Robert Davies Biography

Birmingham, 1964

Since he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1993, Robert Davies' photographs have become ever more penetrative and absorbed by detail, exploring the perceptual foundations of our experience of the world. They have developed into meditations upon those things that our busy and fleeting gaze glosses over, compressed as it is by the demands of contemporary life. That the glance has superseded the gaze is a fact of our modern lifestyles; Davies' photographs - increasingly abstract but invariably reality-based - seek to redress this imbalance.

Davies' early works - huge, close-up photographs of the human body - were in fact aerial topographical studies of the surface of the human form, presenting it as a landscape: here the body became object rather than subject, a thing rather than a person. Davies took this notion of aerial surveillance a step further in the mid-90s. Working as a courier, he capitalized on the requirement that he take regular flights by photographing the mesmerizing cloudscapes and oceans that he witnessed from commercial aircraft at 30,000 feet. These photographs relate to the earth in the same way that his skin photographs relate to the body, reminding us that we are often so concerned with the overview that we neglect both the fascination that is aroused by the detail, and its immediate significance as part of the here-and-now.

As Davies moved on from the 'Cloudscapes' series to a set of work called 'Epiphany', it became evident that he was gradually deconstructing the image. Photographing stills from video footage of World Cup football matches from the 30s to the present day, he preserved the significant moments, or 'epiphanies' - classic goals and moments of surpassingly skilful play - and transformed them into color-saturated, pixilated blurs.

Isolated and abstracted, the information in the 'Epiphany' images becomes a prompt to new experience (as viewers attempt to locate their memory of the scene, replaying it in their mind's eye), rather than a passive document of past experience. The pictures themselves waver tentatively between abstraction and figuration, the brilliant zips of color and ambiguous forms enticing the viewer's eye into attempting to resolve what has almost become an optical storm: we can make out the canary yellow shirts of Brazil, the vermilion of Holland, the Italian 'Azuri', but the frantic action has become an enigmatic collision of forms. Plucking clues from iconic footballing archetypes, the viewer's imagination runs riot.

In his next project, a series of images entitled 'Water' from 1999, Davies extended the process of deconstruction even further. He made a series of digital films depicting the surface of watery bodies: ponds, lakes and rivers. Playing the films through his TV, he then photographed sections of the screen. While processing these photographs, Davies subjected them to a series of enlargements. As the pixels became progressively larger, the images were broken down into their constituent primary colors and figuration again slipped into abstraction.

Through 'Epiphany', his photographs had taken on certain painterly qualities; now, however, Davies' work explicitly referred to particular painting processes and started to explore the psychology of color perception. At a certain point in their evolution from the figurative to the abstract, these 'Water' images began to resemble Pointillism: the impressionist technique developed by the French painter Georges Seurat at the end of the 19th Century, where the image was made up of tiny spots of vivid color that, at a distance, would appear to blend together. At its extreme, Davies' dissolution of the video image moves into the realm of pure coloration, where the cellular structure of the picture prevails.

More recently, Davies has worked on a project called 'Acrylics', which is an exhaustive investigation of color relationships. Here, Davies uses C-type photographic paper, the color filters of a photographic enlarger, and a custom-built light-box to create what he calls 'tricolors'. These pieces present three flat colors laid next to each other, each pure color being affected by the juxtaposition of colors alongside it. These tricolors - like the flags of countries that never existed - are sealed behind plexiglass blocks of varying thickness, giving them a pristine glow as the colors are diffracted prismatically through the acrylic plastic (hence their name). Circumventing the camera altogether, though still using photographic processes rather than a brush and pigments, these works show Davies moving ever further into the zone where photography and painting overlap.

Selected Permanent Collections


United Airlines

The Economist, London

Cable & Wireless, London

Goldman Sachs

Selected Solo Exhibitions

Kulturzentrum Alte Feuerwache, Mannheim, Germany, 2002

'Epiphany', Jason & Rhodes, London, 1998

'Dreamlands', Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham, 1997

'Skin', The Photographers Gallery, London, 1994

Selected Group Exhibitions

'Kill YR Idols', Laure Genillard, London, 1999

'Whitechapel Open', Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1998

'Odyssey', Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, 1998

'Objectif Corps', Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Canada, 1997

Selected Bibliography

'Water', The Times, Creative Camera, The Art Newspaper, Evening Standard, January-February 1999

Live/Life, Mus'e d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1997

Cooper, Emmanuel, Fully Exposed, Routledge, 1995

Ewing, William, The Body, Thames & Hudson, 1994