New directions: Juan Davila - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the New directions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Juan Davila, Untitled, 2012. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300cm. Courtesy: the artist and Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Now into his fifth decade of an internationally recognised practice – primarily as a painter – the Chilean-born and now Melbourne-based artist Juan Davila continues to conjure, confound and stimulate. Recent paintings shown in Canberra in the Drill Hall Gallery’s 20th anniversary show, Convergent Worlds, late last year, attest to a new direction in Davila’s painting which has been shaping over the past few years. The first signs of the change became apparent in the 2010 and 2011 solo touring exhibition The Moral Meaning of Wilderness. The catalogue foreword pointed to a radical shift in his practice, one that engaged with “art’s relationship to nature, politics, identity and subjectivity in our post-industrial age”.

Davila had begun to incorporate large-scale en plein air landscape painting into his practice, and to foreground issues of environmental immediacy, giving his works titles such as
Melbourne’s Nuclear Plant At Wattle Park and Pulp Mill on the River Tamar. Also apparent was a shift in Davila’s depictions of women; greater in number, poised within real and imaginary scapes, and charged as usual with his overall lightness and precision of touch.

The four monumental paintings in
Convergent Worlds made their debut in the exhibition Juan Davila: New Paintings, presented by Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art in Melbourne last August. In addition to Davila’s assays into figuration and landscape, this Melbourne exhibition included a series of wholly abstract paintings, including a collaborative 300 by 650-centimetre painting with Melbourne-based artist Constanze Zikos. With its key patterned border and central chain-knot motif, this collaborative work quotes Venetian motifs and imparts an imposing geometric order which is largely absent within Davila’s oeuvre, save for ovoid forms which appear (albeit less concretely) in other works solely by Davila. Zikos is actually the subject of one of Davila’s portraits in this Melbourne show and their collaboration recalls that of Davila and the late Howard Arkley, which resulted in the Blue Chip Instant Decorator: A Room installation (in the collection of Benalla Art Gallery).

Although abstraction is an ever-present quality in Davila’s work – a part of the psychology of his composition and of his self-awareness about the act of painting and of representation – this new series marks a significant departure where the impulses of unconscious feeling hold sway over any need for, or traces of, mimetic representation. Do they indicate a newfound confidence, the distilled mastery of a painter at the height of his powers? Perhaps, and probably more.

The demand for Davila’s work from serious collectors and institutions in Australia has always been strong. This recent Melbourne show, testament to Davila’s ongoing and exciting artistic evolution, was no exception, generating high-level critical and commercial success.

Ashley Crawford

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