Art in Focus: For GRS by Colin Davidson

A painter best known for his realist portraits turns to floral still life

For GRS by Colin Davidson

For GRS by Colin Davidson

 

What is it?

For GRS is an oil paintings by Colin Davidson.

How was it done?

For GRS is one of a series of 14 paintings of the same profuse flower arrangement, made over a period of about 11 months. Over that time the flowers blossomed and faded, dried out and crumbled to the point that the artist “was eventually painting nothing but the memory of the arrangement”. The bouquet was made by Janet Browne in The Flower Room in Belfast.

That there are 14 studies relates to the source of Davidson’s inspiration, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. There are 14 variations, each a notional character sketch of someone close to the composer, so that the piece is an oblique musical autobiography, though not, obviously, in an illustrative or narrative way. In fact Elgar pointed out that one could listen to the work as a piece of music with no specific associations. Davidson had long been familiar with the variations and thought of doing 14 visual variations, eventually settling on a bouquet as a means of doing so.

Davidson painted very freely and it is as if the mass of stems, leaves and blossoms, the representational image, somehow manifests from densely patterned layers of virtually abstract brushstrokes. There are notes of bright colour but the tonality is generally muted and even-tempered.

Where can I see it?

For GRS is in Davidson’s exhibition Variations at the Oliver Sears Gallery, 29 Molesworth Street, Dublin until January 24th (oliversearsgallery.com).

Is it a typical work by the artist?

Davidson is best known for the close-up, larger-than-life portrait heads – each canvas just over 4sq ft – that he has been making since about 2010, but he is by no means exclusively a portrait artist. He was born in Belfast. His early work was based on aerial views of Belfast. Then he moved on to the visual complexities found in commercial urban streets, as the outside world becomes enmeshed with reflections, shop displays and interiors.

He never set out to be a portrait painter and is wary of the term. An urge to paint his friend, Duke Special, led to a commission for a Glen Hansard album cover, and he hasn’t paused since. His list of sitters is extensive: Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Queen Elizabeth ... He has even given Brad Pitt painting lessons – and painted him twice. One of these, in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, was noticed by Time magazine, which commissioned him to paint Angela Merkel for their Person of the Year cover in 2015.

For Jerusalem he painted portraits of 12 individuals who represent the diversity of the city’s history and present. And Silent Testimony is composed of a series of 18 portraits of people whose lives were touched, indelibly, by the Troubles. His images are close to photographic but incorporate a conspicuous painterly flourish, which imbues them with an enhanced liveliness.

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