NOAH DAVIS (1983-2015)
signed twice and dated 'Noah Davis 2014 Noah Davis' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas mounted on panel
10 x 10 in. (25.4 x 25.4 cm.)
Painted in 2014.
Santa Monica Museum of Art, benefit auction, courtesy of the artist, 2014
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
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Lot Essay

Hauntingly dreamlike, Noah Davis’ 2014 work, Untitled, evokes the disarming intrigue classic of the late painter’s oeuvre at an intimate scale. Measuring just 10 by 10 inches, the present work captures the enigmatic nuances that made Davis a celebrated part of the rise of figurative and representational painting in the first two decades of the twenty-first century, despite his untimely death at the age of thirty-two in 2015.

An ambiguous greyed mass appears at center of Untitled. However, upon further scrutiny, a head—devoid of recognizable facial features—emerges, lying at its side. Though strong brushwork suggests the presence of eyes, nose, and a mouth, such strokes are decisively flat, eschewing heavy impasto for a more dynamic palette of greys and black. The foreground, a barren knoll of shadowed greens, serves as moody precursor to the mysterious abyss that appears just out-of-reach beyond the two trees. Strangely, not one but two horizon lines seem to divide ground and sky. While the first line conventionally anchors the trees to the ground, the second seemingly divides the sky into two. Above, leaves flutter amidst the greyed, cloudy air. Below, a darker grey envelopes the barren bark of one tree while devolving the second further into the shadows, void of life. Moody and gestural, Untitled captures Davis’ effort to depict the beauty, anxiety, and strangeness of Black life in the United States.

Heavily influenced by artists such as Marlene Dumas, Kerry James Marshall, Peter Doig, and Luc Tuymans, Untitled suggests a sense of emotional ambiguity and magical realism. A surreal image that depicts a world both seen and unseen, the present work suggests a possibility that the presence of ancestors, ghosts, and fantasy are quotidian. Embracing nostalgia and sentiment, the grotesque and the disturbing, Untitled realizes a prevailing sentiment of solitude, forcing the viewer to negotiate aloneness and explore the intimacy antithetical to being alone.

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