Stephen Davis’s Whimsical Interiors Play with Line, Shape, and Color

A chair, a single chair: often the most easily movable piece of furniture in a room, and possibly the quickest way to make a bold design statement. In Stephen Davis’s work, it’s the suggestion of a chair—and the stark absence of one—that catches the eye, grounding the whimsical scenes that occupy his mixed-media paintings.

Davis’s latest pieces, on display in his “Domestic Interiors” exhibition at David Richard Gallery in Santa Fe, are set in the sphere of the home. This isn’t always apparent at first look: these paintings aren’t realistic. There’s something vaguely Matisse-like about these dreamy compositions—particularly the ones carried out in a vibrant color palette, like Chair 9 or Chair 7 (all works 2014)—the way objects seem to float in the air, suspended in rich cloud-like washes of red and blue. 

The artist works in two different studios, one in Texas and the other in northern New Mexico. The heady atmosphere of these wide-open landscapes come through in the work, as do smaller details from his real-life environment, like the scrub bush-like vegetation in EGN and S. But in many of these works, the only instantly distinguishable object is the chair—or rather, the chair rendered in negative space, as if the shape has been cut out of the canvas.

Some feature (rather more prominently than the chair) a block letter, as in Chair 8, creating a childlike alphabet-themed effect on the gallery walls. Others, like Chair 9, center more around a motif that resembles a human eye. It’s a suggestion of the artist’s intent to explore how people visually experience the interior of a room. Read this way, “Domestic Interiors” is all about the human gaze: the eye is huge, the chair comparatively tiny, as if showing a person peering into the rooms of a dollhouse, or even a giant looking through the window of a house.

Bridget Gleeson

Domestic Interiors” is on view at David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, Jan. 16 –Feb. 21, 2015.

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