Nina Johnson is pleased to present The Way, an exhibition of new paintings by Rob Davis. On view from October 20 – November 19, 2022, the show features nine new paintings that provide unexpected glimpses of 1970s America, furthering the artist’s ongoing exploration of the images that collectively stand-in as memories of his early years. Davis balances social criticism with a nuanced portrayal of individual and collective experience.
Davis was raised in a working class home in Norfolk, Virginia. As a child he worked with his father and grandfather to frame houses, an activity which provides an unexpected entrypoint to his practice. The photo-realistic paintings presented in this exhibition embody a kind of integrity that Davis describes was central to his coming of age—the sense that what you see is what you get. For Davis, “There is an honesty in construction; you have either driven the nail in the board or you haven’t. There is an honesty in being lower-middle class; you have either paid the bills or you haven’t.”
Davis’s subjects—a dated, empty living room, two aluminum lawn chairs in a backyard, a rotary telephone, a gleaming El Camino (which is Spanish for the exhibition’s title, The Way)—feel familiar; yet despite being crafted in meticulous detail, oddly unreal. Davis groups his paintings together without hierarchy, mixing paintings of interiors, cars, records, and people in order to echo the fragmented and jumbled nature of memory. And yet, through a seemingly happenstance selection of scenes, or fragments of scenes, Davis untangles both the construction of his own identity, and the formation of an American identity—one that was both ubiquitous, and seemingly naturalized, while often at odds with the world around it.
By rendering his blue-collar upbringing with hyper-realistic detail and drenching it with a vivid palette, Davis makes his subject matter immediately felt. He transforms the stuff of his childhood memories into surfaces that both evoke and provoke, inspiring uncanny leaps in the minds of the viewers. We might never have been in these rooms, or glanced upon these surfaces, but if we’ve spent any time at all in this country, we know them like the back of our hand. Or like the cushions of our grandmother’s couch.