Open Frequency 2010: Gareth Hugh Davies selected by Russell Roberts

Open Frequency 2010: Gareth Hugh Davies selected by Russell Roberts Gareth Hugh Davies, Limen, 2010. 100cm x 80cm x 4cm. Oil on canvas. Credit: Gareth Hugh Davies

Curator and writer, Russell Roberts profiles the recent paintings of Welsh artist Gareth Hugh Davies

It has been said of the paintings by Gareth Hugh Davies that they represent a sense of the liminal; a threshold, a space between things characterised by ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy.

This is one way to describe his choice of subject matter, yet it suggests a simple comparison with some of the orthodoxies of landscape painting and ideas of the picturesque. I prefer to see them as paintings arrived at through a long-term commitment to a phenomenological exploration of landscape and a gesture towards a new picturesque, revealing many layers to Davies’ fascination with the atmosphere and curious details of urban and rural spaces.

For all their immediacy and allusions to photography and film, with their crafted realism and brooding narrative, these pictures are borne out of a sense of wonder for the incidental and everyday conditions of landscape, that disrupt pictorial conventions of a genre whose Romantic legacy is never far away in contemporary Wales.

Gareth Hugh Davies Equinox

Gareth Hugh Davies, Equinox, 2010. 100cm x 120cm x 4cm. Oil on canvas. Credit: Gareth Hugh Davies 

These are paintings of places that are cherished by Davies, despite their initial suggestion of something sinister locked within the darkness or the recesses of the land. There is a startling reverie to be found in his depiction of ordinary things – a view of a canal by the roadside at night, the play of shadows on the side of a house, a garden fire, the effects of sodium and natural light – these are moments that initially held Davies’ imagination as sites of cultural, spiritual and mythological reflection, that are subsequently transformed into fascinating encounters through a pared down, concise visual language.


Gareth Hugh Davies Poplar

Gareth Hugh Davies, Poplar, 2010. 120cm x 150cm x 4cm. Oil on canvas. Credit: Gareth Hugh Davies

There are narratives here too associated with the artist’s own experience of passing through – footprints in the snow, paths and tyre tracks through the forest, an abundance of sky, trees, scenes evoking labour, domesticity and travel; each carrying their own distinct temporal qualities.These paintings suggest a slow encounter, one where the activity of painting is linked with the spectator in the process of observing. 

Davies is a painter whose seemingly restrained use of paint belies a sensuous attachment to the places he encounters; it is this crafted sense of experience, a rawness in the questioning of the things he finds compelling, and the gentle almost matter-of-fact way that his subjects are depicted, that makes them so rich, so enigmatic and difficult to ignore.

Russell Roberts, 2010

Artist's biography 

Gareth Hugh Davies lives in Carmarthenshire, Wales, and has exhibited widely since 1984. His work is represented in private collections throughout Britain, USA, Germany, Holland, France and Spain and in the collection of Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Museum, Swansea.

Selected solo exhibitions include St David's Hall, Cardiff (2010), Theatr Mwldan Cardigan; Olion, Oriel Gelf Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Swansea (both 2008); Olion, Oriel Myrddin Carmarthen (2007); The Leith Gallery, Edinburgh (2006); Queen’s Hall Gallery, Narberth, Pembrokeshire (2005). Recent group exhibitions include Y Tabernacl, MOMA Machynlleth (2009); University of Glamorgan Purchase prize shortlist, Millennium Centre Cardiff; Tactile Bosch Gallery Cardiff (both 2008); National Eisteddfod Swansea (2006).

About Russell Roberts

Russell Roberts is a curator and writer. Born in Cosford, Shropshire, he studied in London for his BA and MA before joining the Department of Photographs at the Victoria & Albert Museum as an intern from 1990-92.

Early curatorial projects included Memory & The Archive – Photographs/Images/Documents (1995) at the John Hansard Gallery at the University of Southampton, and the acclaimed international touring exhibition In Visible Light: Photography and Classification in Art, Science & The Everyday (1997) at MoMA (Oxford).

From 1998-2006 he was Head of Photography at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television (National Media Museum), where he is now Honorary Fellow in Photography. As a curator he has worked on projects for festivals and venues such as Arles, Photoespana and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Nederlands Fotomuseum, Tate Britain, Moderna Museet and the Finnish Museum of Photography amongst others. Between 2003 and 2006: he was an advisor to Arts Council England; Research Associate at the Pitt Rivers Museum Research Centre at the University of Oxford; Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Newport; project director for the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council subject specialist network for photography; consultant to the National Galleries of Scotland and The Photographers' Gallery; and Chair of the Committee for the Jerwood Photography Prize.

In 2006 he joined the Centre for Photographic Research at University of Wales, Newport, in a unique partnership with Ffotogallery, Cardiff  to work on developing a national centre for photography in Wales. Recent projects include Material Industries: The Photographs of Maurice Broomfield (2007). He is currently working on an exhibition and book on the archive and legacy of Mass-Observation in contemporary art with Photoworks and Steidl, and a book on 30 years of photographic art in Wales between 1978-2008 for Ffotogallery.

Research interests include: histories of photography, curating and contemporary art/photographic practice as historiography, documentary aesthetics, the cultural politics of exhibitions and collecting, and contemporary photography & the Museum.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.