We all miss Jeff Davies, and his unusual and amusing artwork. Lucky for us, Jeff Davies: Straight from the Heart is on display at Syracuse University, and overall it portrays several positive aspects of his work. First, it presents 27 of Davies’ artworks in a gallery setting, giving viewers an opportunity to take an in-depth look at his pieces. That, in turn, encourages discussion of the Syracuse artist who died in 2006. And the SU show is intended to be part of a larger assessment of his work.
Davies, it should be noted, seldom showed his pieces in galleries or museums, choosing instead non-gallery sites: in a mural format at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and on a wall in the Westcott Street shopping district, in the men’s room of the Barge Inn, a Burnet Avenue bar, and by the bar at Armory Square’s Pastabilities, where he hung a new painting on an almost weekly basis.
His overall body of work reflects both Davies’ thinking about society and a distinctive style. Clearly, he abhorred consumerism in various forms, including malls and fast-food restaurants. He was generally skeptical about laws, regulations and government in general. In terms of style, he had a penchant for gaudy colors and art with an absurdist flavor.
Straight from the Heart, for example, displays work like “A Sunday Afternoon Ride,” in which a gigantic motorcycle drives down the middle of a street, crushing cars and anything else that gets in its way. At curbside, a faux movie theater screens Biker Scum Lust, and there’s a home for aged bikers.
A second piece, “The Demon from the Paducah Club-Self Portrait,” depicts Davies himself, with naked women, a rifle and hamburgers exploding from the top of his head. “Galerie des Chienees,” meanwhile, satirizes a reception at an uptown gallery. Here the artist works with several motifs, including dogs leading people on leashes.
Other works further demonstrate Davies’ willingness to try unconventional approaches. “Cowboy and Hair,” an acrylic piece like many of the exhibit’s artworks, portrays a man, with Southwest-style clothing and a prominent jaw, standing close to a mass of hair. “Pizza” is exactly what its title suggests a large, round artwork divided into eight sections. Human figures, a mall image and other images decorate the slices.
Beyond that, the show encompasses pieces not necessarily associated with Davies’ major body of work. At first glance, “Still Life” looks like a somewhat conventional artwork until one observes a grenade shape. “The Brown Derby Hotel,” done in ink on wove paper, is a fine piece. It was created in 1970, near the beginning of Davies’ artistic career.
“Big Brother Is Watching,” one of the best works in the exhibition, is crammed full with a bar scene, multiple characters and a kissing couple joined by metal pipes and other mechanical devices. Here Davies worked with crayon on illustration board, blending pink, red, blue and gray colors.
The exhibit does a nice job of presenting pieces from various stages of the artist’s career, of displaying works as different as “Woman Shot at Organ Donation Party” and “Baptism in Ohio.” The first piece is very much in the mainstream of Davies’ work; in the second, he combined small figures, a small building and a prairie landscape. Straight from the Heart is a well-organized survey that will appeal both to fans of Davies’ artworks and viewers who have no familiarity with his art.
This exhibition will be on display through Jan. 6 at SU Art Galleries, located in the Shaffer Art Building on the SU Quad. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 8:30 p.m.
In addition to the exhibition itself, SU Art Galleries is hosting related programs. On Wednesday, Nov. 28, 12:15 p.m., David Prince, the show’s curator, will discuss Davies’ art. There are also plans to create a Jeff Davies oral history project from interviews with people who knew him, written stories submitted through the exhibition website and recordings of the artist himself. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-4097.
Finally, CNY Artists, a gallery at Shoppingtown Mall, 3649
Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt, is displaying a selection of Davies’ acrylics
and drawings as part of a multi-artist exhibit, The Latest Show on Earth.
The works include “Love Mechanique # 1, a drawing; “The Man in the
Orgone Box,” a very interesting piece, and “Railway Puppyball,” with its
satiric take on college football. The gallery is open during mall
hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays, 11
a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 391-5115 for details.