Catalogue entry

John Davies born 1946

T03907 Head with Blue Eyes 1983-4

Pigmented polyester resin and pigment bound with PVA medium 1046 x 635 x 671 (41 1/4 x 25 x 26 1/2) on original plywood base 832 x 606 x 606 (32 3/4 x 24 x 24); overall size 1878 x 635 x 671 (74 x 25 x 26 1/2)
Inscribed ‘JD | HEAD WITH | BLUE EYES | 1983-84' on the underside of plinth
Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd (Knapping Fund) 1984
Exh: John Davies, Recent Sculpture and Drawings, Marlborough Fine Art, May-June 1984 (21, repr. in col.); John Davies, Sculptures and Drawings 1968-1984, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, April-June 1985 (24, repr.); The Hard Won Image, Tate Gallery, 1984 (43, repr. p.58); Viewpoint, Musées Royaux de Beaux Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Dec.-Feb. 1988 (11, repr. in col.)
Lit: ‘John Davies' in John Davies, Recent Sculpture and Drawings, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art 1984, p.3; Graham Beal, ‘John Davies' in John Davies Sculptures and Drawings 1968-1984, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich 1985, pp.4-7. Also repr: John Davies, exh. cat., BC, 18A Bienal de Sao Paulo 1985, p.6

This is one of three ‘Large Heads' shown at the exhibition of Davies's recent work at Marlborough Fine Art in May 1984. The other two were titled ‘Head White with Lines' (22) and ‘Brown Painted Head' (23) and they were the largest sculptures shown. They are very similar but the expression and personality of each differ.

Davies made all the sculpture for the 1984 exhibition in his studio at Faversham, Kent. Photographs of the studio in the catalogue show it populated with the small figures of men on ladders and ropes which were shown in the exhibition, and the large heads were considered by the artist to be an ‘audience' for this ‘human circus'. They were intended ‘to offset the little figures' like the backs of people's heads in a crowd, and are related to this large studio space as a whole with all the figures assembled. In addition, he wanted to feel close to those heads, since their scale was large in comparison to his hands, unlike the small figures which always appeared distant. They were begun one after the other, reusing the same armature, with the Tate Gallery's first, then the white one and then the brown. They were not made from drawn or modelled studies, but the large ‘Drawing of DK', 1983-4, is similar to the Tate Gallery's ‘Head', and was made at the same time (repr. Marlborough Fine Art exh. cat. 1984, no.63 in col. It is called after the initials of the model). A photograph in the catalogue shows this and two other large drawings of heads dominating the drawing studio in the same way as do the sculptures themselves. The drawings of a head with small hands reaching towards it are related to the modelling of these heads (ibid., no.65, ‘Triptych ‘For Gods, Kings, Politicians and Popes' and no.66 ‘Head/ Hands'). Although the drawings of full face heads are of particular models they were not intended as portraits.

The heads were cast in polyester resin in these stages:

1. Each was modelled in clay over a welded metal armature. The surfaces were textured with a wire brush for the hair, and the lips marked with a metal painter's comb. The pupils of the eyes were left as an empty hollow.

2. A plaster and scrim negative mould of the head was made in two halves, after coating the clay with a soap solution as a separator and making a vertical line of dividers at the line of the ears. When solid, the plaster was removed from the clay, which was broken in the process and left to dry.

3. A coat of shellac was painted inside each mould to seal the plaster. A separator was applied and the resin, mixed with pigment and inert fillers, was painted inside and reinforced with three layers of glass fibre matting and polyester resin to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. The two halves were clamped together, and attached inside with strips of resin and glass fibre.

4. The plaster moulds were prised apart from the resin and the surface was scraped and brushed clean. It was painted with a pigmented wash, which was wiped off except where it had caught in crevices. The lips and the pupils were painted with gouache, and nails inserted into the pupils.

The heads were first displayed on the floor of the studio as if looking up and then mounted on a low trolley with wheels. Finally the pedestal on which the Tate Gallery's now stands was made and painted for it by the artist.

This entry is based on a conversation with the artist in his studio on 16 October 1986, and has been approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.131-2