Lisa Corinne Davis’ paintings will not help someone get across town, or even the corner store. But they might make them think differently.
“I am basically trying to make allusions to maps,” Davis said.
Davis will speak at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center about her unique oil paintings, which combine organic and linear shapes.
This mix is, for Davis, a synthesis of two different vocabularies, a more objective one (the lines) and a more subjective one (the organic shapes and colors). The results are paintings that could be subway maps, spider webs, or pure abstraction.
“It’s the shifting that I’m interested in,” Davis said. “As you scan the painting, something shifts and [a form you were looking at] becomes something else.”
Despite alluding to maps, Davis avoids working symbolism into her shapes, allowing them to be more open to interpretation.
“Symbolic language came out of religion,” she said. “[But] we don’t have that anymore.”
There are exceptions to this — major religious symbols (the cross, the star of David) are still universally recognized, and cultural icons like Michael Jackson are worldwide phenomenon. According to Davis, though, the old, detailed language of symbolism is dead.
Even personal identity is fluid, according to Davis. While identity plays into her work — Davis self-describes as an African-American women who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and went to a Quaker school — it can shift.
“Neither race nor gender is fixed, and notions of hybridity prevail,” Davis said in a recent interview with Studio International. “Perhaps a painting shouldn’t be called a painting either. I don’t want it to be fixed, to be only one thing.”
Despite her focus on shifting ideas and interpretations, Davis prefers to avoid terms like “postmodern.”
“I don’t think of my work as postmodern. I think of it as formal and modern,” she said.
This interest in how different people view the same thing extends to Davis’ work at Hunter College, where she is a professor.
“My favorite thing [about teaching] is what I get back from it, which is how young people think,” she said.
In one instance in particular, Davis noticed her students were suddenly — to use her term — sappy, painting rainbows and beaches.
“They were actually seeking out a genuine experience,” Davis said, and using clichés in an attempt to capture a powerful movement. It was something Davis had not considered before.
She has shared some of her experiences with this generational shift through a series of essays published in the art magazine Brooklyn Rail, including one titled, appropriately, “Representing Rainbows.”
This will be Davis’ first time visiting Chautauqua, and like the other art lecturers, she has worked with the School of Art students all week.
“I am very curious about [Chautauqua],” Davis said. “I just can’t imagine who is there.”