Some artists stick with their medium, style and subject, for a long time. Others repeatedly make about-turns into new directions. Still others keep pursuing specific lines of inquiry, going deeper and farther, continually exploring. Cynthia Davis belongs to the latter group of artists, Ronnie Wilson seemingly to the about-turns, but not quite. Both artists show recent work in “Of Breath and Bone” at Portland’s 3-Fish Gallery.
While Davis is the more committed and adventurous of the two, Wilson too is taking considerable risks and succeeding. She has always been painting alongside a professional career and several of her palette knife landscapes are included in the show. The painting “Awaken” is an outlier, though, as it combines concentric fields of color with swarms of arrows. Yet, because it evokes a meteorological chart of air currents it still relates to the huge skies of the landscapes, alive with moving clouds and changing light.
Wilson’s recent launch into three dimensions may seem like a drastic change, but there’s continuity, too. Her wall-based assemblages of found objects and natural materials are like paintings coming off the wall. They extend the tactility of her richly-worked canvases and retain their coloristic element as well. Wooden cigar molds in “Euphonious” provide a repetition of positive and negative forms that is just slightly touched with paint to create warm and cool rhythms. The symmetry of “Equipoise” above it is subtly undermined by a striped ball turned 90 degrees. The artist’s interventions are often minimal but carefully considered. Composition and color remain her painterly domain. Wilson’s most graphic and powerfully evocative pieces, displayed together, also possess great narrative potential. “Soft Spoken” layers wooden circles and radiating spokes. “Jostle,” displayed underneath, frames two columns of short pieces of wood. Both pieces are painted a warm yellow with light blue highlights. Their combination suggests parched bones shimmering in the glare of the sun’s heat.
Davis’s work continues to be inspired by the complexities of maps but its focus is expanding and shifting away from structural and conceptual aspects of maps. Now their dynamic energy in the form of fluid essences, streams of information and inherent movements are the focus. In addition to material layering, more prominent processes are now side-by-side existence, extraction and condensation into energetic lines. The color red, however, still dominates most of the works with its associations of blood and anger, but also love and seduction. In “river, flows,” made of crocheted, shiny red wire, it suggests a flow of possibly menstrual blood, slowing down, pooling in places, and speeding up in others, like the variegated flow of time and life.
Reconfigured maps are the basis of two of Davis’s strongest works in the show. An old social science map of Europe underlies “another bloom.” Relocated countries free up space for a pinned cluster of red mesh pouches. Possible interpretations for them range from empty bait bags and blossoms, as the title suggests, to drops of blood shed in territorial wars with each map pin affixing a pouch indicating the location of a battle. In “Sicilia,” knotted threads in daffodil yellow and light teal simultaneously mend the map of Italy and hold its landmasses together, and also brutally displace them. The Mediterranean Sea has been replaced by wave after wave of blue and white clothing tags, spelling out sizes like so many depth readings. Geography being dug up and woven back together, the whole piece buckles under the movement of earth and water.
Davis’s work never fails to surprise and intrigue. It is always captivatingly complex, full of intensity and release. There’s never just a straight line; there’s revisiting, like crocheting, turning back on itself before proceeding, always complicated by ebb and flow, to arrive at works that are powerful in their suggestive scope and openness.
Both Wilson and Davis impress with their willingness to press ahead in continued exploration, navigating their current positions without the help of a map. In this recent work both artists have become more playful but also more elemental, accessing deep sources within without losing sight of universals.
“Of Breath and Bone: Works by Cynthia Davis and Ronnie Wilson” through June 26 | at the 3-Fish Gallery, 377 Cumberland Ave., Portland | 207.773.4773
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