Compared to Conley's work, Michael David's field paintings are geological, or at least botanical, in pace. But the fixed views of wild grasses belie the small-scale activity that Conley's paintings lack. The evident flurry of surface attacks reminds me of high-speed street art spectacles I saw ten years ago in tourist-choked Mazatlan, Mexico, where first-come, first-served assemblages of stencils, sprays, and scrubbings evolved over a matter of minutes and sold just as quickly. Likewise, I would love to watch David charm leaves and blades from flat pools of dense color. He seems to command the speed of that scene in Mexico without the crudeness, for better or worse. Flicks and swipes pull away the wet top layer to reveal the white undercoat, the light from within. This multiplies to create fields from color fields.
David revels in the creation of folding, twisting, slashing ribbons of grass that visually bound toward the eye; but without the buildup of monotone paint, these details are actually farther away-projecting a concave as a convex. The flaps of leaves carve unmistakable dimension with a simple flat stroke. This technique also pools some wet color at the leaves' edges, lending a slightly graphic clarity to the activity. I can't help but recall the Brazilian Alexandre Orion's pollution-scrubbing graffiti in conjunction with David's work.
Behind Orion's and David's techniques lies a monochrome essence. This is not the black of Orion's pollution or the green, blue, yellow, or terra cotta of David's paint. In both cases the lifeblood is the luminous white behind, the excavated side, the history of the piece. A grander history of painting gets David's nod, like Ellsworth Kelly's monochromes, as well as the more ancient history of landscapes spanning hundreds of years to the present. References aside, the work shows limited scope, with mostly only simple size and color variations propelling me to the next piece. They all conjure new landscapes in a sense, but only August, "the yellow one", you might say, has a maniacally different ken. This is largely tied to color theory and yellow's relative closeness to white, as well as the way it darkens into a muddy brown utterly unlike its high-chroma self. The effect is a flat, Van Gogh-like graphic of gnarly yellow leaves. Botany over monotony.
(Images: Michael David, Blue Grass, 2001
oil on gessoed panel,
12 x 12"; July, 2005, oil on gessoed panel, 36 x 36"; August, 2005, oil on gessoed panel, 36 x 36"; Red Field III (detail of triptych), 2000, oil on gessoed panel, 12 x 12". All images courtesy of room for painting room for paper and the artist.)