Space movement to advance an entirely new definition of painting. Poignantly put by Michael Fried in 1966, “the possibilities which Davis [was] able to realize” in his works not only seemed “scarcely imaginable,” but “[opened] up…the future of painting.”

Fried, Michael. “Ronald Davis: Surface and Illusion.Artforum, vol. 5, no. 8, 1967.
Kessler, Charles. “Ronald Davis Paintings 1962 – 1976.” Ronald Davis, Paintings, 1962 – 1976. Oakland Museum of Art, 1976.
Ron Davis.” Laguna Art Museum,
Davis, Ronald. “A Painting’s Just Gotta Look Better Than the Wallpaper.” Ronald Davis: Forty Years of Abstraction: 1962–2002, Butler Institute of American Art, 2002.
Rose, Barbara. “Ronald Davis: Objects and Illusions.”

Lot Information

Lot 73
Ronald Davis
Three Corners Slab (from Small Slab Series)
Molded polyester resin and fiberglass
LAMA would like to thank the artist for his assistance in cataloguing this work
47.375″ x 94″ x 1.75″; (120 x 239 x 4 cm)

Estimate: $20,000–30,000
October 20, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

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