Wednesday 21 March 2018

What Lies Beneath: Night Painting 4 by Colin Davidson

Night Painting 4 by Colin Davidson, oil on canvas

Night Painting 4 by Colin Davidson
Night Painting 4 by Colin Davidson

Niall MacMonagle

Millions saw Belfast-born Colin Davidson's work when he was commissioned by Time magazine to paint Angela Merkel's portrait for its Person of the Year issue in December 2015.

Davidson never met busy cover girl 'Mutti' Merkel. Working from photographs, it was the first time he had painted without a live sitting.

Many, including Ed Sheeran, Bronagh Gallagher, Brad Pitt, Seamus Heaney, Sinead Morrissey and Roddy Doyle, have sat for Davidson. The result: brilliant, magnificent, larger-than-life portraits. Does he engage with the sitter or does he prefer to work in silence?

"Engagement is helpful, but I always leave that to the sitter. I don't want to contrive anything."

Davidson has been making life drawings since his school days. "I am constantly drawn back to the human form, and, more broadly, 'humanity' in all my work," he says, and his recent paintings feature no one world famous, but instead a female figure.

He uses one model, but each painting has a unique subject.

The naked figure conveys a vulnerability, a raw loneliness, grief, anguish, despair. The title Night Paintings "comes purely from the fact that the sittings took place under artificial light."

For Davidson, what we find here is left to the viewer. Did he "direct" his model, did he suggest an emotion, a pose? Davidson says that, as viewers, that's our response, that's our role in the relationship with the painting.

In one painting, a viewer might see the model scratching an itch on her head, while another person might see the same model burying her head in her hands in despair.

"I wanted a tension in the work which is created when the painting itself connects with the subject and the viewer - this three-way communication. The last thing I wanted to do was to make a series of 10 proficient life paintings devoid of 'humanity'. The 'human condition' is critical," he says.

The brushwork is intense but "more concentrated and potent in the smaller ones, where a single brush mark can have more context."

These night paintings shed light. Ten Night Paintings at Oliver Sears Gallery, 29 Molesworth St, Dublin 2, until October 13

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