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This Is Pop

Ian MacLean Davis Updates a Now Benchmark Style For The Current Millennium

MAX HEADROOM: Davis' "Nominee."

By Kate Noonan | Posted 2/27/2008

Ian MacLean Davis: Culture Pop

Ended, at the Hoffberger Gallery, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation

Ian MacLean Davis tries to figure out how to make pop art for a post-pop culture with a collection of 12 recent works at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation's Hoffberger Gallery. The highly theoretical yet accessible paintings in Culture Pop address culture and the way it interrelates with technology and the media. Culture was once considered the summation of a society's achievements, but today the very definition of culture is much more loose. Culture has come to encompass everyday life: our habits, fascinations, and trends. As Davis writes in his artist statement, the term "culture" now identifies "what we do" rather than what we aspire to.

Many of the works featured in Culture Pop were previously exhibited in Davis' 2006 Maryland Institute College of Art master's thesis exhibition, and the newer pieces show a substantial growth in conceptual confidence and technique. Davis mixes high and low culture in the same way as his pop-art predecessors but modernizes his process. While Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist worked with mass-production techniques such as silk-screening to emulate the print media of the 1960s, Davis looks to the internet, using digital-imaging techniques to create distorted abstractions. These images, often taken from album covers, are then transferred to another surface, usually paper or canvas, with graphite. Some works remain traces of pixels, elegant studies in line and negative space, while others receive a coating of acrylic tinted in desktop colors. The result is a distinctly modern vision of contemporary society, reverberating with the static buzz and frenetic pace of this electronic age.

Part of Davis' intrigue lies in his familiar but mysterious content. He engages viewers in a one-on-one game, challenging you to discover the source of his images, which are often layered one on top of another. "Sea" initially reads as a nonobjective mass of textures and obsessive lines that run up the vertical canvas in a liquid swirl. Upon further study, the painting begins to cast off layers, revealing the seductive intertwining of iconic images of women underneath: Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is overlaid with the sensuous curves of a contorted pinup girl, combining an ancient ideal of beauty with a modern one.

Davis explores iconic images of women in several other works, including "Wig," his nod to Warhol's Marilyn Monroe screen prints. But unlike Warhol's fluorescent works, Davis' pixilated Monroe is almost colorless, rendered in shades of gray and white, with a few rose-colored areas delineating her unmistakable pout. She is instantly identifiable with just a few visual cues, but by taking an image and distorting it to the point where it should be unrecognizable, Davis reminds us of our media-saturated lives.

Each of "Pepper 1," "2," and "3"--three small panels that, although not displayed as a group, relate as one larger piece--is a cropped portion of the cover to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which itself incorporated images of figures from high and low culture. The works are displayed out of order and far apart--compartmentalizing and dissecting information into blurbs that only offer part of the story, mimicking the way in which media present news bits. Rather than gaining a holistic view, you get a piece here and a taste there, leaving traces of an idea rather than a whole.

The most striking piece in the show is Davis' most recent work, the solvent-printed vinyl installation "Nominee." Using commercial sign-making media, Davis presents an anonymous political candidate, stiffly smiling through the implied lens of a camera. It's the image of a candidate not fully realized--no distinguishing personality, characteristics, or message. Instead, he has been watered down by technology and looks like just another underdeveloped political figure through the lens of the camera--piquantly topical during this campaign season.

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