Poured Painting: Blue, Black, Blue is a triptych consisting of nearly identical panels. The outline of a black arch on a predominantly blue ground is repeated on each panel. The painting is the product of a meticulous procedure of pouring and tipping that Davenport began employing in 1996, although his technique of pouring paint directly on to canvas or board dates from early in his career. Each panel of Poured Painting, made of medium density fibreboard, was sanded smooth. Davenport sprayed the board all over with household liquid gloss paint in the base colour, in this case a deep blue. Then, working on the floor, he poured black paint directly on to the panel. This process was carefully controlled: the artist stood on an improvised bridge across the painting, pouring paint directly from the paint pot onto the surface of the board. The paint spread across the panel in an ever-increasing circle. Just before it reached the edge of the board, the artist tipped the painting upright, allowing the excess paint to run off the bottom of the panel. This created an arch shape. After leaving this layer of paint to dry, Davenport then repeated the process with the base colour. Again, he stood over the panel, pouring blue paint on top of black until the previous layer was almost completely covered. At this point the panel was positioned upright again. This carefully controlled process was repeated three times to produce the panels of the triptych.
The panels are positioned so that they abut, creating the impression of a thin, seamless line moving across the surface. The arches appear identical at first glance, but closer inspection reveals differences in the width of the arcs. The machine-like perfection of the forms is contradicted by the evidence of their making. Davenport has commented, ‘you read the surface as pretty immaculate but on closer inspection you find all the smudges and finger marks around the edge and little bits of grit and bugs’ (quoted in David Batchelor, ‘Homage to Homer: Ian Davenport in conversation with David Batchelor’, Ian Davenport: New Paintings, p.9). Davenport’s work, while mimicking the language of industrial production, is resolutely handmade.
The painting has a highly reflective, smooth surface. Davenport has stressed the importance of this sheen, saying, ‘In order for the paintings to work, because they’re not about any sort of narrative, they need their tactile and reflective quality. This becomes the engagement for the viewer, they become reflected and literally see themselves in the painting.’ (quoted in Michael Bracewell, ‘A Conversation with Ian Davenport’, Ian Davenport: Large Scale Paintings, p.13)
Davenport has resisted interpretations of his work, preferring to let his paintings provide a purely visual experience. Works like Poured Painting demonstrate the materiality of Davenport’s chosen medium. The process of making is reflected in the painting’s structure which demonstrates the paint’s fluidity and movement, its susceptibility to gravity. In this regard, his technique recalls the work of Jackson Pollock (1912-56), who dripped paint onto canvases positioned on the floor, and Morris Louis (1912-62) who poured paint directly onto unprimed canvases.
Jonathan Watkins, Ian Davenport: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 1999.
Michael Bracewell, Ian Davenport: Large Scale Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Galleries, London, 2000, reproduced pp.4-5, 23 in colour.