TM Davy. Love Songs

He seems to me equal to the gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking
and lovely laughing – oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

Anne Carson, If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho

 

If Not, Winter 2018 captures the mood of the suite of oil paintings, which are meditations on love, intimacy, and devotion in TM Davy’s exhibition “Love Songs” at Galerie Thomas Fuchs. In his painting, the athletic frame of a young man lies reading. Just over his shoulder, we catch a glimpse of a page, empty, except for these sparse words from Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho: “Stand to face me beloved and open out the grace of your eyes.” The painting shows the artist’s husband Liam, naked head-to-toe reading Carson’s If Not Winter, a minimal translation of Sappho. In the translation, Carson introduces no articles, or possessive pronouns and no fillers for the missing fragments. So the sparsity of the poems takes on a visual reductiveness as well as an audio one—all these poems were meant to be sung and their rhythm and intonation have been lost to time. Like another poem in the volume, which relates, “He seems to me equal to the gods that man,” Liam’s nudity reminds of the statuary of the Olympic Greek gods or some of its mythical heroes (Perseus, Bellerophon, Jason et al) seemingly caught unaware. If so, then the book is both a conceptual entry into the work and also a formal device: the shared title and white spread of the pages face us positioned like a fig leaf for modesty’s sake by just obscuring Liam’s pubic area.

The Davys spend their summers in Fire Island with the group of artists and friends depicted here in the other oil paintings. Take the pair of portraits Sophie and Pirate 2018 and Cajsa and Cicciolina 2018. Both women, Sophie Mörner and Cajsa Von Zeipiel are set to wed in Sweden this summer. In the tradition of betrothal and matrimony pendant portraits (think Maestro delle Storie del Pane’s Portrait of a Man, possibly Matteo di Sebastiano di Bernardino Gozzadini and Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini, c.1494) each sitter holds an object or animal. Here, the couple holds their Chihuahuas. Instead of delineating their faces in profile, a popular format for matrimonial portraits in the Renaissance, Davy paints the pair in a three-quarter view with their bodies captured at half-length. While Cajsa could be a lady dressed in leopard print, her partner Sophie sports a pink mesh shirt, an LV cap and tattoos. Sophie’s decidedly contemporary costume updates their regal pose, which might seem reserved as if for presentation to each other before marriage.

Davy is not merely introducing the visual markers of wedlock but also a sort of communion. Wasn’t it Georges Bataille that wrote of eroticism as “concerned with the fusion of beings with a world beyond everyday reality.” We are gifted this inkling of the erotic in Meghan and Hanna 2018. The women are caught in a sensual embrace. Here Davy’s use of tenebrism is well on display. Like the darkness surrounding the supine figure of Liam in If Not, Winter, Meghan and Hanna are lit with an otherworldly blue-green light. It is the same darkness that envelops the dainty orange flowers of Coreopsis Arkansa. Typically they are taken to mean “love at first sight.” Davy at times refers to these, the only work in the show without a body, as a self-portrait.  Their reflective luminosity and perky hopefulness are reminiscent of engaged couples or newly-weds: ready and waiting to commit.  Any commitment ready individual looks to who sits opposite you, whoever “sits and listens close to your sweet speaking.”

By Andrianna Campbell

 

TM Davy studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 2010 he was part of the tremendous group exhibition “No Soul for Sale” at the Tate Modern in London. Last year the New York-based 11R Gallery showed works by Davy in a large-scale and well-reviewed and -received solo exhibition. In April 2018, the artist presented a painting in the exhibition “Pause: AA Bronsons Garten der Lüste” at the KW – Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. He is currently in “The Lure of The Dark,” a major painting exhibition curated by Susan Cross at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

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