by Avantika ShankarMar 01, 2021
An abiding love for nature becomes an impetus to creativity, combining with firm materials to run through Alex Davis’ latest body of work, Moody Blooms. Massive flowering blossoms burst from walls, setting a visually arresting paradox by juxtaposing the fragility of flowers against the solid materiality of steel that they are expressed in. Under the touch of the artist, sculptor and designer, dusky tones bleed into multi-layered petals of stainless steel, which are arranged to emulate an inflorescence of sunflowers, poppies, irises, orchids, daffodils, and magnolias fixed on circular, life size plates. These pieces journey through intense monochromatic colour fields, examining how the beauty and hues of flowers affect moods and shift energies.
Often inspired by nature, Davis is known for elevating the mundane by a masterful use of scale and materials, embellishing the ordinary into large-scale sculptures. Born in Kerala and now based in Delhi, India, his works have been shown at the India Art Fair in 2020, 2016, 2012, with a solo booth in 2015. He has also had various solo and group shows at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, Art Pilgrim Gallery, AD Art & Design Show in Mumbai and more, apart from prestigious international fairs like Scenes d’interieur at Maison et Objet, Paris and Salone del Mobile.Milano .
Moody Blooms is a selection of sculptures in pigmented stainless steel, treated as “a sensually supple, sculptural medium that is manipulated to its limits of malleability, to achieve the organic, floral forms,” shares Davis. “These beautiful blossoms will magically transform any setting,” he adds.
These steely florals carry the power and beauty of their real-life counterparts, with an expressive, radiating presence, exhibited alongside conceptual paintings. STIR speaks to the artist about what lies at the core of Moody Blooms, which are limited to editions of three that come with a Certificate of Authenticity. Four of these works were on show at Lokame Tharavadu in Alleppey, Kerala, an exhibition organised by the Kochi Muziris Biennale foundation, curated by Bose Krishnamachari.
Jincy Iype (JI): What underscores your latest work, Moody Blooms?
Alex Davis (AD): Moody Blooms is essentially a series of colour field sculptures and paintings wherein the works invite onlookers into a journey of “moody” colours such as steely indigo, nitid yellow and satiny plum. The subtle tonalities and variations of each piece is based on a family of complementary colours which lend them their unique anima, breathing life into metallic forms.
JI: Was there a defining moment when you knew that the art and design realm was meant for you? Tell us how your journey began and has been.
AD: Early on in school I realised that academics was not my forte (laughs). I was and am, always interested in the arts and crafts, which then gave me ample amount of ‘me’ time, which was essential in finding my way here. It was a beautiful way to channel my energy, where I could see my efforts taking on life. Any given chance I would escape into my mind zone to simply, create.
I can say that I often find myself at the crossroads between the role of a curator and an artist throughout my practice, like an ever-curious “curator-artist” hybrid. I like to select, curate, and represent a particular theme in all my series of works, whether inspired by nature, vernacular popular culture or even the crafts and aesthetics of the Indian subcontinent’s traditions.
JI: Whose work inspires you most and why?
AD: Christo and Jeanne-Claude as well as Sir Richard Long surely influenced and inspired me; they confirm with their work that “If you can dream it, you can do it”. I am also perpetually in awe of the Gutai artistic group as well as the Arte Povera art movement and their radical range of works and ideas.
JI: How has your journey been, of balancing the mediums of art and design? Does the right balance exist and is there a need for it? What would you be known as – an artist or a designer?
AD: My journey has always been a meandering one in terms of institutional disciplines, including those between art and design. The two fields intersect often but to differentiate them distinctly, as of the contemporary scene, to choose between the two, seems to me an ignorant preference.
My work currently is mostly art and is the pool of interest I can foresee being steeped in, currently and in the future. I am essentially a maker, and my engineering and design educations allow me to push the limits of materials and technologies – the routes keep flowing into each other with abandon.
JI: Autumn Leaves, Dented Painted, The Moonlit Safari and My Lazy Garden… How does Moody Blooms seek inspiration from nature, as do most of your work?
AD: I was a bum in school, and I used to bunk classes often, to sneak into the thick forests around my boarding school, and spend the whole day basking in nature, climbing trees, playing with dragonflies, and chasing frogs into puddles. Growing up in Kerala, nature is the one thing that you are always surrounded by. I have long adored flowers and the natural world, and inevitably so, they take root within most of my works.
JI: Why flowers, specifically? What is the biggest misconception that people harbour about flowers?
AD: Flowers are the kitschiest, next to mountains and rivers, that you can get to in paintings, and it is attractive to me. I like to reinterpret their essence and figures, to reiterate with my works, one of the most fundamental forms of beauty and familiarity available to mankind from time immemorial. That is also evident in the hefty history of floral art throughout various art genres, including the contemporary.
The myth around the fragility of flowers can be easily cured by looking at the enduring flower paintings by Cy Twombly. These cultivate a different opinion of flowers, lending them a vivid, flirtatious, and strong temperament.
JI: How would you describe your relationship with nature? Are there any nuances you intend to portray with your works to highlight the ill effects of climate change?
AD: I am not an activist artist. Though I am intimately connected to nature and completely driven by it, apart from the natural materials I use, activism is not me. My work succeeds if I can make you stop, slow down and take notice of the magnificence and resilience of nature - I believe that that awareness and appreciation kickstarts those much-needed conversations.
JI: What went into the preparation of this series? What is your usual creative approach and was Moody Blooms any different?
AD: My work is based on a very distinct double phase, and this one was no different. The formative phase is based on a lot of substantial research into the subject, accompanied with plenty of initial sketches and samples. The actual making of it comes next, which is purely intuitive. The genesis of an idea, the process of bringing it to life and finishing the project, I enjoy all of it.
JI: How did you make a material like steel look flowy and supple? Please comment on the clear paradox you have set by juxtaposing the strength of steel against the fragility of flowers.
AD: Metals are of great interest to me especially worked on as a contemporary style and medium. The strong materiality of steel is a perception made famous by the manufacturing and construction industry. If you think of it, the reflectivity of steel in a way negates its own solidity by mirroring its surroundings and making it ethereal, taking on a more passive role. It also does not carry the burden of art history, unlike most of the other metals employed. Combine that passivity with pigments, and the material takes on a different personality altogether, which is strong and fragile at the same time. It depends on how one is choosing to use and present it.
JI: How does the work “sit at the intersection of the analogue and the digital worlds”?
AD: Steel as a base works as an underlying layer with an extremely luminous surface that reflects light, which is also a quality of the digital screen. The transparency of the colours used lets the light shine through and makes the works feel that they could be projecting out of a digital screen. The transparent pigments retain the internal luminescence of steel thereby making the pieces almost digital in nature much like an image in a digital screen and positioning the works as liminal.
JI: Tell us about your upcoming projects. How do you plan to STIR up the rest of 2021?
AD: I have been working on a new love affair for more than two years now through another series of paintings and sculptures, which have my utmost attention. The lockdown gave me a lot of time without added distractions. The rest of the year will also be dedicated to these works which will hopefully culminate in a show next year.