(1983 – 2015), United States

Noah Davis Biography

Noah Davis' poignant figurative paintings can be roughly categorised into two sets: depictions of ordinary African American lives and surreal scenarios that skilfully incorporate modes of abstraction with a touch of melancholy. He is also known as a curator.

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Noah Davis' representations of everyday life in Los Angeles are characterised by a sense of tenderness, narrative possibility, and the power of memory. In the oil and acrylic on canvas Single Mother with Father out of the Picture (2007–2008), a bespectacled mother sits on a sofa with her toddler daughter standing before her. A framed photograph on the table hints at a male figure, but the artist has cropped it to perhaps suggest his voluntary or involuntary absence. In an untitled painting from 2015, two sleeping women have their backs to each other, but their proximity on the spacious sofa conveys intimacy and relaxation.

Noah Davis drew inspiration from a plethora of sources, encompassing found photographs, his domestic surroundings and imagination, art history, literature, and music, among others. He studied at The Cooper Union School of Art in New York without graduating, leaving New York for Los Angeles in 2004. He had been confidently making paintings since he was 17.

The quietude of Noah Davis's paintings, enforced by his frequent use of muted tones and occasional punctuation of colour, evoke the works of Fairfield Porter or Peter Doig, while his focus on portraying ordinary African Americans bring to mind artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Amy Sherald, and Henry Taylor.

Richard Brautigan's post-apocalyptic novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968), provided the starting-point for Noah Davis' early solo exhibition The Forgotten Works (2010) at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, which featured oil paintings with surreal landscapes and imageries. 1984 (2009), for example, depicts a child sitting on the bed; her face appears to be hidden behind a white skeletal mask. The disturbing scene contrasts vividly in its approach with Davis serene portrait of a young woman in pale purple in The Narrator (2010).

In 2012, with his wife and fellow artist Karon Davis, Noah Davis founded The Underground Museum in Arlington Heights—an ethnically diverse neighbourhood in Los Angeles with a history of working-class African and Latinx American settlement. Although they intended for the the Museum to exhibit notable contemporary artworks in an area otherwise lacking access to higher cultural organisations, they were unable to secure loans from the owning institutions. In response to the situation, Davis replicated some of the most iconic works of the past century—such as Marcel Duchamp's Bottle Rack (1914) and Jeff Koon's 1980s New Hoover Convertibles—for the suggestively titled inaugural exhibition, Imitation of Wealth (2013).

Imitation of Wealth garnered critical acclaim and The Underground Museum has since collaborated with established art galleries and museums. William Kentridge: Journey to the Moon (2015) and Non-Fiction (2016), the latter of which was a group exhibition revolving around the theme of the black body in history, for example, included works from the collection at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In January 2020, David Zwirner, New York, organised a solo exhibition of Noah Davis' career; a part of the show is to travel to The Underground Museum in March.

Noah Davis' work is included in 30 Americans: a travelling group exhibition curated from the Rubell family collection. Featuring works by 30 significant contemporary African American artists, it has been shown at many institutions, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2019); Tucson Museum of Art (2018); Detroit Institute of Arts (2015); and Contemporary Arts Centre, New Orleans (2014). Another important group show for Davis was Stranger Than Fiction: Narrative in Works by Selected Contemporary Artists, Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2010).

Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Noah Davis
featured artworks

40 Acres and a Unicorn by Noah Davis contemporary artwork painting
Noah Davis 40 Acres and a Unicorn, 2007 Acrylic and gouache on canvas
76.2 x 66 cm
David Zwirner
Mary Jane by Noah Davis contemporary artwork painting
Noah Davis Mary Jane, 2008 Oil and acrylic on canvas
152.4 x 132.7 cm
David Zwirner
Bad Boy for Life by Noah Davis contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Noah Davis Bad Boy for Life, 2007 Acrylic, gouache, and conte crayon on canvas
76.2 x 76.2 cm
David Zwirner
Untitled by Noah Davis contemporary artwork painting
Noah Davis Untitled, 2015 Painting
David Zwirner

Noah Davis
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Represented by this
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David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in New York: 19th Street, United States
David Zwirner Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris
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