Just over four years ago, Lisa Corinne Davis curated an exhibition called Representing Rainbows at GP Presents/Gerald Peters Gallery, New York. It was one of the shows that marked the beginning of the Fall 2016 art season in New York, but its open and generous tone presented a welcome break from the clubbish and exclusionary feeling that can pervade that week of openings.
The show’s concept was inspired by an article Davis had written for the Brooklyn Rail in 2014 as a way of grappling with a phenomenon she had observed in the work of her Hunter College MFA students: increasingly, representations of rainbows were cropping up. She wondered how to make sense of these images; one the one hand, the rainbow is a cliché symbol, and on the other, it is a sublime phenomenon. She ultimately noticed that in a world where everything is shared, the rainbow can’t be: it exists experientially, it is unfixed, and it is perceived distinctly, depending on one’s location — even two people standing next to one another might see it differently.
I have gotten to know Davis over the past several years through a group of her women artist friends, and I’ve been a guest at the wonderfully noisy, crowded holiday parties she has hosted. Davis has a generous, full-hearted laugh that makes one feel at ease, but she doesn’t pull any punches in her observations and opinions. It seems clear that her life as an artist is not compartmentalized. Her engaged social life, her adult children, her devoted attention to her students, and her dedication to running are all absorbed into her abstract painting. This noise, the liveliness, a polyglot social experience — this “rainbow” — is the web and pulse of the shifting grids in her paintings.
Of course, when we met in late fall for this conversation, at her upstate New York home and studio, the social experience was toned down and cautious. But she had set up an outdoor “living room” for small get togethers in her backyard, and her front lawn (a week before Election Day) was a cacophony of political and activist signs. Her studio and home are meticulously ordered.
Order and disorder play against each other in her paintings, in which grids don’t behave as we might expect. We look through and into them. They are disrupted by the edges and corners of her paintings, which throw off any rigidly frontal perspective, and suggest shifting, irregular angles. They are interrupted by fleeting passages of disharmonious color. These are paintings that challenge any kind of essentialist interpretation and which, like the rainbow, invite subjective points of view.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Davis received her BFA from Pratt Institute in 1980 and her MFA from Hunter College in 1983. Her paintings have been exhibited at the June Kelly Gallery and Gerald Peters Gallery, both in New York; and the Mayor Gallery in London. Davis was recently the subject of a solo exhibition at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, New York. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Davis is the Head of Painting at Hunter College in New York. She was recently the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Davis is represented by Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco.
Lisa Corinne Davis, “Deliberate Deceit” (2020), oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches (courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery; photo Pete Mauney)