Catalog essay for Joe Davidson's participation
in the 2009 City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Individual Artist Fellowship Exhibition (COLA)
at the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery at Barnsdall Art Park

Living in an ever-expanding and growing city creates specialized opportunities for an artist. The city is a vast consumer, breathing in the natural and breathing out structure. It is impossible not to notice this tremendous force; its exhales and inhales, its flotsam and jetsam.

For Joe Davidson this experience has translated into bodies of work that speak to the notion of producer and consumer as symbiotic forces necessary to perpetuate the vastness of experience. When a tree falls in the forest, its decay provides the sustenance for a new generation of life. Everyone and everything is part of the larger transformational process.

Davidson is deeply committed to process and processes. His two current bodies of work are the Bottle Landscapes and the Tape Works. The Bottle Landscapes are collections formed from casts of myriad travel-size toiletry bottles of notions that he has amassed from his own use. The cast is repeated over and over until the landscape fills a space. There is a ritual nature to these landscapes, remarking on the daily rituals in the care of one's physical body, on care and nurturing, and on beauty. These are carefully made objects, defining a circular pattern in which the potions nurture the artist, who then honors the potion by making it infinite and endless.

The Tape Works involve the laborious process of layering clear tape over and over and over. Tape is a binder and a container: it pieces things together . . . like the streets of a city. Every action Davidson takes is whispered in each ghostly stratum. While the tape is transferred into well-traversed art archetypes of the picturesque, its fundamental nature is left intact.

Davidson is keenly interested in the intangible essences of beauty that sustain us. His output is not highly decorated; nor is it swathed in color. He wishes for each object to exist on its own within the larger landscapes that he has devised in much the same way that we most certainly identify who we are by what surrounds us.

A life lived is a life of consumption. We are consumers, yes-the body needs nourishment and cleansing-but we are also consumers of that which nourishes the spirit and the mind. Every sip we take and every thought we think moves us along the time line. By discussing the processes of consumption, Davidson plays the kind of chicken-or-egg games that lead us to questions of the spirit, the soul, the afterlife.

As Walt Whitman wrote in the last section of the poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” from his book Leaves of Grass:

We descend upon you and all things-we arrest you all;
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;
Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality;
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the suggestions and determinations of ourselves.

For his C.O.L.A. project Joe Davidson is creating a new Bottle Landscape made from soft foam. This work will change over time as the material responds to the air around it. Colors will alter slightly, and the thing will settle into itself. He will also present large-scale Mountain Landscape tape works. Though the depictions are of specific spaces in the American West, the mountain is universal in form, much like the ubiquitous material from which Davidson's peaks are crafted.