Cynthia Davis uses space, line, and the color of cartography

Mapping a trajectory
By BRITTA KONAU  |  January 16, 2013

'THESE, UNITED, STATES 1' Silk and thread on rayon paper, 31 by 42 inches, by Cynthia Davis, 2011.
Geographical maps describe space — its qualities, boundaries, hierarchies, ownership, and ways of traversing it. Walking through "Cynthia Davis: Standing Navigation on the End of a Needle" at Brunswick's Coleman Burke Gallery seems pretty straightforward as all works are displayed along the gallery's perimeter. However, not only will the show expand into space during its course, it already describes an exciting artistic trajectory. This is a visually complex show, complete and in progress at the same time, containing rich accomplishment and anticipation.

Davis employs a personal set of concepts, techniques, and shapes that derive from maps, and an increasing playfulness and sensitivity to materials. The earliest work in the show is also the largest. "Map of the World" (2000–2006) explores maps' superimposed syntaxes of signification and foregrounds newly found visual, tactile, and expressive potential. On a large sheet of paper stamped all over with numbers, pieces of world maps are reconfigured, stacked, partially painted, dissected, and held together with bits of paper that is handwritten, painted, gridded, lined, typed, striped, torn, and cut. Like so many Band-Aids, these fragments cover wounds and open gashes in meaning. Davis is here clearly intrigued by the visual complexities of maps, by their promise of certitude, which she presents for what it is — a construction.

Selecting and layering visual information remains a fundamental strategy of Davis's. So does a preference for certain colors commonly found in maps, red in linear form especially. Additionally, recurring looping lines, reminiscent of meandering topographical contour lines and automatic writing, crop up increasingly. From there, Davis has made an imaginative leap to sewing as linework and floral wallpaper as another form of geographical territory.

Three stunningly beautiful textile pieces, "These, united, states 1, 2, and 3" (2011), appropriate a red silk shift cut into shapes resembling the outlines of states. Internally they are a lacework of negative spaces that result from excising looping lines of fabric with the remaining material reassembled and sewn to paper. Meandering absence, like memory, constitutes form. Suggestion of personal history and contrasting colors and textures give these pieces strong emotional power.

The irregularly shaped expanse of floral wallpaper in "True to scale" (2012) echoes map forms but it can barely contain the sensuous field of overlapping scales of gut whose edges are accentuated in red. Suggestions of landmasses and bodies of water are conflated in some of the best work in the show. Under the smooth Perspex surface of "Verdant, World" (2012), a riot of color, line, and shapes explodes. Partial maps of past kingdoms and empires introduce time as another element of disorientation. Spatial orientation appears arbitrary, just as in maps themselves, resolving in an allover design far from a map's matrix. "In this Room" (2011) beautifully integrates wallpaper, woven strips of maps, and red loops of fabric, which are in fact those cut from "These, united, states." Layering now has become organic, driven by the inner visual logic of the piece.

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