Mercer Chance are proud to present an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Naomi Grant and Joe Davis.
These two like-minded London-based artists met while studying on the post-graduate programme at the Royal Drawing School in 2010, and kept in touch by sending each other images of their recent works. Only in the last 6 months have they been working in a closer dialogue, drawing and painting each other and exchanging criticism in the studio. Perhaps this gently unfurling friendship, in its patient and quiet flowering, is redolent of two very private personalities, who gradually reveal themselves through their work.
Although Naomi and Joe draw and paint directly from observation, somehow their work seems to speak of other senses: of the gentlest touch, tastes and sounds made visible. Sight alone, does not tell the whole picture, but working from observation does provide a meditative time-space; a slowness and stillness which enables a heightened sensitivity to the most subtle disturbances.
On a cold morning we enter a studio and shut the door to the traffic. The heating is broken; our breath hangs and briefly catches the low sun before it slopes behind the rooftops for the day. Every surface feels slick with a slight frost, brushes stiff and slippery on a crisp rag. We sit down in silence and look into a pitted mirror. No performance, no reaction, we just keep looking. The chair creaks with each minute shift of weight. Dampness surrounds us and exerts a gentle atmospheric pressure on the skin. The air tastes…green? A delicate tea, not mint, but lichen. Behind us a tap drips just once and the sound of the aluminium sink resonates long in our minds. We are wearing spectacles that steam as we slowly thaw, another layer of glass, of distance. Our self image begins to recede and disappear. In panic we reach out into the mirror and reform again from a mist. We can reveal ourselves through proximity, or shrink away into doubt. How close do we get, how much do we disclose?
In her self-portraits, Naomi toys with this threshold of visibility; they are suggestive, never absolute. This feeling of liminality, of transition, surely has much to do with her sensitivity to the changing nuances of colour and atmosphere in naturally lit conditions. Even in a world perpetually overcast, or lit by a consistent North window, there is morning light, late-afternoon light, winter and spring light, just-rained light, frost, sleet and snow light, a cool, level stare of light which does not forgive and a soft light that slips warmly away into dusk.
Naomi’s plein air landscapes share the same fascination with distance and touch, or rather the attempt at touch, at a fully felt understanding, resisted by an experience of reality as ungraspable. Yet they envelop us in a genial completeness as succinct and alive as a Corot.
If Joe Davis’ woodland drawings recall an experience of touch, perhaps it is the hand tracing across a braille plaque, for in their almost diagrammatic description, they eschew sensuousness in favour of a delightful clarity. Nature has been processed into musical notation; leaves crowding and jostling as minims, gathering in shoals of semibreves, punctuated by moments of rest and trees in rhythmic progression. However, as a musician feels in each breath and touch, in each note played a distinct quality that is beyond notation, so each mark that Joe makes transcends its symbolic function by having a particular timbre of its own. How deftly his marks delineate the swishing, wind-whipped tops, the sighing grasses, the rustling and scratching of innumerate twigs, the creaking of each trunk’s stately sway.
Perhaps more importantly, sound is a spatial sense - this is drawing as echolocation. It seems Joe’s eye almost works as if by emission theory, like SONAR ; scanning over the foliage, it sends a query, and, ping! Each response is plotted, and by their gradual accretion a picture emerges, mapped in three dimensions. The woodland reduces our field of vision to a small sphere of perception; the eye cannot cast further than a shout, a birdcall or snapping branch. Our minds struggle to find pattern among a confusion of variably repeating shapes but eventually succumb, accepting nature’s joyous disarray. Joe captures the spirit of a place without imposing a simplistic order upon it. Further, he allows the woods to envelop him, so that he is inside the subject of the drawing, making the exterior feel interior, creating a private and peaceful feeling of enclosure.
Naomi Grant (b1987) studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge, before studying art at the Jerusalem Studio School, Israel, and The Royal Drawing School, London. Naomi received the Lynn Painter-Stainers Young Artist Award and the Gwen May Prize for printmaking in 2012. She was recipient of the 2012 RBA Rome scholarship, an invited artist at the 2013 Discerning Eye exhibition, and has exhibited work with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
Joe Davis (b1986) studied at Central St. Martins and The Royal Drawing School, London. He has since been on residencies at the Prado Museum in Madrid, to draw from paintings, and Dumfries House in Scotland, to draw trees. At the moment he usually draws in woodland and other enclosed natural spaces in London and further afield. He also writes.
text by Michael Chance.
Mercer Chance Gallery,
253 Hoxton St,