My experience of gilding is limited to the placid world of calligraphy. Gold leaf fragile as butterfly wings rests on a red pillow. One lifts it to vellum and burnishes it onto a raised glue to form letters and ornaments. There is drama in the lift and the burnish and the potential failure to adhere, but one’s life is not in danger. In contrast, the centuries-old term “Ormolu” refers to the process of applying gold to bronze using fire and mercury. Gilders rarely lived beyond forty.
I can hope that Linda Davidson is with us for twice those years and more. Her current installation at Catherine Person Gallery is breathtaking. It’s the kind of experience that rearranges your braincells and your perception of the world. Nearly five hundred tiny individual paintings reach from floor to ceiling in a symphonic arrangement of blues, grays, true golds and mysterious ochers. There are quotes of the Baroque and fragments of airplane wings, abstract deconstructions juxtaposed with radiant clouds and brewing storms. The pieces soar in a choral progression towards a sky filled with ghosted putti, fragments of halo and exquisite compositions of the solitary image, a feather, a dog, a falling hand. At the bottom and the top bas relief constructions frame the edges, suggesting both the junkyard and the antique treasures of a forgotten museum.
As Person said after I had been there for the first half hour, (to be followed by another), this is the only exhibit she’s had where people have spent time on their knees and on ladders. Each time you look a new astonishment reveals itself. The range of surfaces includes plaster, mirror, metal, stamped resin, and many I could not determine, and a virtuoso vocabulary of painting methods from muralistic realism to abstract gesture. Some of my favorites were pure pencil on what appeared to be plaster, stunning compositions of line asserted, interrupted and obscured in delicate overlapping layers.
The overall installation works through the genius of juxtaposition and sequences knit into an anthemic whole. But each individual painting is for sale, and in the back of the gallery nails have been thoughtfully provided for the patrons of this work to arrange their selections in various orders. The prices are more than reasonable. The paintings are small, but they redefine scale. Somehow Davidson has mastered the art of composition so that each one is both a successful miniature and monumental, holding your gaze from across the room.
I plan to go back, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to go, absorb this work, and consider taking some part of it to live with you. I felt altered as I drove home along Elliott at sunset. I hope I will be forgiven for posting this small homage, a Linda Davidson sky, my version, taken with my cellphone at dusk.
Linda Davidson says
What a lovely piece of writing. Thank you for your close reading of “Ormolu” and for sharing your perspective on it.
I am also delighted to find that your response to the recent NYT review of Saul Bellow’s letters is similar to mine.
It will be a pleasure to catch up with and share your blog.
Jennifer Manlowe says
Thank you so much for this glorious description of Linda Davidson’s work. I cannot wait to see it for myself… your experience sounds as earthy as it was Holy.