Karin Davie (born July 27, 1965, Toronto, Canada) is a contemporary artist who lives and works in New York City and Seattle, Washington.
Davie is best known for her idiosyncratic twist on the modernist ‘stripe’ and looping hyperbolic abstractions. Her contemporary practice has been viewed in context with ideas of painting-as-performance from 1950s Abstract Expressionism and the optical endeavors of 1960s Op Art, yet Davie’s art departs from these strict formalist and largely masculine painting traditions, rejecting the notion of a pure abstraction for a more referential and representational approach. Her work extends the legacy of high modernism to capture the dynamics of contemporary life.
Her early work Hey Sexy # 1 & #2, and Wow #1 & #2 (diptychs) 1992–1993 from the Sidewalk series of paintings use the modernist ‘stripe’ motif to create “Op” images suggestive of the female body covered up in striped fabric. The titles are taken from catcalls directed at women on the street. In another series from this period, Odalisque, the trapezoidal shaped canvases with undulating painted stripes, evoke the eroticism of the reclining nude. These paintings are considered part of the 1990s and Postmodernism dialog, with a renewed interest in the psychedelic, pop culture, and the concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘body’ in painting.
New York critic Bob Nickas writes, “In 1992 a tall diptych hanging in the office of Feature gallery in New York made an immediate impression – with horizontally undulating bands of lurid color pinched in the center on a downward curve, it seemed cartoonishly grotesque. A first take: running mascara, and so a body reference; at the same time the painted canvas/painted face seemed to send up the act of painting.”
The paintings Hysteric and Interior Ghosts offer other earlier examples (1998–2003) of Davie’s interest in the concept of painting processes and the body. This work exploits the inherent physical limitations presented in painting and blurs the boundary between representation and abstraction. In Davie’s work, the erotic potential of an abstract image is underscored by the sensuality and physicality of the image. Other series include, Pushed, Pulled, Depleted & Duplicated, Between My Eye and Heart, Chinatownblues, Symptomania, Seeing Spots and more recently Shadow Days (2010–2012) and Liquid Life (2012–2013).
Davie’s painting practice “…is a compelling evocation of stamina, evasion, and voracious sensuality. A persistent, undulating rhythm of hiding and revealing, of unseen machinations beneath surfaces, courses through all Davies’ work. On a certain level, the diverse cultural productions and visual effects that the artist cites as inspiration for her painting – films, cartoons, reflections in a glossy fender or the swaying figure of a woman walking in a striped dress – are cover stories for, or approximations of, a deeper aesthetic investigation.”
“Davie has said she thinks of her paintings as parodies of the motions her body has to do to make them.” The artist has stated, “The paintings are constructed from repetitive physical movements. I think of ‘the gestures’ as behaviors that are both informal and obsessive as opposed to grand and aggressive. I am interested in a visual reflection of the complex psychological and social relationships that persist over time to concepts of the ‘self’ and ‘body’ in painting.”
More recently the artist has returned to making sculpture and mixed media work in conjunction with her better-known practice of painting and drawing. Night Ways, exhibited at Mary Boone Gallery in NYC in 2005, is an example using time sequenced LED’s in combination with the tradition of drawing as a work on paper. Another example, Induction: Symptom 1, a large floor sculpture consisting of strips of laminated neoprene and mirror form a large funhouse image of interwoven rubber brushstrokes and reflections. The sculpture was first exhibited in the artist’s survey exhibition “Karin Davie: Dangerous Curves”, at the Albright Knox Art Gallery and later reconfigured at Mary Boone Gallery, NYC and Galleria La Citta in Italy. She also exhibited Introvert, an LED illuminated cast wall piece with finger holes, alongside six oil paintings from the Symptomania series as part of her solo exhibition in 2010 at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Both of these mixed media pieces refer back to earlier series, My Inside Out and Liar, from 1996–2000, using poured rubber and mirrored glass polka dots on paper.
In the 1990s she participated in the group exhibition “In Full Effect” (1991) at White Columns, NYC, “The Radio Show: Unrealized Projects,” Artists Space, NYC (1992) “Promising Suspects” and “Landscape Reclaimed,” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, (1994–1996), “Painting in an Expanding Field,” Usdan, Bennington College (1996), “After The Fall: Aspect of Abstract Painting Since 1970,” New House Center for Contemporary Art (1997), “Projects 63: Karin Davie, Udomsak Krisanamis, Bruce Person, Fred Tomaselli,” The Museum of Modern Art, NYC (1998), “Post Hypnotic,” The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (1999), “Emotional Rescue: The Contemporary Art Project,” Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2000), “Hypermental,” Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland and Hamburg, Germany (1999–2001).
Over the past decade Davie has had solo exhibitions at SITE, Santa Fe New Mexico (2003), a survey show at the Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo NY (2006), Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, Canada (2006), The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2008).
The artist has also had solo exhibitions at White Cube, London, UK (2001), Mary Boone Gallery New York, NY (2002 to 2007), Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, NY (1999), and Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden (2006 & 2011).
Major group exhibitions include “Extreme Abstraction,” Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo NY (2005), “The Oppenheimer Collection,” The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City (2007), “The Maramotti Collection,” The Maramotti Museum, Reggio Emilia, Italy (2007), “Paragons: New Abstraction from the Albright Knox Collection,” Albright Knox Museum, Buffalo, NY (2008), “From the Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario,” Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada (2008–2009), “From the Eric Marx Collection,” Berlin, Germany(2008), “Between Picture and Viewer: The Image in Contemporary Painting,” Visual Arts Gallery, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY (2010), “The Indiscipline of Painting,” Tate St. Ives International and Contemporary Art, Cornwall UK, and The Mead Gallery of Art, University of Warwick, UK,(2011–2012), “Art First, From the Collection of the Museum Art Center Buenos Aires,” Buenos Aires, Argentina (2011), “Watch This Space,” Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada (2012), “Buzz,” Nara Roesler Gallery, San Paolo, Brazil (2012–2013).
Work by the artist is held in the public collections of various museums including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; The Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; The Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington; The Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Florida; Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany; The Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina; The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; Maramotti Collection, Reggio Emilia Italy; Museum Art Center Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, Florida; Marseilles Collection at the Warehouse, Miami, Florida.